The start of 2017 brings out a variety of new year resolutions… better diet, more exercise, avoid alcohol, etc. With the popularity and media coverage on various cleanses, I’ve had several patients ask me recently about whether they should do a juice cleanse to improve their digestive health. As a result, I wanted to provide the opinion of a gastroenterologist on this topic. I did write an article on colon cleanses in August 2016, so this time I’ll focus just on juice cleanses and the pros/cons in regards to effecting your digestive health.

Spoiler Alert: I do not recommend doing a juice cleanse.

What is a Juice Cleanse?

Juice cleansing is a diet restricting a person to only fruits and vegetables. Cleanses range from a few days to several weeks. This isn’t a diet of OJ from the grocery store. Typically juice cleanses are offered by stores specializing in pressed juices and prices can range from $55-$85 a day.

Benefits of a Juice Cleanse

Juice cleanses have been touted for their ability to eliminate toxins, weight loss and improve your digestive health. Thejuice cleanse with fruits and vegetables shown with 3 glasses of juice consumption of only raw fruits and vegetables is supposed to help with detoxifying your body.

When doing a cleanse, you should lose a little body weight due to the reduction in your daily calories. Since this is a temporary weight loss, it is important to be cognizant of the foods you eat when transitioning off the juice cleanse. Certain foods could be stored as fat by the body, so consult with a doctor or nutritionist to lessen this potential result.

The perceived digestive health benefit is that juice is more easily absorbed by your body. Since the insoluble fiber is absent with this diet, digestion does become easier for the body. I’ll discuss my thoughts on this benefit in the next section.

Digestive Health and Juice Cleanses

Consuming fruits and vegetables are an important part of good digestive health, so initially the premise of consuming more fruits and vegetables sounds like it could be a good thing. However, your body and digestive tract need nutrients not provided by just fruits and vegetables to perform optimally, so doing this as a long-term diet change is not recommended.

The idea of a juice cleanse is to detoxify your body by removing unwanted toxins. While that may be somewhat accurate, the truth is that your body doesn’t typically need help removing toxins. This is similar to the premise for a colon cleanse, where the objective is to remove unwanted waste from your body. The body has built in mechanisms to process and remove the waste from your colon, so altering that natural mechanism can cause issues with gut flora and digestive balance. In regards to unwanted toxins being removed from your digestive tract, I would caution against pursuing this perceived benefit. Unwanted toxins are NOT being stored in your digestive tract and the body is well equipped (liver & kidneys) to remove toxins on its own.

Be prepared to have potential unwanted side effects as well.  Any time you make a dramatic change in your diet it takes your body awhile to adapt.  The normal bacterial flora in your gastrointestinal tract have adapted over time to deal with what you normally feed them and when you make a change it can take some time to adjust.  Also, if you have any type of dietary intolerance to certain fruits or vegetables (more common than you would think) or have issues like fructose malabsorption, you may experience increase gas, bloating and diarrhea when trying a juice cleanse.  Just a few things to keep in mind when trying something like this as not all patients feel better when doing a cleanse.

One thing that I do like about juice cleanses is that it gives you an opportunity to test whether you have a negative reaction to gluten, dairy or fermented foods. After completing the cleanse, you can start reintroducing these foods one at a time into your diet to determine if any cause an issue/reaction. If so, you may have an intolerance and that should be discussed with your doctor. It is very common for certain foods to trigger digestive issues like bloating, diarrhea and pain.

While I would not recommend juice cleanses to my patients, I have many that have tried them with mixed results.  If you or someone you know is considering trying a juice cleanse I would encourage that person to consult with their doctor first before doing so.

I hope this was helpful.  Thank you.  RH