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Confused About Cleanses?

dr_susan_blum_orangeIf you are like most of my patients, you are completely confused about cleanses.  In fact, sometimes I think the Internet and media have created almost a mass hysteria about ‘doing a detox’.  What is a cleanse and what is a detox program?  Are they the same? This month I will help you sort out the difference, and decide if it is for you.

First, let’s define the word ‘cleanse’.  Some people think that doing a cleanse means cleaning out their intestines, similar to a colonoscopy prep.  They ask whether they will be in the bathroom all the time for the duration of the program.  Many cleanses on the market use laxatives and herbs to help clean out the gut in this way, and this is not the kind of cleansing that I recommend.

Instead, from a Functional Medicine point of view, a gut cleanse means killing harmful bacteria, yeast and/or parasites using ‘cleansing herbs’ to do this.  It does not entail multiple trips to the bathroom; in fact people with chronic constipation often happily find relief while doing this program, without the use of laxatives.

On the other hand, a detox program is focused on “Supporting Your Liver”.  It is not about the gut, and it isn’t generally thought of as a cleanse, although your liver does continually ‘cleanse’ or rid yourself of environmental toxins, and the ‘bad’ end products of your every day metabolism.  Because of the enormous amount of toxins we are all exposed to every day, and because research is showing the clear link between toxins and chronic diseases like autoimmune disease, cancer, obesity and heart disease, it is good to support your liver and tune it up periodically to keep those toxins moving out and not getting stuck in your body.  A detox program uses supplements that boost and enhance your liver detox system, and this is the Functional Medicine approach to a medically sound detox program.

And finally a word about juice cleanses, which fall under the category of a liver cleanse, but without supplements.  Your liver needs many nutrients to do its job, especially if you have a lot of exposure to toxins, like mercury in fish, or pesticides from your lawn or in food.  A juice cleanse can be a terrific way to get intense amounts of antioxidants, B vitamins, phytonutrients from greens-all things that help your liver-while at the same time taking a rest from eating food, especially animal food.  However, many juice cleanses are not organic, are high in sugar and don’t have the protein that your liver needs, leaving people feeling worse than when they started.

Here are my suggestions for choosing a detox program or juice cleanse:

  1. Plan on doing a liver support detox program twice/year, to tune up your liver in the fall and spring.  This is a great weight management strategy, too.  Use liver support supplements with a detox meal plan to get the maximum benefit.  We run these programs regularly at Blum Center for Health, both onsite and online.  Click here for our next program dates and for more information.
  2. In between the medical detox programs, several times a year or when you need a tune up after vacation or a weekend completely ‘off the wagon’, consider doing a juice cleanse for 1-3 days.  Choose an organic food and juice company like Organic Pharmer, which I co-founded, to make sure the cleanses are in keeping with my recommendations.  I usually do a juice cleanse day every Monday as a way of starting off the week on the right track. For more information, please visit:

If you have digestive issues and think you need a cleanse focused on the gut, check out our free online ‘Do It With Us’ Healing Your Gut Program.  We can help you with this, too.