It’s Cleanup Time!

At one time or another, most of us have watched a friend or family member subsist on nothing but lemonade and cayenne pepper. You might have even tried a cleanse diet yourself. They go by many names and consist of different ingredients, but most cleanses, or detox diets, restrict many (if not all) solid foods and stimulants, encourage clear fluids and prescribe dietary supplements. They might target the colon, liver, skin, kidneys, lungs or lymph system.

But do they work? What do they do, exactly? And which type is best? Before you embark on a clarifying regimen, here are a few things you should know.

The Ups
Most detox diets aim to accomplish three things: increase frequency of bowel movements, minimize chemicals and increase vitamins and antioxidants. Advocates of cleanses believe that a seven-to-ten-day cleanse can purge toxins trapped in the body’s cells and improve your organs natural ability to eliminate harmful dietary and environmental substances.

After completing a cleanse, many people report improved energy, clearer skin, regular bowel movements, improved digestion, and increased concentration and clarity. Some report considerable short-term weight loss, though the loss is primarily due to water loss and those pounds usually return as soon as solid foods are reinstated. One major advantage of most detox plans is the increased consumption of water – something most of us don’t get nearly enough of.

The Downs
Common side effects of cleanses are headaches, light-headedness, acne, irritability, stomach cramps, diarrhea and constipation. But depending on the method prescribed, you might experience other bizarre and uncomfortable sensations.

It is recommended that you consult your doctor before making any dramatic changes to your diet. Children and teenagers, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, seniors, and people with heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic conditions are at risk for serious medical repercussions.

The strongest argument against cleanses is that while they can certainly cause harm, there is no scientific evidence that they work. Cleanses claim to help the body eliminate toxins, yet the definition of the word is not rooted in medicine. Simply put, toxins are poisons that are created biologically. So while viper venom clearly contains toxins, doughnuts and diet sodas do not.

Some doctors claim to have experienced significant positive results, though many are the authors or spokespeople of programs that stand to profit from their claims. Most professionals in the medical and scientific community eschew cleanses as fads and “quick-fixes.”

Experts agree that the best way to “cleanse” is to promote a sustainable, long-term healthy diet. A diet high in fiber, low in saturated fat and rich in fruits and vegetables is best, and reducing alcohol and caffeine in the long-term is always preferable to eliminating them for a week.

If you are considering a detox diet, it may be because you know your nutritional habits are problematic. Consider addressing them as a whole. You might add milk thistle supplements, increase water and eliminate trans fats from your diet, for example, which is a prescription you can reasonably hope to sustain for more than a week.

If you do decide to try a cleanse, it’s probably healthiest to avoid those which eliminate solid foods altogether. Instead, look into diet plans that encourage fish, yogurt and other foods high in antioxidants. Whatever your decision, make it an informed one. Your instinct to protect your body is a good one; just invest a few hours of research before you dedicate a week to a restrictive program.

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