Water Fasting, Detox, and Cleanses: Fashionable But Not So Factual

From gluten-free to vegan, to paleo and raw, new and sometimes extreme diets are seemingly more fashionable than ever before. Newest in the line of today’s trendy health regimens is water fasting, which despite implications in its name, does not involve abstinence from water, but rather, the consumption of food.

Proponents of water fasting claim that through the extended absence of food, one may achieve a number of positive health outcomes; from reduced blood pressure, to cleaner kidneys, and even enhanced spiritual connection. There’s just one flaw with such glowing claims: most of them are refuted by conventional science.

Fast vs Fiction

Just a simple internet search of water fasting will yield mounds of positive, even miraculous, testimonials. Water fasting has cured my acne, water fasting has managed my hypertension, water fasting has cured my prostate cancer (yes this a serious claim)

Extreme examples aside, there is one benefit which is ubiquitous amongst nearly all water fasting advocates–detoxification.

Water fasting is one of many popular detox methods which have risen to prominence in more recent years. Among them: juice cleanse, salt water cleanse, and master cleanse. All of these cleanses are said to offer detoxifying properties which target anything from your kidneys, to your colon, to your blood. But what do scientists have to say about such methods?

According to the Harvard Medical School, detoxification diets and cleanses are just one of many medical misconceptions circulating around the blogosphere and elsewhere.

What’s up doc?

The effectiveness of detoxes like water fasting are reliant upon several medical concepts which, unfortunately for those looking to rid their body of toxins, are commonly regarded as dubious or just downright medical fallacies.

Claim: buildup of contaminants in your liver may lead to a wide number of illnesses.

Science: According to Christopher Wanjek, a long time health and science journalist, this concept is flawed on a biological level. Wanjek states that, toxins which pass through the liver may do so again and again, and there is no verifiable study which solidifies liver buildup as a legitimate medical claim.

Claim: the right combination of herbs, juice, or water, will bind to the toxins in your organs/blood and eliminate them.[contextly_sidebar id=”UUXAdnYT17Mrx08XBDjuEIMQS1fnLkgk”]

Science: There is no medical study proving that such herbs exists. As Wanjek puts it, “there’s no reason why a so-called natural detox solution could locate and extract all that is harmful in a body and leave all that is good.” In some extreme cases, fasting has even been associated with catastrophic medical events.

Claim: Water fasting may renew white blood cells and therefore help patients undergoing chemotherapy regenerate damaged immune systems.

Science: So far preliminary trials on mice indicate that fasting may indeed facilitate the growth of new white blood cells. Such regeneration in humans will not been determined until further studies are conducted.

Claim: Fasting may help reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Science: Initial findings have determined that short periods of fasting may reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, but also cause significant changes in the blood cholesterol levels–a risk factor in heart disease. The study calls for more research to fully determine fasting’s effects on human health.

On the bright(er) side

So your detox diet is of questionable scientific rigor; then why do you feel so good? According to The Mayo Clinic, there may be an explanation.

“There’s little evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body,” states Registered Dietitian Katherine Zeratsky, “The benefits from a detox diet may actually come from avoiding highly processed foods that have solid fats and added sugar.”

Additionally as Zeratsky states, “fad diets,” are not a legitimate solution. When it comes to weight loss, fasting can often work counter productively–reducing ones basal metabolic rate (the calories which you burn without exercise) and resulting in extreme weight gain following the fast.

Luckily for you purists out there, there is indeed one sure fire way to make sure that your body detoxifies–it’s by not putting toxins into it  in the first place.

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James Pero