We have heard about the Juice Cleanse. We have heard about the health benefits. But can we trust them? Let’s take a deep dive together into what a juice cleanse really does to your gut and body overall.
First, we should understand what a juice cleanse is.
The heart of a juice cleanse is that you only consume juice for a certain period of time. Whether it is orange, mango, lemon, pomegranate, or pineapple - totally up to you. But everything has to be a juice. What this attempts to accomplish is to give your body a break from digesting solid foods, thereby losing weight, and detoxifying your gut in the process. There are even different ways you could go about your juice cleanse, ranging from purchasing prepared juices designated for each meal, to following your own recipes and regimen. I do want to give you a warning about these juice cleanses; not everything they’re telling you is true.
Marketed as a quick strategy for weight loss, elimination of toxins, and better digestion, juice cleanses can be filled with a multitude of myths.
To understand what is really going on in our gut during our juice cleanse, let's turn to the experts.
A study done in 2017 examining how our body reacts to a juice cleanse, did all of the heavy lifting for us. Their results came back mixed after exploring many aspects of the 3-day juice cleanse their participants took on.
A little bit of background before we get into the thick of the study:
Gut microbiota are microorganisms living in the digestive tract and are important for our health. They help by providing energy, nutrients, and immunological protection to our body. In our digestive tract, there are two types (phyla) of bacteria that are very common. These bacteria are Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes, which represent roughly 90% of the bacteria in our gut! Bacteroidetes have the job of breaking down plant fibers and complex polysaccharides from fruits and vegetables. Firmicutes on the other hand, feed off of high-fiber and carbohydrate foods such as whole wheat pasta. Another important concept is that high Bacteroidetes are often associated with low body weight while elevated Firmicutes levels are associated with higher body weight.
Now that we have our bases covered, we can really understand the results of the scientific study.
Researchers found that after 3 days of a juice-based diet, the participants' Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes ratio changed. The Firmicute bacteria significantly decreased while the Bacteroidetes bacteria significantly increased. This could be connected to the weight loss the participants experienced during the 3-day juice cleanse. Weight loss of 1.7 ± 1.2 kg (or for us Americans 3.75 ± 2.65 lbs) was observed by the researchers during the 3-day cleanse. The participants were observed for two weeks after their juice cleanse as well and their Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes ratio returned very close to the original ratio. It is important to also note that almost half of the weight was gained back in the two weeks following the juice cleanse. Juice cleanses are not an effective weight loss strategy, but more on that later.
A juice cleanse influences more in your body than just your bacteria composition and weight, such as blood pressure.
When broken down, blood pressure is essentially how hard circulating blood presses against the walls of blood vessels. Nitric oxide is known to relax and therefore widen the inner walls of your blood vessels, lowering your blood pressure. Beet juice in particular is a nitrate rich ingredient that may have contributed to the participants experiencing a decrease in blood pressure, also known as vasodilation. Researchers tracked plasma nitrate and urine nitric oxide (NO) concentrations throughout the juice cleanse. They found that after the 3-day cleanse, the plasma nitrate increased by 3 fold and the NO increased 5 fold from the baseline! They each returned to their normal amounts after the two weeks of observation post juice cleanse. Importantly, the decrease in blood pressure is not necessarily due to the juice cleanse itself but possibly an increase in fruit and vegetables in the participants’ diet.
While the juice cleanse has some positive effects on your body, they are not completely innocent.
Juice cleanses affect both your mind and body.
Diet culture surrounds us all day everyday. This toxic environment comes in many forms such as restrictive eating, wacky diets, and intense workout regiments pushing our bodies to an extreme. There seems to be a new popular diet every week, with new health benefits and even less foods you’re allowed to eat. Among this craze, it can be hard to discern which diets are detrimental to your mind and body. The juice cleanse sounds like it is healthy because fruits and vegetables are always healthy, right? Really, moderation is key. Of course we should all be eating fruits and vegetables which are filled with carbohydrates, but fruits and veggies don’t contain everything we need to get through the day. We also need to be consuming protein and unsaturated fats to help sustain and fuel ourselves. Our bodies contain amazing systems that are able to get rid of unwanted toxins all on its own. We don’t need to intervene and cut out the majority of foods. Remembering to eat fruits and vegetables daily and taking care of our body will work miracles of its own.
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