Should You Try a Juice Fast?

Friday May 3 | BY |
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Juice Fasting

The celebrities are doing it—should you jump on the juice-fasting bandwagon?

How do you swim against the current of a $5 billion dollar industry? That’s what the fresh-juice and juice-fast business makes each year. But why would any one want to buck such an amazing trend? Let’s take a look.

Do a Google search on juice fasting. On the first page there is not a single link to a site by a naturopathic or medical doctor’s website. Why is that interesting?

I’m suspicious of MDs who promote natural health because most endorsements are done for profit. More importantly, they have no training and no specialty boards in natural health. In fact, in medical school they are strongly indoctrinated against all things natural. Medical schools systematically limit and whenever possible remove anything to do with natural health from the curriculum and from continuing education programs—and those they allow are heavily censored. So it’s not surprising that MDs don’t support juice fasting.

Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are the leaders in natural health and they often employ cleansing programs in their practices. They understand Western medicine and are experts in natural therapies. However, both NDs and MDs are trained to treat sick people. Most do not have time to educate people about how to stay well and support body processes that promote optimal wellness. NDs help their patients, often with cleansing programs, but don’t market what is basic clinical practice on the Internet.

Few Studies on Juice Fasting

A search of the world famous Cochrane Reviews produces not a single entry on juice fasting or cleansing. Do a PubMed search on juice cleansing and you’ll find no scientific research papers at all. What you’ll find are studies on the effects of different foods on health, like the health benefits of cucumbers or unripe grape juice on lowering cholesterol.

However, there is one 2005 paper involving a survey of 952 hospitalized patients who completed a 7-day juice fast. They also received integrative therapies like acupuncture. The researchers concluded that fasting was safe, had potential benefits, but more research was warranted:

Fasting can safely and successfully be implemented in an inpatient integrative medicine concept and is perceived as a health-promoting method by the majority of patients. Potential effects on disease-related complaints and lifestyle adherence should be further evaluated in randomized trials.

So if doctors and scientists leave the subject alone, who are the experts?

A Brief History of Fasting, Body Detoxification, and Juice Cleansing

Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine have been in practice for thousands of years. Both systems include cleansing and detoxification in their philosophy. But, they advise working with the body’s rhythms rather than forcing it. Both teach that a doctor assesses a patient for types of toxicity and then recommends personalized dietary changes to reduce cumulative poor health. This advice includes eating special foods, eliminating others, drinking herbal teas, and practicing special exercises.

Hippocrates, the grandfather of Western medicine, employed fasting as a cure, but the focusing mostly on dietary changes. His patients ate their way to health. Restricted diets and fasting, like in Ayuvedic and Chinese medicine, were reserved for the treatment of disease. Healthy people were advised against extremes of dieting or going without food.

In the Aphorisms by Hippocrates, he wrote:

In a restricted diet, patients who transgress are thereby more hurt than in any other way; for every such transgression, whatever it may be, is followed by greater consequences than in a diet somewhat more generous. On this account, a very slender, regulated, and restricted diet is dangerous to persons in health, because they bear transgressions of it more difficultly. For this reason, a slender and restricted diet is generally more dangerous than one a little more liberal.

In America, health spas first came into vogue in the late 1800’s. John Harvey Kellogg (February 26, 1852 – December 14, 1943), an MD from Battle Creek, Michigan, ran a sanitarium using holistic methods with a focus on nutrition, enemas, and exercise. Kellogg was an advocate of vegetarianism and is best known for the invention of the corn flakes breakfast cereal with his brother.

Paul C. Bragg (February 6, 1895 – December 7, 1976) is considered the Father of the Health Movement in America. Crippled by TB as a teenager, Bragg developed his own eating, breathing and exercising program to rebuild his body. He inspired millions to take responsibility for their own wellness, including a young chiropractor named Bernard Jensen (March 25, 1908 – February 22, 2001).

Dr. Jensen was my mentor in nature cure therapies. He was an expert in iridology who employed bowel cleansing and the use of nutrition, diets, and supplements in his health sanitariums in Southern California. From 1978 to the mid-80s, I was a frequent visitor at Hidden Valley Health Ranch in the hills above Escondido, California. On numerous informal teaching sessions while sitting around the table in his house or walking the grounds of the ranch, he shared the secrets of health: wake up early, take a walk in nature—or at least go barefoot on wet grass—eat live organic foods, drink juices regularly, and if you’re sick, use juice fasting as the cure.

In 1961, Ann Wigmore, a self-taught natural healer, opened the first Hippocrates Institute in Boston. At that time, she was the face of the growing natural wellness movement in the U.S. Wigmore believed in the powerful healing properties of wheatgrass juice and other vitamin and enzyme-rich foods to treat disease. Initially, the diet at the Institute was vegetarian, but soon transitioned into vegan. But after noticing the positive changes that occurred from eating only live foods, she advocated a permanent diet of raw plant foods. Her fasting methods focused exclusively on fresh wheatgrass juice.

Becoming More Popular

Cleansing’s more recent popularity is traceable to the 1990s, when Peter Glickman, a Scientologist and entrepreneur, repackaged a 1940s diet called the Master Cleanse (Stanley Burroughs wrote the book The Master Cleanser in 1976). The Master Cleanse involves lemon juice, cayenne pepper, maple syrup and 10 days of your life.

Fasting and cleansing diets have been around for a long time. They appear safe, when done carefully, and might have some value. But that still doesn’t explain why it has become such a trend and why don’t more doctors endorse it.

The answer might lie in what Dr. Pauline Powers, the lead scientific advisor for the Global Foundation for Eating Disorders, calls “the perfect pathway” to eating disorders. And there’s plenty of justification: The stars do it. It’s supposed to be super-healthy. I’ll do it, too. Not to mention that juice cleanses are ingeniously marketed as quick fixes for all the ailments of modern life.

A Brief Course on Starvation

The human body is programed to go without food for short periods of time. You can survive for 3-5 days, maybe a week without water. And, if you drink enough water, people can survive for 21-40 days without food. Fasting only on water is termed voluntary starvation. Dr. Jensen called it “nature’s operating table.”

A juice cleanse with enough fluid that provides marginal levels of nutrition is actually near-starvation with hydration. In this state, people can live, though at greatly reduced weight and energy, for many months or even years. However, in extreme cases, like those with anorexia nervosa, death from organ failure or myocardial infarction is fairly common with up to 20 percent of cases ending this way. Death tends to happen when body weight falls to between 60 and 80 pounds, a body weight corresponding to a body mass index (BMI) of about 12 to 12.5. (Normal BMI is 18.5-24.9, and most fashion models have a BMI of around 17.)

My 20-60-20 Plan

From my own life’s experience with fasting, raw, vegan, vegetarian, fruitarian, macrobiotic, carrot juice only diets—I’ve done it all at some time or another—I’ve found that a balanced life and regular eating plan works best. Occasional short-term fasting can be beneficial, and I’ve written about that in an earlier blog.

The ratio that I’ve found works best for most people is:

  • 20 percent of the time, you can eat lightly, do modified fasting like with juices, or eat raw vegan foods
  • once in awhile, you can even do a weeklong cleanse or fast
  • but, 60 percent of the time you should eat and enjoy good quality fresh foods

Here’s a thought: how about eating right? Cut out high-fat foods, packaged and junk foods, eat in moderation, consume more plants, and exercise. It may not seem as glamorous as starving yourself like a celebrity, but it’s certainly more attractive than slurping down nauseating green juices and getting colonics a couple of times a week.

For the remaining 20 percent of the time, take nutritional supplements, rejuvenating adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, and consume super foods and drinks like green tea, coffee, dark chocolate, pomegranate juice, omega-3 fish oils, and herbal teas.

It’s basically simple. And, it’s consistent with Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, and Hippocrates. I learned much from natural pioneers like Dr. Jensen, as well as from Indian Ayurvedic doctors, and Taoist and Buddhist healing monks from China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. I think there are only a few things they would add: keep it in balance, eat seasonally and according to your body’s needs and type, and don’t force anything.

Learn More

The Juice Cleanse: A Strange and Green Journey

Cleansing’s Dirty Secret

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. Natural foods are always best, and junk food is all about convenience and nothing about good nutrition. I love the idea of once in a while a cleanse or fast that you mention.

  2. Adrienne says:

    Nice article. A very fair discussion of this subject.

  3. Nancy Moody says:

    I have done a cleanse a couple times a year and it helps to get a person on the right track to better food choices.
    A cleanse helps clean out the toxins that maybe in our food that we don’t even know. I always feel good and do plant based eating most of the time. I take a Nutritional Product (fruits, vegetables and berries) everyday and they fill the gap of what I don’t eat everyday and gives me a good variety.

    Plant based diet, exercise and a form of meditation even if it is just slow breathing to relax creates the whole picture of a Healthier Life.

    Thanks for the information.

  4. Rachel says:

    I have found short juice fast 1 to 2 days at a time very doable and beneficial. What I find laughable is people making money off of other people doing juice fasts. What is easier than juicing everyday? Why would someone pay someone else to tell them how to do it.
    I guess it’s just the smarter one making money off of the gullible.

    The internet is filled with information on how to juice fast. No need to pay someone to tell you how to do it.

  5. I’m suspicious of MDs who promote natural health because most endorsements are done for profit. More importantly, they have no training and no specialty boards in natural health. In fact, in medical school they are strongly indoctrinated against all things natural. Medical schools systematically limit and whenever possible remove anything to do with natural health from the curriculum and from continuing education programs—and those they allow are heavily censored. So it’s not surprising that MDs don’t support juice fasting.

    Comments are closed for this post.