Juice Cleanses: Healthy or Harmful?

If you were to Google “juice cleanse” at this very moment, over 3 million results would hit your computer screen faster than you can say “detox.” Celebrities swear by them (usually claiming it’s how they stay thin), you probably know someone who has tried one or maybe you have yourself, and even some supposed health “experts” commend them. Whether you’re skeptical of the juicing craze or support it fully, it’s time to face some of the scientific, research-backed evidence to determine whether this trend is truly one worth following.

There are hundreds of variations of the juice cleanse, but the main purpose of them all seems to be the removal of toxins from the body. Well, I’m going to be straightforward here and let you know that there are currently no studies that show “juice cleanses” or “detox” programs to be effective in toxin elimination. ‘Skinny teas,’ ‘detox teas,’ and other gimmicky-sounding programs are exactly what they appear to be at first glance: too good to be true. The British Dietetic Association has stated that any studies performed thus far claiming the effectiveness of these detoxification programs “are hampered by flawed methodologies and small sample sizes.” Other sources explain that your liver’s and kidneys’ primary functions are to filter your blood and bodily fluids, ridding your body of any waste or toxins. In other words, your body doesn’t need any external help to clean itself out (except in extenuating circumstances such as organ failure). You can find more in-depth scientific explanations of your liver and kidneys here and here.

So, why all the hype about these cleanses if they aren’t even scientifically proven to be beneficial? Could they be harmful? If done incorrectly, yes. If done “the right way,” not necessarily. Programs that last longer than a day, restrict eating habits to a few times a day and/or very few “allowed” foods, and claim weight loss as a goal could certainly be considered harmful. These types of cleanses are typically short-term solutions (if they could even be called that) to minor issues like post-weekend bloating or even attempts to lose weight quickly for a vacation or special event. The intention of rapid weight loss is unhealthy both physically and mentally. First, this form of “crash dieting” is not sustainable in the long-term and often leaves you back where you started once the program has ended. Additionally, say you’re at a healthy weight but decide you still want to lose a few pounds for your formal the following week. These thoughts and intentions may seem innocent enough at the time, but for many women they could cause a spiral into disordered eating.

At best, juice cleanses are a way to give your digestive system a break for a day if you’ve been consistently putting some really damaging substances into it. But, after a day or even a few hours of drinking solely juice and/or its variations, your body will be seriously lacking macronutrients like healthy fats, protein, and fiber that provide satiation. Additionally, you would likely be consuming far fewer calories than in a typical day of eating, so your energy levels would dip severely and you would undoubtedly be confronted with a severe case of “hanger.”

In short, I’m not saying you should throw out your fancy juicer. In fact, it could probably make some awesome antioxidant-rich drinks for brunch. But, I make the argument that juice cleanses are not all they’re hyped up to be and should certainly not be used as a long-term dietary plan. So the next time you’re debating buying the new juice at that local healthy restaurant, go for it. But, let it supplement your meal, not replace it.