Cleansing craze: The facts of how cleanses work and their effects

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
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People are constantly in a hurry.

Running through the drive-thru, speeding on the morning commute, popping a frozen dinner in the microwave.

So why would things be any different when it comes to the subject of weight loss?

The vast amount of health and fitness trends in today's world have created a craze among people to lose weight and do so in a speedy manner.

Many turn to a homemade or over-the-counter cleanse or detox for the fastest visible results.

Dr. Anne Marietta, associate professor and director of the dietetic internship at Southeast Missouri State University, said cleanses and detoxes generally eliminate toxins within the body, which stimulates the loss of excess weight. She said most cleanses and detoxes work similarly to a high-fiber diet or laxative. As a high-fiber diet, people have more frequent bowel movements. As a laxative, the cleanse stimulates the large intestine, which increases the number and intensity of contractions and then leads to an increased speed at which food is traveling through the intestinal track.

Homemade cleanses are typically juices made from various fruits and vegetables along with herbs and flax seed. Marietta said some of these recipes are nutritious. Over-the-counter cleanse and detox products, however, usually include many more ingredients, she said.

"The over-the-counter products tend to have a long list of ingredients that are unfamiliar to most consumers," she said. "For example, the ingredient Cascara can be in a product. It is really a laxative that has been banned by the FDA as a laxative. It can be added as an ingredient to cleanses."

Marietta said the side effects of taking a cleanse or detox can be uncomfortable and harmful and may result in diarrhea, cramping, dehydration, loss of potassium and sodium, weakness and irregular heartbeat. She said people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, diabetics, those with heart or kidney disease and those with diseases of the GI track such as Crohn's disease, diverticular disease or ulcerative colitis should not try a cleanse or detox.

"Some detox/cleanse diets are not healthy and others are more healthy the better ones include fruits and vegetables," she said. "In general, it is best to consume a healthy, well-balanced diet. The human body works best when the diet contains the essential nutrients with adequate fluids."