Nothing tastes cleaner than a detox juice cleanse. Arsenic in chicken and mercury in your mackerel? The solution is simple: just go for a detox juice cleanse to “press the reset button” on your body, “clear out the toxins” and “restart” your digestive system. Often, juice cleanses are sold along with laxatives to clear out the gunk stuck to the inside of your intestines—kind of like hiring an expensive cleaning service to deep-clean your gut, along with the promise of a certain lightness of being.
But here’s the thing: the human gut is not the same as your home’s rusty plumbing system that needs to be unclogged with drain cleaners and regular servicing. Your faeces aren’t stuck to your intestine, your stomach isn’t in need of clearing the sticky goo of that cheese burst pizza you had last week, and your rectum isn’t a resting place for that chewing gum you swallowed a year ago. Even inedibles like fruit seeds, accidentally swallowed, are constantly being pushed out of your body by something known as peristalsis (periodic waves in your gut to push food down) which is how our internal plumbing system works.
It takes our body a day to a day and half for everything we have eaten to be absorbed. And what’s not absorbed is excreted out. Nothing is sticking to the walls of our gut waiting to be manually scraped off or flushed out.
Wait, but don’t juice cleanses also claim to help you shed those extra kilos? Well, yes, but these extra kilos are not coming from just passing out “toxins” in your urine. The number of calories you would consume on a typical juice diet are in the range of a mere 1000-1200 calories. The average adult human requires about 2200 calories a day. This deficit is met by your temporary glucose storage reserves known as glycogen. When there is a deficit of calories, your glycogen reserves come to your rescue and provide glucose to your organs for functioning. The weighing scale is definitely going to tip in your favour at the end of the juice cleanse as the glycogen reserves are used up. But as soon as you are back to eating solid food, the glycogen store is replenished and the weighing scale is going to be back where you started off.
If you ever give in to the temptation of going for a juice cleanse, it's ok, you are not really harming your body. But just keep in mind that you aren’t doing it much good either. Typical juice cleanses, which last for about a week, are short enough to not cause any harm. You will be drinking a lot of fluid and feeling light—both physically and financially. But is it worth going through mind-numbing, constant hunger for a week, and your partner having to have to put up with a constantly hangry you?
Also remember that if you have PCOD or diabetes, and do juice cleanses often, it may adversely impact your insulin resistance. Typical juice cleanses, which last for about a week, are short enough to not cause any harm and also raise your bad cholesterol levels.
What happens during the juice cleanse? You receive juices packed to perfection in vacuum-sealed containers, to consume with reverence at specific times, in a specific order for specific toxins. But that begs the question–what is a toxin? Chances are, if you ask for a list of toxins you will be getting rid of, you won’t get an answer as specific as your juice itinerary. Medically, a toxin can be anything and everything – even water is a toxin if consumed over-zealously.
In the world of juice cleanses, a toxin is quite loosely defined as a poison produced biologically in your body. Take for example the by-product of protein digestion, ammonia, which ends up in your urine and needs to be excreted. It does need to be gotten rid of, and that’s why you have your liver and kidneys hard at work keeping your body clear of all these by-products of your body’s continually running machinery. The juice cleanse is not going to join hands with the liver or kidneys and help them work faster, run better or clean up the corners they are missing out. If the liver and kidneys are not doing their job at 100% efficiency, then what we have on our hands is liver or kidney failure, and trust me when I say this, you are going to need a lot more than juices to help you with that problem.
Dr Farah Adam Mukadam is a family physician based in Bengaluru and the author of Newborns and New Moms. She is also a women's health educator working through her Instagram channel @dr.farah_momstein.