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How to Clean Out Your System Safely
Every three months, Pamela Bryant, 50, stops eating food for at least 10 days to clean the gunk out of her body. When she's hungry, she drinks a concoction of lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup, laxative tea or saltwater.
The popular liquid detox diet, known as the Master Cleanser, has few nutrients and is ridiculed by most nutrition experts. But Bryant swears it helps her lose weight and reduce cravings for sugar, caffeine and marijuana.
When it's over, "you feel incredible," said Bryant, a Maui massage therapist. "You have way more energy, and all your vital organs are rested and detoxified."
Detox or cleansing diets can involve water, potions, fruit and vegetable juice, raw food, herbal supplements, nutraceuticals or a combination of approaches. Proponents say they're necessary because our bodies take a lot of abuse from modern life: overly processed food, alcohol, cigarette smoke, chemicals and environmental pollution.
But some cleansing rituals aren't safe if used for extended periods, and there's virtually no scientific evidence that they work. Conventional doctors, meanwhile, say the lungs, kidneys, liver and skin are perfectly capable of detoxifying on their own.
Tennessee internist J. David Forbes agrees that the body's natural detoxification system is usually adequate. But "we're constantly bombarding ourselves with toxic stuff, mostly in the form of foods we eat," said Forbes, president of the American Holistic Medical Association. "We have to give the body a chance to catch up."
At the very least, there may be an emotional benefit associated with starting over. Here's how to try one safely:
Plan ahead. A week before you plan to detox, reduce caffeine and sugar (including excessive fruit juices) to avoid withdrawal symptoms, said nutrition and diet expert Ann Louise Gittleman, author of several best-selling books on detoxification. "Drink a cup or two a day of dandelion tea to shore up the liver."
Don't stop eating. Fiber moves waste through the body, and we get that through whole grains, beans and vegetables, said Kathy Freston, author of "The Quantum Wellness Cleanse" (Weinstein, $14.95). Fasting also slows down your metabolism.
Choose plans that involve nutrient-dense foods. Fresh, raw and organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds will be your best choices. The liver works harder when it's dealing with heavy, greasy, refined foods.
Skip the laxatives. The seven-day detox programs based on fiber and laxative pills with little or no food "only tax the body's systems," said Delia Quigley, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Detoxing Your Body" (Alpha, $18.95).
Time it right. Don't detox if you're overly stressed, said Laguna Beach, Calif., nutritionist Stella Metsovas. It adds more stress and can make you sick. Avoid liquid fasts if you have kidney or liver disorders, are pregnant, have an eating disorder or are on heavy-duty medications.
Take it easy. "You don't have to stop working, but allow plenty of time for rest and relaxation," said Gittleman. In the first four days, you might feel irritable, tired or have headaches, all signs that your body is detoxifying, she said.
Make it last. "Doing a 3- to 10-day detox diet and going back to smoking and eating McDonald's does nothing," said Dr. Melinda Ring, director of the Northwestern Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness in Chicago. "It's how you live your whole life."
4 detox diets: the pros and cons Detox diets range from intense liquid fasts to whole-foods diets that include sleep, exercise and whole foods. Here's how four popular plans shake out:
--Master Cleanser by Stanley Burroughs, mastercleanser.com
Claim: Eliminate toxins and cleanse the kidneys and digestive system.
You eat: Nothing. But you get to drink a lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper (for B and C vitamins) cocktail 6 to 12 times a day for at least 10 days and up to 40. Also includes laxative tea and saltwater flush.
Pros: Probably not harmful in short term. May lead to temporary weight loss.
Cons: Devoid of most nutrients. Avoid it if you have certain diseases, especially renal failure. Must stay close to the bathroom.
--The Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox, by Roni Deluz and James Hester, mvdietdetox.com
Claim: Can help you lose 21 pounds in 21 days.
You eat: Juices and soups from whole foods and vegetables. No chewing allowed. Supplements include food enzymes and inner cleansing products for the colon and liver.
Pros: Urges people to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Cons: A cumbersome plan that's hard to stick with. It also promotes colonics, which haven't been shown to help with weight loss.
--Quantum Wellness Cleanse, by Kathy Freston, kathyfreston.com
Claim: A 21-day program to heal your body, mind and spirit.
You eat: Plant-based and gluten-free whole foods.
Pros: Comprehensive, holistic approach. No strange brews to drink or pills to purchase.
Cons: Most people can't sacrifice sugar, alcohol, caffeine, gluten and animal products.
--Clean, by Alejandro Junger, thecleanprogram.com
Claim: "Helps the body naturally heal itself."
You eat: Two liquid meals, one solid, all designed by someone who is a nurse, raw foods chef and cleansing expert. Weeklong program involves exercise, rest and "detox enhancing" techniques such as sauna, massage, hot and cold baths, and skin brushing.
Pros: A whole-body, whole-foods plan. It's mild enough that you can still function.
Cons: A lifestyle overhaul that requires commitment.