Detox diet gains popularity; experts question side effects

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Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Megan Fox and Anne Hathaway are among the slew of stars said to have done a detoxifying cleanse in the past either to drop weight quickly or to detoxify the body — or both.

The Master Cleanse is a popular fast that is meant to detoxify the system, give a person more energy and help shed weight. However, the cleanse may have detrimental effects on the body and mind despite its quick results.

The Master Cleanse calls for the practitioner to subsist on a drink of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper for a minimum of 10 days — and eat nothing. During this 10-day period, the person should drink six to 12 glasses of the beverage throughout the day, wedged between a laxative at night and a salt-water flush in the morning.

If you’re not eating food for 10 days, you’re definitely going to lose weight. But if you return to your old eating habits after the cleanse, you are likely to put the weight you lost back on.

“You know how people do a house cleaning, a spring cleaning? With their cars, they get oil changes. With the computer, they get them defragmented. When do you ever do that with your body? When do you give your body a chance to have a spring cleaning,” said Matt Shook, owner of organic and raw food bar The Daily Juice.

The Master Cleanse gained popularity in 1976 when Stanley Burroughs, a practitioner of alternative health methods, wrote a book called “The Master Cleanser” to teach people how to cleanse their bodies to rid them of toxins and illnesses. A variation of the book, “Lose Weight, Have More Energy & Be Happier in 10 Days,” written by Peter Glickman in 2004, popularized the diet again.

Neither Burroughs nor Glickman is a health professional, but they both believed in natural remedies for healing different ailments in the body. Burroughs’ book says that through following the Master Cleanse program, all illness and disease will go away.

He recommends to practice the Master Cleanse when sickness has developed, when the digestive system needs to be cleaned or rested, when being overweight has become a problem and/or when better digestion is needed.

In their books, Burroughs and Glickman say that by eating something with artificial preservatives, colors or flavors, we are taking in so many toxins each day that our bodies cannot eliminate all of them. Through cleansing the body by drinking the mixture of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water, the body is able to process the fat the toxins are stored in and excrete them over a 10-to-14-day period. Burroughs’ book explains that lemons are a rich source of vitamins and minerals and have been used to treat stomach ulcers for decades. The maple syrup has a large variety of minerals and vitamins as well as sugars to give the body energy. The cayenne pepper is used to break up mucus and increase warmth in the body and adds many B and C vitamins.

“The first five or six days there are a lot of toxins being flushed into the blood stream,” Shook said. “You’re not making your body digest food. You feel a lot of toxins in your blood. You feel really heavy and lethargic. But after that, it’s like the sun comes out, you feel like an angel on earth. You feel as light as air, your mind is super clear, you feel very energetic.”

All three locations of The Daily Juice sell the Master Cleanse drink by the gallon, so people who are on the go can still follow the Master Cleanse by buying the premade drink.

“The Master Cleanse is a way to give people, give their bodies a chance to actually take some time to clean out,” Shook said.

Although the idea of a kind of “spring cleaning” for the body sounds like a good thing, we don’t need an extreme diet to cleanse our insides, said Bethany Dario, a registered dietitian at University Health Services.

Dario said that healthy people already have a built-in detoxification system — the liver, kidneys, lungs and skin. She says that exercise is a built-in detoxification system as well.

“When we sweat, we release toxins through the skin,” Dario said. “It’s another reason that we should all focus on the behavior of routine healthy exercise for health.”

A cleanse might not be necessary for eliminating toxins from the body, and it can actually be harmful, she said.

Dario said that when diets or cleanses fail, the dieters or cleansers often tell themselves that they have failed. Shame and/or guilt are, in effect, the results.

“When an individual attempts to restrict food, it is highly probable the individual will start to be obsessive over the food and eventually end up overeating on it,” Dario said. “The general population seems to think that obesity and eating disorders are the right and left wings of nutrition, but I’d like to suggest both can be a result of food restriction.”