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Choosing The Cleanse That’s Right For You

Spring is just around the corner and along with the flowers and butterflies comes the notion of cleaning. Time to dust the corners, shake the rugs and shed the winter layers. When you hear “spring cleaning”, most of you are thinking house cleaning but others might be thinking detoxification and body cleansing. Spring is the most common time people start new diets as they get ready for summer and turn an eye toward health. As you search the web and read magazine articles on the latest and greatest diet fads, let Los Gatos Chiropractic and Wellness Center give you a clinical and research perspective on the myriad of choices available. We’re here to support you and to keep you safe while you improve your health. Please consider consulting with us before starting a cleanse of any kind as certain cleanses could aggravate health conditions and cause serious harm. We hope this article helps you make an informed decision and we are always happy to provide more education and answers to any questions you have.

photo: m.mate @flickr.com

Cleanse Basics
Purification diets go by a variety of names such as detox diets, cleanses or flushes. Some even target specific organs such as the liver, kidneys, colon or gallbladder. The basic goal of all of these regimens is the same: to purge toxins from the body. The theory behind this is quite straightforward and utilizes the basic principles of how the human body stores waste, chemicals and nutrients. Most chemicals, nutrients and minerals we ingest can be broken down to the basic categories of being fat-soluble or water-soluble. Fat-soluble molecules are intended to be stored in our body for later use, but that mechanism backfires when those stored molecules are things like pesticides, heavy metals and other toxins that we’d rather not keep. The liver and kidneys are remarkable organs that are designed to excrete and remove these toxins but sometimes they need a bit of assistance.

Why Cleanse?
Our modern lifestyle and food choices expose us to more toxic compounds than our body can get rid of. Additionally, the processed foods we eat often do not digest fully or properly. When considering a cleanse it’s important to remember that no clinical trials have been performed to measure just how much a cleanse can help the body to rid itself of these chemicals, toxins and food additives. The scientifically backed findings stop when we move from discussing how these processes work to what sort of actual results people can achieve. Unfortunately, most cleanses and diets will promise everything from increased energy, improved health, less acne, cures for allergy or even weight loss. Be aware that no cleanse has ever been shown to do any of that beyond anecdotal evidence.

If there is no evidence, why do people get such good results with cleanses and why are there so many cleanses out there?
Good cleanses encourage consumption of water and vegetables while maintaining a rounded nutritional profile. They also contain a framework to help you transition to a new way of eating rather than a quick fix. The real secret is likely a combination of three things: cessation, hydration, and nutrition.

One of the reasons cleanses can be so effective in bringing about change in a person’s health is that they provide a big shock to your routine. There are some studies that show people who make larger changes and follow through with them are more likely to keep that new habit than people who make incremental change. Upsetting your routine and replacing it prevents you from slipping back into old habits. The opposing view says small changes are easier to make, but it’s easier to incrementally lose your good habits. This is part of why diets and cleanses that are very proscriptive and regimented may seem to work better long term than more open-ended versions.

The length of time spent in a new habit also has a large impact on sustainability of the behavior. Many studies place habit formation at 20-30 days before it becomes more difficult to break than keep. If you’re serious about changing your health and habits, look for cleanses that help you maintain your new way of eating for several weeks. They should also transition you slowly back into a healthy full meal plan that you can use on a daily basis. Family buy-in may be crucial here as well. Peer and family support is another prime factor in changing eating habits.

Currently the “8 glasses a day” rule is going out of style, but is being replaced with an understanding that we derive a lot of water from our foods. This assumes of course that you are eating enough water-bearing food like fresh fruits and vegetables. Because most of us aren’t getting as many fruits and vegetables as we should, water consumption still plays an important role in our day-to-day lives. Most cleanses encourage consumption of large, sometimes massive, quantities of water. This has a number of beneficial effects on cell function, bowel movements and even brain activity! Even mild dehydration can begin to affect mental acuity.

Cleanses also limit non-water beverages such as coffee and soda. Caffeine is an addictive substance that also has an adaptive quality. The more caffeine we consume, the more we eventually need to get the same effect, which perpetuates the cycle. One of the most common reasons people get headaches during a cleanse is because they are going through caffeine withdrawal. This is a well documented side effect of chronic caffeine use and happens from changes to blood flow in small vessels that can give you headaches when you haven’t consumed enough caffeine. This is similar to drug withdrawal reactions and can be a very unpleasant experience depending on your level of caffeine usage.

Along with hydration comes proper fiber intake, which is bountiful in fresh fruits and vegetables. Many cleanses include a colon cleanse which can be uncomfortable and may result in dehydration or loss of electrolytes. Be aware that there is little scientific backing behind them. As an alternative try upping your intake of water; soluble fibers from vegetables, oatmeal, bran and fruits; and insoluble fiber from whole grains and cereals. This natural method of colon cleansing has been shown to work with many gastrointestinal diseases including colorectal cancer and diverticulosis.

Proper nutrition is lacking in the average American diet and two thirds of Americans are overweight. With all the miracles of modern science and our culture of pill-popping quick fixes, there hasn’t been much advance in addressing poor eating habits and obesity. The most effective treatment is to eat vegetables and exercise regularly. Astonishingly these two things come up time and again in the scientific literature and absolutely beat every other treatment developed so far. Eating right and exercising has even been shown to reverse diabetes in some people. Studies that have been conducted with mice have shown that by restricting calories to 60% of the normal diet, life expectancies have been doubled. This evidence has not been fully tested in humans, but holds promise for increased longevity.

So where do cleanses fit in with this? Fruit and vegetables are the mainstay of most cleanse diets and for good reason. They are low in sodium and calorie, have almost no fats and are devoid of any cholesterol. They also contain plentiful sources of vitamins, minerals and the essential building blocks our body needs. From proper intake of lean proteins we build cells, hormones and even neurotransmitters. The theory goes that if you’re lacking the proper building blocks and intermediate facilitators for building these important molecules that you will be unable to function at full capacity.

Make sure that any cleanses you are on maintain these essential building blocks by providing well rounded meals, even if the calorie count is low. Other strategies include a shake or supplement that contains a variety of amino acids, minerals and vitamins to keep you healthy through the transition to eating well on a regular basis. Probiotics may be included with these as well. There is a lot of data to support the use of probiotics in prevention of diarrhea and treatment of many inflammatory bowel diseases. Consider picking up a good probiotic anytime you have had diarrhea and especially during and after use of any antibiotics.

The Good, the Bad and the Malnutritive
There are a lot of different types of cleanses and flushes. The first type is water only cleanses/flushes like The Master Cleanse, Kirsch and others. The problem is that they often do not contain a full nutritional profile, are often short-lived and don’t help form new habits, and they don’t contain any life-style altering framework that will help you once you stop the cleanse.

The next category is the juice-only with an option of food such as Blueprint and Organic Avenue. Again, these tend to be short-term cleanses meant for those who already have a balanced diet and good habits. They contain better nutritional profiles and allow for some flexible meal options.

Finally we have a more intensive and complete category dubbed “the food and shake” cleanses: The Clean, Dr. Oz’s 48-Hour Cleanse and Mediclear – which we use in our office. The benefit is a full healthy nutritional complement as well as, to varying degrees, a plan to get you onto a regular dietary change. Mediclear also includes a long-term plan that allows you to follow through with the changes and make healthy eating part of your routine.

If you’re considering a cleanse, please make an appointment so that we can assist you in determining the most effective for your health goals.

For more information check out these interesting links:
Fruits and Veggies More Matters

National Center for Biotechnology Information: Recommedations for Probiotic Use

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