Dubious Liquid-Detox and Anti-Cancer Diets
September 12th, 2012 by Holly Cornish
Liquid cleanse and detox diets are all the rage these days, promising everything from weight loss to extreme energy to cancer prevention.
It’s this last one that got my attention. And that’s why I’m writing about this today. What I have to say may not sit well with some cancer experts (many of whom are well-meaning amateurs) — but you need to know an all-liquid crash diet, especially at home without supervision, may not be a good idea. Let’s take a look. . .
Continued below. . .
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In 2010, a group of researchers at the Dana-Farber institute of Harvard University Medical School figured out how to switch on what’s being called the “immortality gene”.
What the scientists saw “… was not a slowing down or stabilization of the aging process.” Instead, they “saw a dramatic reversal…”
What really happens in a liquid-cleanse
First, let me tell you exactly what I’m talking about. There are dozens — hundreds, probably — of different detox programs and strange, short-term liquid diets that claim every medical benefit under the sun.
In terms of cancer, the theory behind a detox cleanse is that we all have toxins trapped in the folds of our gastrointestinal tracts. The toxins can come from anywhere — herbicide- and pesticide-treated foods and chemically-produced household products are major culprits.
As the theory goes, if those toxins find their way to your intestines and stay lodged there for too long, they’ll either turn into eventual cancer or knock you sideways with some other chronic disease. Colon cleansing in itself (also known as colon therapy) is now a popular offering at alternative healthcare facilities. The goal, of course, is to remove these long-lodging toxins, along with putrefied waste that gets stuck in your bowels.
Colon hydrotherapy done by a professional usually involves tubes that inject water and sometimes herbs up into the colon via the rectum. For the record, I believe this is a useful cancer therapy, although it’s only supported by case studies and anecdotes, not large studies.
But liquid cleanses approach things from the other end — they’re taken by mouth. That’s what I’m talking about here.
Most liquid cleanses involve keeping to a liquids-only diet for a specific number of days. The idea is that the bowels don’t have to work as hard to push out liquid waste, which frees them up to unclench, reenergize, and push out old solid waste.
Liquid cleanses also force you (usually) to avoid foods that stress your body. Your organs respond in turn with improved function. That goes for not only the bowels but the kidneys and liver as well.
Some of the liquid-cleanse diets I’ve read about include
- Prune juice fasts — seven straight days of prune juice and nothing else
- Diuretic diets — purported to help fluid retention
- Fasting diets — where you fast for a day every few days and then resume eating
- Laxative tea diets — where different herbal concentrations taken in tea form are used to purge your gut of everything
Others that sound more nutritious include a cleansing program that combines a vegan diet with whole food nutritional supplements, and a liquefied all-vegetarian diet (whole fruits and vegetables pureed into drinkable meals — a “juicing” approach). I’m no expert in this subject, but a liquid diet that provides good nutrition sounds like a better idea than one — for example — that requires you to live on water, lemon juice and a dab of honey for some long period of time.
I don’t lump careful eating plans like the Gerson Therapy with short-term liquid cleanses that provide almost no nutrition at all. The real cancer diets provide you with plenty of healthy nutrients. They can be followed for a lifetime (and you’ll live longer if you do.) Not so the water-plus-a-dab-of-honey fasts.
If you’d like to know more about the Gerson Therapy — one of the first natural cancer treatments and still one of the most renowned — you can get an introduction in either of two reports we publish, Natural Cancer Remedies that Work and Breast Cancer Cover-Up.
Short-term liquid fasts are another story. The general belief in conventional medicine is that liquid cleanses are dangerous and ineffective, except for the brief fasts required just before colon surgery or a colonoscopy. The thinking goes that longer-term liquid cleanses leave you nutritionally depleted with such a low daily calorie intake that your mood and energy levels get affected in a negative way.
I doubt if most liquid cleanses last long enough to put the average person at risk for some kind of nutritional deficiency. The lack of nutrients might leave you vulnerable to infections for a time. If you insist on doing a liquid fast, I suggest doing it in warm weather rather than during the winter cold and flu season. Old and frail people are obviously at greater risk of infection any time and I wonder if a liquid fast — especially an unsupervised one — is a good idea.
Critics say you’re also at risk of losing muscle mass, which could slow your metabolism and make it harder to lose weight in the future. I haven’t seen any hard evidence for this. But here’s a charge I can believe: According to most sources, even if you lose weight on one of these cleanses, you’re bound to gain it back quickly.
I don’t think short-term crash diets are an effective weight-loss plan.
Your body already knows what to do
The biggest bone of contention critics have with these diets is that they’re not backed by medical science. This is true, but that’s not what concerns me. Plenty of effective alternative therapies aren’t yet backed by “medical” science. Which by the way, doesn’t mean they’ve been disproven, it just means nobody has put together an institutionally-funded, white-coat lab study yet.
What does concern me though, is that most of these diets leave your body without real nutrition for several days at a time.
According to Charlotte Kikel, a nutrition consultant and clinical herbalist in Austin, TX, you have an internal clock that sends your body a message to move your bowels every eight hours — assuming there’s something inside that needs to be moved.
This doesn’t mean you should head to the bathroom every eight hours. Your body knows when it’s time to go, and your clue to whether it’s all working well is when you have easy movements with no straining, along with well-formed, solid stool.
The most effective ways to prompt healthy bowel movements and keep your gut clean, meaning you push toxins right on through, are:
- Drink plenty of fluids — especially water
- Boost your fiber intake, preferably from plant-bases like vegetables and fruit instead of grain
- Exercise — hands down one of the best ways to keep your bowels moving
I’ll share another secret I recently learned from my own nutritionist that works like magic for me: Magnesium is a natural laxative — that’s why it’s found in pharmaceutical laxatives like Phillips Milk of Magnesia. However, most magnesium supplements are designed to PREVENT the laxative response because some customers get diarrhea — and that’s NOT why most of us take a magnesium supplement!
For example, magnesium aspartate is the most common form of magnesium in supplements. It’s actually designed to prevent you from going! But if you take magnesium citrate (not easy to find, but it’s available), you’ll probably experience the laxative effect — and most of the time it doesn’t take many pills to do the job. Plus you get plenty of healthy magnesium to boot.
Unplug and empower your system
There may be some nutritional wisdom in certain cleansing programs. Success stories I’ve read talk about people learning to revamp their approach to eating. They say that by taking away their normal daily consumption habits, they grow less attached to bad behavior — like regular snacking or high-sugar cravings — and learn to be aware of their bodies and what they really need.
I say fine if it does lead to long-term changes in your eating habits. But that’s in doubt.
A short-term liquid diet is not a magic bullet. But there is real power in mindful eating and breaking bad eating habits.
If you’re bent on trying a liquid diet, my advice would be to do it under the guidance of a nutritional professional. Your body’s nutrition is too important to experiment on just to see if something works.
Better yet, think of your daily eating habits as a regular opportunity to cleanse your bowels. The most important “bowel cleanse” you’ll ever find is something you were born knowing how to do, and that’s have a bowel movement.
The best full body detox, according to Charlotte Kikel, is to eat the natural things nature intended. That gives you the natural feature most liquid-cleanses promise.
After all, the foods you eat and avoid have one of the biggest single effects on whether you develop cancer in your lifetime. In my experience, the real strength of liquid detox diets isn’t what you drink while you’re on the diet, but instead comes down to the bad foods you learn you can live without.
Personally, I had quite a bit of success changing my eating habits under the guidance of skilled clinicians, under an eating plan that lasted weeks and essentially became permanent — although at the start they didn’t tell me I’d have to eat that way for good.
Probably just as well, it would have been too discouraging at the beginning. I thought it was temporary, and that kept me going. I thought I could go back to my old ways after getting rid of my toxins. By the time I learned it was the program for life, I’d adjusted to the new way of eating.
The motto is “eat for life” — not for a crash fad diet that’s going to last for just a few days or a week. But take your new eating habits one day at a time. . .or one week at a time. Don’t set yourself to climb Mt. Everest.
Lee Euler, Publisher