Cleansing can be good if not too extreme

Dr. Liz Lipski
Dr. Liz Lipski (Baltimore Sun)

Does eliminating specific foods from the diet, such as sugar or wheat, provide health benefits? Such cleansing has become a popular way for people to lose weight, boost energy and eat more healthfully. Liz Lipski, academic director for the Master of Science degree in nutrition and integrative health at Maryland University of Integrative Health, believes cleanses can be beneficial if they are not too extreme.

What is the difference between fasting and cleansing, and why is cleansing healthier?

While fasting describes the complete removal of food from your diet, cleansing is a much gentler option because you continue to eat, albeit more lightly and with healthier foods. Fasting for short periods of time (12-24 hours) can be of some benefit, but one of the concerns of long-term fasting is muscle wasting, since muscle tissue ends up being used by the body as a source of energy.

What is cleansing and what are the different types?

There are almost as many types of cleansing as there are cultures around the world. For instance, there are religious-based cleanses, such as ones done as part of Ramadan or Lent, where people alter the way they eat for a period of time for spiritual or physical cleansing purposes. Cultures from the Romans to Scandinavians have all used saunas, steam baths and cold plunges as their methods of cleansing. And if you think about it, we all spend time "cleansing" every day, whether by brushing our teeth, taking showers, using skin brushing, etc.

Some people might do a cleanse that is as simple as giving up sugar in their diet. Others might cleanse by avoiding gluten containing grains. ... Yet others might give up alcohol for a month. Other options include: purchasing a detox/cleansing system from a natural foods store or clinician, eating only fruits and vegetables for three to seven days, a fresh juice or smoothie cleanse, or choosing a cleanse that works specifically on enhancing liver detoxification and/or bowel and colon cleansing.

Is cleansing safe?

It depends on the type of cleanse chosen. If it isn't too radical, it is probably safe, although one should always check with their physician first.

What are the benefits of cleansing?

There are many benefits to cleansing. First, there is the mental component that comes when you change what you eat. Most of us tend to eat the same foods over and over. By eating differently than we normally do for a period of time, it helps us to focus on food and really pay attention to how food interacts with our bodies. Second, cleansing can really enhance the way you feel physically, energetically and mentally. Often I've used cleansing programs with my clients where we eliminate certain foods and in doing so, some clients have seen depression lifted, arthritis and migraines resolved, energy levels improved and a variety of other health conditions improved.

Our diets are loaded with foods that contribute to inflammation and are low in nutrients. When someone starts eating a whole-foods diet loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables, they often feel amazingly better. Other people feel better because cleansing reveals a hidden gluten intolerance or celiac disease (an autoimmune condition that causes an inability to digest wheat and gluten-containing grains), lactose intolerance, or a host of other sensitivities and intolerances.

What are some precautions people should take when cleansing?

If you are taking any over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs, including thyroid hormones or birth control pills, I recommend that you consult a health care professional, like your primary-care physician.

How often can people cleanse without it becoming a danger?

The spring is an excellent time for a cleanse, and traditionally, fresh greens were eaten after a long winter to stimulate functioning of the liver and gallbladder after a long winter.

Should cleansing be used as a weight-loss tool?

Some people find that cleansing offers an excellent way to jump-start a weight-loss program. Others find that eating a whole-foods diet makes weight loss easy because the body is in better balance.

Is cleansing safe for kids?

I do not recommend cleansing for children unless medically warranted.



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