By JOAN PATTERSON
LAS VEGAS, Nev — About once a month, Las Vegas hatha yoga instructor Heather Bruton gives her body what she calls a “yoga cleanse,” an ancient practice of drinking lukewarm water and a little bit of sea salt to clear out the digestive system.
She sets aside a day of rest and drinks several glasses of the saltwater mixture, lets it flush her digestive tract, then, toward nightfall, begins to reintroduce foods such as broth, fresh vegetables and steamed brown rice.
It’s about physically cleansing her body, she said, but also a spiritual practice, a symbolic “letting go” of experiences or issues that may be holding her back.
Bruton, a 42-year-old mom who grew up on the “meat-and-potatoes diet” of her Irish Catholic family, has come to look at cleansing as a lifetime practice. She is a vegan who believes that pure, unprocessed foods are better for her body. When she had cancer four years ago, she used acupuncture to help clear her system of the “heat” from the strong chemotherapy, she said.
“People have to be really careful” with cleansing regimens, Bruton said. “They have to know their body and maybe talk to the doctor they work with … and really understand what they’re doing so that they’re not putting themselves in danger, but also to sort of get a little bit more clarity about what is the purpose of what they’re doing.”
Unlike Bruton, thousands in this country are adopting the latest regimens without putting much thought into why they are doing it, or their approach.
It’s no wonder. Dozens of books on do-it-yourself juice and raw-food cleanses promise results such as renewed energy and weight loss, not to mention the detox kits, juice packs and supplements at corner pharmacies and vitamin stores.
A web search of “detox products,” for example, will pull up everything from Jillian Michaels’ Detox and Cleanse supplements to the Acai Berry Cleanse that promises to “flush away pounds of matter clogging your digestive system.”
Yet, there isn’t enough science to verify these claims, or to justify whether the body even needs any assistance.
Joy Dubost, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, notes the body already has a “built-in” defense system consisting of the liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, lungs and skin that is more than capable of protecting the body from contaminants as well as disposing of them. Claiming that the body needs help is misleading, she said.
“I think many of these diets kind of play off of a fear factor that our environment is full of chemicals and full of toxins, and therefore we need to rid ourselves of all this exposure to toxins. … Where the problem comes in is there’s absolutely no scientific evidence that your body needs to fast or detox to cleanse itself from toxins,” Dubost said.
Because of limitations it can place on consuming certain food groups, such as protein, with specific nutritional benefits, detoxification can cause symptoms such as cramping, aching muscles, lethargy, muscle loss and heart issues.
The elderly are among the most vulnerable when it comes to detoxification practices, because they are more prone to dehydration and may have more chronic diseases that could be exacerbated by the drastic change in diet, said Een, who is also a registered dietitian.
Also at risk are women who are pregnant or trying to conceive.
“One (detox regimen) that particularly bothered me was a fertility cleanse, and I thought, ‘Oh wow, that’s not a time when you want to be putting yourself in a potential nutrition risk,’” Een said.
Teens are also vulnerable to the effects of cleansing practices because they are still growing and often lead very active lives, including participation in school sports, which means they need plenty of daily nutrition.
It’s not uncommon for teens to use some of the more extreme cleansing programs to lose weight, putting them even further at risk, Een said. This includes the lemonade diet, also known as the Master Cleanse, which consists of no solid food, just a concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper for several days.