Coming Clean About Cleansing

Those who’ve ever had a colonoscopy know that “preparing” the colon by cleansing out the solids is the worst part. We were just not designed to go to the bathroom that much! But you often see “colon cleanses” being touted on the internet and through health clubs. It’s juice cleansenot new: through history, physical and spiritual cleansing practices often involved special foods and/or fasting, along with meditation or prayer.

The ancient Egyptians were among the first to introduce colon cleansing as a way of purifying the body of food that was considered to quickly ‘rot’ in the gut. Native Americans fasted during their spiritual vision quests. Kosher guidelines are followed in Judaism, and Roman Catholics still fast before Communion and avoid meat on Lenten Fridays. “My body is a temple,” Scripture reads. Some think of cleansing as the physical route to spiritual house-cleaning.

In recent times, most cleanses have a non-religious format, with a focus on weight loss, restoring energy and minimizing pain from arthritis and fibromyalgia. I’ve seen a version of this liquid cleanse floating around my region for a while. Drinking a 60-ounce concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper every day for 10 days never sounded appealing to me. And that was before I read that you are also supposed to drink warm salt water in the morning and laxative tea before bed. It seems obvious that weight loss would occur on this regimen, but studies have shown that fasts and extremely low-calorie diets invariably lower the body’s basal metabolic rate as it struggles to conserve energy. Once the dieter resumes normal eating, rapid weight gain often follows.  I would also worry about electrolytes on this program—makes me feel weak just thinking about doing this. Mainstream medicine gives it a thumbs down.

Newer programs, often called detox cleanses, seem more nutritious, with juices (especially green juices) playing a big role. They don’t involve fasting, though they eliminate solid foods for several days. In today’s society, man-made toxins are a cause for concern. There are many unpronounceable words on the labels of our food, household cleaners and personal care products. While unpronounceable doesn’t always mean bad, it is a departure from the whole-foods diet of our grandparents and the sparkle of windows cleaned with vinegar and water. And most agree that our health is suffering for a variety of reasons. Are we being pickled by preservatives?

A detox cleanse also has a prep phase, but no worries about a sore bottom! Getting ready involves eliminating caffeine, alcohol, sugar, processed foods, meat, dairy and wheat, as well as increasing water intake. The cleanse itself is usually a seven day process with lots of options. You can make your own green juice using a specialized juicer, or green powders. Juice Plus makes capsules that have whole-foods powders in green, red and purple. has several options that range from an intense, fresh Max Plan to a grocery store cleanse; you can purchase name brand organic juices to make life easier. There are online companies like that will overnight ship fresh juices. I tried this for a few days; it was expensive, but very tasty!

The overall premise is to make things easy for your gut to absorb nutrients such as chlorophyll, minerals, vegetable proteins and enzymes. Whole foods are reintroduced gradually over the next week. Most people report feeling more energy and clearer skin after the cleanse, and for many it’s a jump-start for healthier eating.