Why Doing a Cleanse May Endanger Your Health

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If you breathe, eat, drink water or use electronics in this modern world, than you need to detoxify. We are exposed to harmful chemicals every day, even if you’re careful with the products you use. The air itself carries toxins like mercury. Even organic foods contain chemicals, hormones and pharmaceuticals that don’t break down from the water that feeds the plants or that we cook with. Add to these junk foods, plastic containers seeping petrochemicals into our food or water, electromagnetic waves, non-stick cookware, rancid fats, oxidized proteins, bacteria, viruses, molds, funguses and consuming foods we may not even realize we have an intolerance to.

That’s why I recommend that EVERYONE does regular and safe cleanses. The problem is, some of the more popular, cleanses that are on the market or are promoted these days online are actually dangerous to your health and can actually increase your body’s toxic burden level!  Read on so that when you are ready to cleanse you will know how to choose a program that nourishes you and makes you feel better, more energetic and healthier; not exhausted, weak or hungry.

Be Healthy or Else: Only do “extreme” forms of cleansing like the Master Cleanse or a fast if you are already healthy to begin with. If you are a smoker, are using or recently used pharmaceutical or recreational drugs or have had chemotherapy; if you consume artificial sweeteners, a lot of sugars, a large amount of refined carbohydrates or grain products or have an otherwise unhealthy diet; if you have or are recovering from a serious illness or disease; or if you have any blood sugar issues at all do NOT do the Master Cleanse, a cleanse similar to it or a cleanse involving fasting!!! If you are unsure—don’t do it or consult your healthcare provider first.

Safe Cleansing for Everyone: If you don’t fit the small group of people who fasting or the Master Cleanse is safe for… You should still cleanse. You just need to do something less extreme, healthier and safer for your body. Instead consider eliminating common allergic and inflammatory foods, such as grains, beans and dairy. Eliminating caffeine, artificial sweeteners and sugars is another beneficial step. You do not need to do something painful, difficult and that makes you hungry to have it be effective. Your goal for the cleanse should be to be healthier and consume a diet that is easier for your liver to process so that your body has time to deal with stored toxins. If you do this for a few weeks or a month—you will have amazing results! If you do this forever—well, heck, just imagine the results! A good rule is if the cleanse you are doing would be unsafe for you to do forever, than it may not be safe for you to do for a short time either. To learn more about how to safely cleanse, join this free webinar.

For the Chemistry Geeks (skip if you’re too cool!): There are two phases to detoxification. Someone that isn’t healthy to start with will not have the nutrient stores necessary to support either phase of detoxification and will endanger health through a large release of toxins from the liver when doing an extreme cleanse like the Master Cleanse or doing a fast.

Phase 1 either directly neutralizes toxins or modifies them from nonpolar, nonwater soluble chemicals into relatively polar (i.e. electrically charged) compounds through enzymes. In Phase 1, toxins are converted into less harmful chemicals, but during this process free radicals are produced which, if excessive, can damage the liver. Antioxidant stores and those consumed during a cleanse reduce the damage caused by these free radicals. If antioxidants are lacking and toxin exposure is high, toxic chemicals become far more dangerous during Phase 1 detoxification and potentially carcinogenic. This is why it is essential to already be healthy if you are going to do the Master Cleanse, a fast or another extreme cleanse that rapidly speeds up Phase 1 detoxification.

Consume Protein: Only cleanses that incorporate protein into them will allow for toxins to effectively be eliminated from the body. If you choose to do a cleanse that does not include protein, such as the Master Cleanse, in order for it to be safe, you MUST incorporate protein into it or you will end up with a higher toxic burden and feeling worse. This could even take the form of you simply adding rice or hemp protein powder to water and drinking it daily during the cleanse (yum?). If you do not incorporate protein, toxins will be released from your tissues but won’t be excreted out of the body, which will result in an increase in symptoms, making you feel awful and can be extremely dangerous.

Geek Out Time Again: Remember back to the “geek section” in #1… Well, Phase 1 detoxification prepares the toxins so that a small molecule can be added to or modified in Phase 2, which is when the chemicals from Phase 1 are made water-soluble so that they can be excreted naturally by the body and eliminated. Our bodies can only eliminate water soluble, not fat-soluble molecules which is why Phase 2 is so important. If Phase 2 conjugation doesn’t happen, the changed toxins that have become more dangerous and more carcinogenic from Phase 1 can’t be released from the body. This creates the… very technical term… wait for it… “toxic ping pong effect” when toxins are released from the liver, kidneys and lymph into the blood stream but cannot be released so they “ping pong” around the body wreaking havoc wherever they are and worst of all, these toxins that are ping ponging around are even more dangerous than they were before the cleanse because of Phase 1! This is why people often feel worse instead of better during a cleanse (especially earlier on), This is a signal that the body is not excreting the toxins being released and something is wrong.

What’s the most important thing the body needs for Phase 2 detoxification? Protein! Protein is converted into amino acids which holds hands with our dangerous toxins and drags them kicking and screaming out of the body. Yay protein!

It is possible to protein-load before doing a fast, particularly for someone whose body is used to burning fat instead of carbohydrates (such as those on a primal or paleo diet). This can allow for enough stored up protein to support Phase 2 detoxification.

Should I fast? How long?: If you decide to fast or do the Master Cleanse, consider doing it for only one to three days and doing a more gentle anti-inflammatory cleanse for the rest of the duration. The Master Cleanse is a ten day protocol which can be extremely unsafe for anyone. If you have blood sugar issues or normally consume a lot of sugars, grains, fruits and/or refined carbohydrates, doing a fast or the Master Cleanse is likely to make your blood sugar worse and runs the risk of harming your adrenal glands which have to compensate for the stress on a body that a fast creates. We need healthy, functioning adrenal glands to deal with stresses and give us energy. Harming your adrenal function risks chronic fatigue, inability to deal with stress, anxiety, overwhelm, sleep concerns and more.

Fine. How long should I do a safe cleanse? If it’s safe… You can do it forever. That’s the beauty. The longer you do it, the better results you have. If you only do it for a week, you will be healthier than a week ago! I suggest doing a 3-4 week, anti-inflammatory (safe) cleanse several times a year (once a season ideally) to achieve optimal health (safely). Here’s more info about a guided cleanse I offer.

Not for Weight Loss: Do not do the Master Cleanse or a fast for weight loss as you will gain the weight back and people with weight concerns are likely to have metabolic issues that make this form of cleanse dangerous. Consider instead eating an anti-inflammatory diet and doing a more gentle cleanse to create a healthy lifestyle that can be long-term.

There seems to be a lot of frenzied excitement regarding Beyonce and her weight loss effects from doing the Master Cleanse. But here’s the thing… 1) She gained all the weight back right away, once the cleanse was over 2) She did a modified Master Cleanse and ate vegetables during it so it wasn’t quite so unhealthy 3) She was glad to return to her normal diet (it didn’t create a life-long lifestyle change in her, which any good cleanse should) 4) She was healthy to start with and was under constant care of a huge medical team (she’s a super star after all) 5) She only did it for a movie and suggests nobody else does: “I would never recommend it to anyone unless you are doing a movie and it’s necessary, and you have proper help. There are ways to lose weight healthily if you want to lose weight, but this was for a film.” Ahh that’s my girl!

Okay, that’s the simple, down and dirty of making your cleanse safe. There is more of course regarding exercise, what foods to eliminate, what foods and nutrients to add in, how to support elimination of toxins, etc. etc. etc If you want to know more, please join me for a free Cleanse Webinar… Sign up here. And if you would like to do a more facilitated type of cleanse, instead of on your own, join me for a guided anti-inflammatory cleanse.

Have more questions about doing a cleanse, ask below. Also, if you’ve done a cleanse/detox before, I would love to hear your experience!

Plus, learn all about the anti-inflammatory diet by signing up for our free Anti-Inflammatory Video Training Series.

Liking is contagious!

24 Replies to “Why Doing a Cleanse May Endanger Your Health”

  1. I’m a big fan of the Master Cleanse for regulating blood sugar, but any cleanse should be done with caution if you are not healthy overall.  It’s important to rebuild your body first, then take on a cleanse to detoxify, although the irony is that 1 of the reasons you are not healthy is because you’re not cleansing enough!    I’ve had tremendous results healing my body by detoxing and recommend it to all my clients.

    1. Hey Angela! Glad you stopped by. 

      I believe instead of rebuilding a body to tolerate a cleanse like the Master Cleanse–it is better to do a safe cleanse that rebuilds the body while lowering the toxic burden. 

      I’m glad that you and your clients have had such great luck with the Master Cleanse. I have few clients that can tolerate it, but that is because I work mostly with clients that are hypoglycemic, diabetic, have unresolved blood sugar issues or have adrenal concerns. For them, the Master Cleanse only exacerbates their problems. Besides the lemon and cayenne in the Master Cleanse, people are essentially just drinking sugar water all day for 10 days as maple syrup is a very high glycemic sweetener and there is no protein, fat or fiber consumed with this sugar drink to buffer the effects on blood sugar. That said, I could see that people that have been on the paleo or primal diet for a long enough time to become fat burners instead of carb burners may be able to tolerate this level of sugar during a liquid fast much better than most of the population. Also, as I mention in the post, the Master Cleanse is problematic for Phase 2 detoxification since it contains no protein. 

      I do agree that cleanses CAN be completely healing–they just need to be tailored to everyone’s individual situation instead of a one-size-fits-all solution and they should include the nutrients  that support Phase 1 detoxification (either through diet or supplementation) and protein to support Phase 2. And I do like that the Master Cleanse contains lemon, which once metabolized is alkaline-forming and helps detoxify the liver, loosen mucus and stimulate digestion, but that’s the only component of the Master Cleanse that I support in its original incarnation for most people. I do think it can be changed to be more effective, safer and healthier.

      Happy cleansing (in whatever format you choose)! 🙂

  2. This has demystified the whole cleansing thing for me Katie. I know we are inundated with chemicals and poor nutrients in the guise of ‘foods’ nowadays and I’m sure cleansing has become more of a necessity than something only a few hard core ‘health nuts’ do 🙂 Thanks for all this info!Lynn

    1. Yes, it’s unfortunate how toxic our planet is becoming with chemicals and lowered nutrient levels of foods. I’m glad you found the information useful Lynn!  Thanks for dropping by!

  3. WOW!! Who knew? Many of the “commercial cleanses” make it sound like the “cookie cutter” cleanse or one size fits all cleanse will work, without harm, for everyone. This information really clarifies so many of the questions I’ve had. Thanks you.

    1. I’m so glad it was helpful for you Frantonia! Our bodies, environments, health histories, nutrient levels and toxin levels are all different, so responding to health problems should be different for each person too–that’s the only way it can be truly effective.

  4. Who knew that cleansing could be so harmful to your system, but every where we turn we are told the importance of cleansing.  You have provided a great analogy here Katie.  In fact, I have a cleanse in my cupboard right now and I am going to go down and read the entire package before I do anything else. 

    The information you provide on consuming protein during your cleanse was very informative – thank Katie, lots of GREAT information here for healthy living.

    1. Hi Susan! Great idea to read through the package before proceeding with the cleanse. Feel free to post the ingredients and protocol of the cleanse and I would be glad to offer suggestions for how to be the most successful with that cleanse. Yes, protein is so extremely important during a cleanse, but unfortunately often left out. I hear over and over about how people feel that their cleanse is really working because they feel so awful, but really it’s an indication that the toxins are “ping ponging” around in the body and not being eliminated and that’s why they feel so bad! Scary!

  5. Wow Katie.  You obviously have a huge amount of information to share.  I’ve always been concerned about the negative possibilitiers of doing a cleanse.  You just taught me that there are some major negatives if you do the wrong one or do it the wrong way, but that there is a safe alternative starting from wherever you are.  I’m curious–is there a safe cleanse for someone with poor kidney function, or does the need for extra protein or the relative inability to clear toxins via the kidneys mean it wouldn’t be safe?  Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experience!

    1. Hi Dorine, good question. I am offering a free cleanse webinar that will provide more information in response to your question. You can register at: 
      http://www.anymeeting.com/AccountManager/RegEv.aspx?PIID=EB52D785834C  

      We have been taught to think of cleanses/detoxes as very strenuous, overwhelming, difficult, painful things. Instead, it is better to think about them as being an opportunity to give our digestive system a break so that our elimination pathways, especially the liver can get down to business and work through our accumulated toxins. When an elimination pathway is not working well, such as the kidneys, this is even more essential since it is more likely that there are more toxins being held in stasis that the elimination pathways haven’t been able to get through since they are slowed down or dysfunctioning.

      For anyone that is dealing with blocked or dysfunctioning detoxification pathways (liver, kidneys, skin or lungs) there are safe ways to cleanse, but the focus has to be on gentle. Doing a fast or a liquid cleanse like The Master Cleanse would put too much burden on remaining detox pathways if they all aren’t at full capacity. This means it is safer to give the digestive system a break so your pathways can do their job by eliminating more difficult to digest foods (including at least grains and dairy) and decreasing the toxic burden by eliminating foods you know you have an intolerance or allergy to, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, sugars, food dyes, etc. This in and of itself will GREATLY reduce the burden on digestion and the toxic load on elimination pathways so they can work through some accumulated toxins.

      During detoxification there is not an increased need for protein just a need. In fact, most people should decrease how much protein is consumed during a cleanse versus their regular life. It does not require a lot of protein to create the amino acids to usher toxins out of the body during Phase 2 of detoxification, but it does require some. For normal, non-cleansing times I normally suggest 2-4 servings of 3 oz of animal protein (e.g. meat, dairy, eggs) or 6 oz of vegetable-based proteins (e.g. nuts, seeds, legumes) though that will be too high for some people and too low for others depending on metabolism, health, exercise, etc. However, during a cleanse I suggest cutting the protein amounts you normally consume (however much that is for you) in half at least or more if you consume a lot of protein. Again it depends on the level of cleanse and how active you are going to be during a cleanse. 1 oz of animal protein or 3 oz of veggie protein 2-4x/day during a cleanse is plenty for most people and can even be reduced during a more intense phase of a cleanse. Some protein is essential but too much makes detoxification difficult since protein is more difficult to digest than veggies (but not as difficult as grains).

      Also, anytime an elimination pathway is not at ideal functioning, you should support it with herbs during a cleanse. For instance, supportive herbs for the kidneys include: chanca piedra, juniper berry, uva ursi, parsley root, dandelion root, horsetail, nettles, marshmallow root, cornsilk, among others. Also, I would add homeopathic formulas (I like drainage formulas made by APEX) during a cleanse that support each of the detoxification pathways to help move things along and focus heavily on elimination methods (sweating, crying, urinating, bowel movements, deep breathing, etc.). Always consult with your healthcare provider before doing a cleanse for their advice. I am a nutrition therapist, herbalist and healing foods chef but am not a doctor. I only provide this information for educational purposes. If you are unsure, make sure to work with a healthcare practitioner during a cleanse.

      Anyone with impaired detoxification channels that has not conducted a cleanse before, may want to do a guided cleanse to support them through it. You can check out the guided cleanse I offer in the “work with Katie” section.

  6. Katie excellent article and especially like the fact that you incorporated ~ Safe cleansing for everyone. This is really vital as many people do have negative responses because, they do not understand how, why and when to cleanse.
    Sharing this 🙂

  7. Great article Katie,  I have never done a cleanse like you talk about here.  My daughter is a Nutritional Response Therapist and she helps me to see why my body is stresssed and whihc organs and what the cause.  I will consider doing a cleanse someday.

    1. That’s great Joyce! How lucky for you to have a nutritionist in the family! And she is lucky to have a parent that actually listens to her suggestions! It’s so important to get to the root cause of health conditions, as you mention and to make sure all organs are in their best working condition. Thanks for visiting!

  8. Katie: this was a great read! I had no idea how important protein was for safe cleansing. I only ever recommend that our eating disorder or weight loss clients take detoxing supplements, but no fasting…as their minds usually get wacky with fasting (thinking of all the weight they’ll lose…and then bingeing afterward to compensate and because their bodies are starving for nutrients!). So I’m so glad to see your comment about not cleansing for weight loss…the quickest way to GAIN weight in my book! Great info…thanks so much!

    1. Tricia, such a good point about people with eating disorders especially needing to stay away from fasting. Yes and being nutrient deficient, as you mention, makes it difficult for the body to complete Phase I of detoxification and during a fast there are no nutrients coming in to compensate for the lack and the body’s increased need for nutrients. I agree about fasting being the quickest way to ruin weight loss goals–I think it’s hard for most anyone to not binge after a fast and it definitely doesn’t prepare the body for healthy lifestyle/eating changes. Thanks for your comment!

  9. Thank you very much for this information. I just quit day 2 of the master cleanse. I am on the hypoglycemic side and I started getting really sick thinking that if I just kept drinking it, I’d be okay. I am still trying to recover from a bad blood sugar episode. I started shaking and feeling really confused and my heart rate went up. I ended up doing a ton of research and the cons of this cleanse are just not worth the risk, no matter what the fans of it say.  The more I read, the more I wanted to kick myself for even trying it but someone was encouraging me to do it and said only good things about it. Even the book makes not a lot of sense to a critical thinker – especially what we know about the inflammatory aspects of any kind of sugar, but Burroughs made it sound different. I started reading about folks who ended up fainting and having the paramedics called for dangerously low blood sugar.

    One thing I do want to know though is do we really need to cleanse? I read that many doctors and nutritionists think that we do well enough on our own as long as we follow a clean diet. Even though that is said or believed, I still get the idea that giving up certain foods for a while must give our bodies some kind of beneficial digestive break.

    1. Cat, thanks so much for sharing your experience here with the Master Cleanse and I hope it helps show others that they should not do it and not listen to all the hype about it. And good for you to quit doing the cleanse instead of forcing yourself through it. So often, when people feel so awful, they think that is a sign that the cleanse is working but really, as you found out, it is a sign that you are becoming even more toxic. Ugh! I feel for you! Protein is so important to a cleanse, it is the only way we can move the toxins through and out of our body, which the Master Cleanse completely eliminates! We could all do so much better by just eating more “clean” as a cleanse and consuming easier to digest foods. Thanks again for sharing your experience and I hope you feel better soon. Get some protein in your system (start slow after doing 2 days of the Master Cleanse), drink lots of water, dry brush and get some physical activity to help move through the toxins that you initially released through those two days. Take care of you!

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    1. Interesting about green coffee. I don’t drink coffee, but always suggest folks eliminate caffeine (slowly, stepping it off) as part of a cleanse. I am interested in learning more about how green coffee compares to regular, roasted ripe beans. It would be great if it increased production of SOD, which is a powerful antioxidant. That said, SODs require mineral cofactors of iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc to activate (and of course also these help with phase I detoxification processes). Thanks for sharing!
      Katie Bauer recently posted..Celiac Disease and Nutrient Deficiencies: How are Your Zinc Levels?

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