Photo credit: Chika
I “wrote” part 1 of this post a couple of weeks ago, with the intention of following up with a rationale. In fact I wrote most of this prior to posting part 1, but my enjoyment of a little fun lead me to post part 1 first. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It is a very quick read.
My intention when I began to write this post was to provide a detailed scientific literature review on the topic. Because let’s face it, science is cool. Unfortunately my journal search came up short. Very short. Then I came across a page on the Isagenix website titled: “Science Behind Cleansing“
Typically I look for peer-reviewed journals as sources, but since I was having trouble finding any, I decided to give this a read.
The article presents the benefits of cleansing, which the article defines as “a combination of intermittent fasting with herbs and vitamins that support detoxification”, with a brief description of each benefit and in most cases a reference to at least one peer-reviewed journal.
The benefits listed are:
- weight control
- food cravings
- insulin sensitivity
- brain function
The descriptions of the first five benefits include references to peer-reviewed journals, suggesting that there is science to back up the claims made. In each case, however, the benefit and associated reference is about intermittent fasting and/or caloric restriction, not about cleansing.
The sixth benefit listed, detoxification, is the only benefit related to the “herbs and vitamins that support detoxification” part of a cleanse, which is the part that Isagenix and other multi-level-marketing companies sell. It is also the only benefit listed that contains no references.
In other words, there is no science presented that supports the use of a cleanse. There is, however, scientific evidence presented that supports the use of intermittent fasting.
That there are benefits to intermittent fasting (IF) isn’t surprising to me. I have been following the topic of IF for several years now, both in the literature and via the personal and professional experiences of trainers in my network. If you were to ask these trainers their impression of intermittent fasting, I think you would find the response is overwhelmingly: “it may be a good option for some people“. Their lack of conviction is partly a reflection of the quality of trainer I have in my network – they are thinkers and understand that we are all different. Their lack of conviction is also a reflection of the uncertainty of this nutritional approach.
As for the cleanse? Think about it: if there was scientific support for the use of a cleanse, it would probably be included in the Isagenix “Science Behind Cleansing” article, wouldn’t it? After all, every other element of the article is nicely referenced.
My best suggestion is that you skip the cleanse, and if you are curious about IF, read more about it, and as long as you don’t have any health concerns that could be negatively impacted by fasting, consider giving it a try. Just be sure to listen to your body if you do. If you are a woman, definitely read up on it before you try it, as it looks like much of what is coming out about IF suggests that it may not be a great option for women.
Suggested references about intermittent fasting:
- As noted above, the Isagenix “Science Behind Cleansing“, which might be more aptly called “Science Behind Intermittent Fasting” article has some interesting points about IF, including references to journals.
- “Alternate-day fasting and chronic disease prevention: a review of human and animal trials“. This is a great overview of studies, and is relatively readable for the non-scientists.
- Kevin Cann is someone I respect greatly when it comes to nutrition. Here’s a great article he wrote about Meal Frequency.
- Nia Shanks has a few great posts about IF: “Three Methods of Intermittent Fasting“, “Is There a Dark Side to Intermittent Fasting“, a subsequent “rebuttal” by Brad Pilon, author of Eat Stop Eat, “You’re doing it wrong“.
- Dr. John Berardi, creator of Precision Nutrition, has a free Intermittent Fasting ebook.
- I’m a big fan of Dr. Andrew Weil, so here is his take on IF
- Martin Berkhan has a website about IF called leangains, which was actually the inspiration for my own post about a variation of intermittent fasting involving skipping breakfast.
- Here’s an interesting post on Mark’s Daily Apple about Intermittent Fasting for women.
This is a small sampling of articles about intermittent fasting, but hopefully you’ll agree that it is a good start.
If you are still interested in cleansing, well, I can’t say I have any suggested resources for you, but best of luck.
Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer who believes in a moderate approach to exercise and nutrition.
Should you do a cleanse? (Part 1)
Thanks for the comment Bethany. Yup, definitely better options than cleansing!
PS – sorry for the ridiculously late reply. Seems that I missed a tonne of comments.
What is the point of a cleanse if the toxins being cleaned are just going to be replaced by the environment (I.e. whatever you can’t help eating or breathing etc). If it isn’t a complete solution, if it doesn’t lead to a lifestyle change, it seems to me to be wasted effort. If a person needs a reduced calorie diet, and intermittent fasting is a regular normal part of their diet that doesn’t interfere with a person’s ability to function, that makes sense. But so does self control and eating smaller portions of better food choices and drinking lots of water.
Thanks for all the links to the research, I can’t wait to review them.
I agree, and there may even be a few benefits despite the lack of scientific evidence. But I find it frustrating to see companies – multi-level marketing ones in this case – post their “scientific evidence” for something, when further scrutiny shows that they in fact have done no such thing. I would respect the concept of the cleanse much more if those that sell them would say things like: “there is no scientific support just yet, but anecdotally…” But as soon as someone claims science when it isn’t there, my skepticism radar goes on high alert.
Thanks Els for the review. It happened to be the subject of debate last night when someone I know announced that they were embarking on a 12 day cleanse on the recommendation of their Naturopath. I don’t think there are drawbacks to trying it, since its probably an improvement in diet and agree that intermittent fasting probably has benefits, but it did strike me as more of a fad then health care advice.