The words ‘cleanse’ and ‘detox’ have become bad words in many circles. As soon as you mention them, people will jump at the chance to try to wash the ‘woo woo’ out of your mouth like a Baptist mother holding a bar of soap. The genesis of this impetus comes as a reaction to naturopaths who have oversold the benefits, claiming miraculous cures for every disease.
At its core, a cleanse is less about removing toxins and more about stacking multiple proven beneficial practices all at the same time. These practices are just a good idea to do on their own, but in the space of a cleanse, you can often see radical changes. Below are five practices and the potential benefits of cleansing for people on a typical western diet.
1) Reduction of Sugar Intake
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is just depressing as the acronym implies. It’s full of processed food, sugar, all too many carbs and is generally nutritionally deficient. Sugar presents one of the biggest issues. The average American eats approximately 22 teaspoons of sugar each day – which is one of the worst things you can do to your body and why most cleanses will have you remove sugar almost entirely from your diet.
A recent study conducted at the University of California San Francisco divided 43 obese kids into two different groups. The control (placebo) group was told to leave their high sugar diet unchanged, whereas the test group substituted the simple carbohydrates like sugar and fructose at an equal ratio to other carbohydrates coming from fruit and grains.
The group of kids who refrained from ingesting sugar improved virtually every metabolic marker across the board in only 9 days. Diastolic blood pressure decreased by 5mm, triglycerides by 33 points, LDL-cholesterol (known as the “bad” cholesterol) by 10 points, and liver function tests improved. Fasting blood glucose went down by five points, and insulin levels were cut by one-third.
In addition to the metabolic benefits, reduction of acute hyperglycemia (sugar spikes from ingestion of high sugar foods) has demonstrated clinical benefit to the immune system. In a meta analysis of studies on PubMed from 1966-2004 the researchers concluded that “Acute, short-term hyperglycemia affects all major components of innate immunity and impairs the ability of the host to combat infection.” In other words, if you want to optimize your immune function, Krispy Kreme is not the way to go.
2) Short Term Calorie Reduction
At the forefront of every cleanse is calorie restriction. Fasting has been part of the human experiment since time immemorial. Some of the greats say it provided clarity, others did to defend their beliefs, but the science all points to how beneficial it can be.
The Harvard School of Public Health set out to test the benefits of 5 days of calorie reduction in a clinical study. They took 19 participants and asked them to reduce their caloric intake to roughly 1200 calories for 5 days, before returning to normal eating habits.
Another 19 participants in the control group continued eating normally during this stretch. After three cycles the test group improved physical condition, reduced blood glucose, trimmed abdominal fat, cut levels of a protein associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and elevated levels of certain stem cells.
Commenting on the study, molecular biologist Christopher Hine of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston commented, “This single dietary change can counteract all these variables of aging, and I think that’s very impressive.”
3. Reduction of Food Related Inflammation
A typical western diet includes all manner of foods that are known to cause inflammation. Grains, trans fats, sugar all of these pro-inflammatory foods are off the menu during a cleanse, instead being replaced by anti-inflammatory foods like greens, apple cider vinegar, and fruit.
The benefit of reduction of the cells called pro-inflammatory cytokines can be felt across the board, including sleep, sex drive, and energy.
4. Eating More Vegetables and Fruits
This is something we all know, but here are the stats: Nearly 23 percent of Americans report consuming vegetables and fruits less than one time daily, with a median vegetable intake of just 1.6 times per day overall.
One recent study showed that those who ate five to seven servings of vegetables and fruits per day had a 36 percent lower risk of dying from any cause. Three to five servings was associated with a 29 percent lower risk. One to three servings was associated with a 14 percent lower risk.
Any good cleanse primes your body with a ton of fruits and vegetables, providing the short term benefits of all the nutrients, and ideally training you to incorporate more greens into your daily life.
5. Targeted Strategies During Cleansing Promote Potentially Beneficial Practices
The better cleanses will include the addition of targeted foods or supplements, designed to further encourage the benefits you’re reaping from the clenase. Some of these common strategies are listed below. Though, these suggestions can be used outside of the cleanse as well to help keep you healthy.
Ingesting probiotics has demonstrated an overwhelming ability to improve multiple markers of human health. Some of these include brain function, immune function, and reduction of inflammation.
Apple Cider Vinegar
One study showed 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bedtime can reduce fasting blood sugars by 4%. Another study in obese individuals showed that daily vinegar consumption led to reduced belly fat, waist circumference, and lower blood triglycerides.
Increasing Trace Minerals
Whether from the Himalayan salt, which is known to contain over 60 trace minerals and elements, powdered greens, or other fruits and veggies, ingestion of minerals has an indisputable health advantage. One study conducted on a trace mineral compound called Shilajit demonstrated a 20% increase in testosterone vs. placebo.
Lemons are a natural source of vitamin C and have compounds that assist in digestion.
Activated charcoal has the ability to bind to toxins based on its unusual surface area. Five grams of activated charcoal has the surface area of a football field. This is one of the reasons that activated charcoal is used in conventional emergency medicine for certain types of poisoning.
Candida albicans, found in the gut, can hold mercury in its cellular wall, and release two main types of toxins upon expiration including gliotoxin and acetaldehyde. While more specific research is needed on the benefit of activated charcoal or other binding agents on these toxins, should you be reducing your candida count by limiting the amount of sugar, or herbal anti-fungals like Grapeseed Extract, activated charcoal is a good common sense measure.
Is cleansing for everyone? Probably not. Is cleansing a panacea? Absolutely not. Is there any actual ‘detoxification’ going on? Most likely. Even if detoxification in the body remains constant, simply by limiting the amount of toxins you are putting in, you are naturally lowering the level of toxic carry in your body.
If you are able to successfully eliminate some candida during the cleanse, then the detoxification can increase exponentially. The conclusion is that most of us consuming a western diet with plenty of sugar, calories, and pro-inflammatory foods can reap benefits from a good cleansing protocol.