FASTING AND CLEANSING DIETS
by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© September 2012, The Center For Development
Many people wonder why nutritional balancing science does not include the use of cleansing diets or cleansing fasts. These are widely used by holistic doctors and nutritionists to rest and rebuild the intestines for a few days, weeks or even months. They usually consist of a limited diet of fruits, vegetables, soups, and not much animal protein. They usually also exclude more starches and grains. Some of them add a meal replacement drink, juices, or just a protein powder with the limited diet.
These cleansing diet or regimens used only for a few weeks definitely help some people for the following reasons:
They eliminate heavy foods that are difficult to digest such as steak and potatoes. They eliminate some junk foods and chemicals that damage the intestines. They often eliminate allergic foods in the diet such as wheat and soy. They can be used as a quick transition to a better diet and better lifestyle.
Why I do not recommend cleansing diets. I find cleansing diets are very rarely needed and quite harmful. I believe their importance is very overrated. Problems with them include:
1. They are seriously deficient in many nutrients. Often they are deficient in protein, essential fatty acids, and even calories. They are usually deficient in sulfur because they don’t include meats and eggs. Sulfur, as explained in other articles on this website, is absolutely needed for liver detoxification.
For this reason, cleansing diets, juice fasts and others usually make people more nutritionally deficient, even if one feels better. This, of course, is counterproductive in the long run, and dangerous because most people are very malnourished to begin with.
2. They are usually very yin in Chinese terminology. This means they are sugary, cold, watery, and broken up (as in the use of powders). This is a subtle but often critical type of food imbalance explained in much more depth in several articles on this website such as Yin And Yang Healing and Macrobiotics. Essentially, this yin quality reduces their effectiveness and can cause them to unbalance the body in subtle ways.
3. They are often poor food combinations, with powders, water and sugars to sweeten them combined. This means they are not good for one’s digestion, even though may improve food allergies somewhat by eliminating some allergic components of the diet. Improper food combinations are just complex combinations often irritate the intestines, slowing deeper healing of this important body organ.
4. Many contain herbs, spirulina, chlorella, cilantro and other substances that are somewhat toxic, even if they are “nutritious”. Some cleansing programs contain ‘green superfood powders’, where the above are usually found. Chlorella and cilantro are chelators that are best avoided. They, and all chelators, tend to remove some good minerals along with the toxic metals and this is not helpful at all. They also remove the minerals in ways that are hard to replace, although others will claim differently.
5. Many contain what I consider harmful foods, such as a lot of fruit, salads, nuts, seeds, spirulina, chlorella, blue-green algae, dulse, a lot of nut butters and perhaps others. These foods tend to be very yin, too sugary in the case of fruits, somewhat toxic, and raw fruits and vegetables can be unclean as well.
6. They usually unbalance or worsen the mineral balance in the body, because they are not based on doing a hair mineral analysis and assessing the exact needs of an individual.
7. They do not address the majority of a person’s nutritional imbalances, as does a nutritional balancing program. In other words, they are helpful in a limited way, but that is all.
8. For many of the above reasons, putting people on these diets wastes weeks or even months of time. In other words, instead of a cleansing program, the person could be on a complete nutritional balancing program during the same time, making much more progress in most cases. At one time, I believed that a short “cleanse” might help jumpstart a nutritional balancing program. However, I don’t believe this is the case with most people, at all.
9. They are not needed in almost cases, though one may feel a little better on them. The only time I would even consider a cleansing diet or a short fast is perhaps if a person’s digestive tract is extremely diseased and I felt that a limited, soft diet would rest and heal the intestinal tract for a week or so before the person begins a complete nutritional balancing program.
In fact, I suggest to practitioners that they have people start a basic high-quality diet while waiting for the results of their hair mineral analysis. This is somewhat like a cleanse, except that it is milder and healthful and will not unbalance the body chemistry. It consists of mainly cooked vegetables, with some animal protein and perhaps some whole grains, but not wheat, and without any fruits, other sugars or chemical additives.
For all these reasons, use extreme care with cleansing diets and preferably just avoid them.
FASTS AND FASTING
In biblical times, fasting was a recognized method of healing that worked quite well. Today the situation is different. In fact, it has changed just in the past 20-30 years. Today almost all fasting, except perhaps skipping a meal now and then if you are not comfortable, is decidedly harmful for the following reasons:
1. The bodies are too toxic and depleted today. My experience is that today the bodies are so toxic and so depleted of nutrients that fasting, which is a completely natural and self-directed process, simply does not work very well and makes people worse. I have seen this repeatedly in my practice.
I worked as medical director of a fasting spa for several years and placed over 600 people on fasts. Results were disappointing, though of course, most people will lose weight and a high blood sugar will drop down almost immediately. I also fasted myself, and found that it harmed my health, not helped it.
2. The organs of elimination, such as the liver, kidneys and bowel, do not function well enough in many people. This may be one reason why the cleansing benefits of fasting do not seem to occur as well today. Some people add enemas or colonic irrigation to their fast. This is a little better, but fasting is still not recommended, as it is too deficient in nutrients.
3. Fasting is too easy for some people, and not the best way to deal with an improper relationship with food. A benefit of fasting is to prove to yourself that you do not need to eat every 4 hours or so. This is helpful. However, for those with a weight or blood sugar problem, fasting does not deal with most people’s deranged metabolism, food cravings and emotional reasons why most people overeat or eat the wrong foods.
The problem is that once the fast is over, one must go back to eating. Most often , the problems of relating properly to food remain, or actually get worse because one is even more malnourished, so food cravings can be even more intense. Periodically starving the body may strain it even more, in my view. It can be best to deal with your food issues on a daily basis, although a one-day fast periodically is fine.
4. Confusing books. Most of the classic books about fasting, which I embraced for several years, were written 50 or even 100 years ago. Things have changed, and the main differences are that people are:
1. Much more toxic today.
2. Much more nutritionally depleted.
3. Much more ill.
4. Their eliminative organs and vitality are far worse than before.
So be careful when you read exciting books about the benefits of fasting. When I worked at a fasting spa for several years, I did not see all the benefits that are claimed, and I saw plenty of problems.
5. Fasting only balances the bodies today in a limited way, unlike in the past. The reason for this is the terrible deficiencies of zinc, selenium, chromium and many other nutrients that exist in most people, even children. In the past, when the bodies were in better condition, a fast could balance the body far better than it can today.
6. For the above reasons, fasting is not a wise idea today at all. I do not care what is written in books or what a doctor may say. People are so nutritionally depleted that stopping your food intake for more than a meal or perhaps two if you are very sick to the stomach, is not wise in almost all cases, and will make one’s nutritional status worse.
7. For the reasons above, fasting, like cleansing diets, tends to waste time and money. I know that most people would do far better by spending their time and money starting a complete nutritional balancing program, which is a much more modern, scientific and safe way to heal almost all problems in the body.
8. Fasting is not necessary or helpful.
What about just skipping breakfast, as some doctors recommend? Dr. Julian Whitaker, MD, whom I respect very much, recommends skipping breakfast as a way to lose weight. It think it is a terrible idea because most food is low in nutrients, even the best organic food. Skipping any meal means you will receive even fewer nutrients in your diet. Do not skip meals, and be sure to eat at least three meals daily.
It is true that skipping breakfast rests the intestines for a full 12 hours or so, which is beneficial. However, the nutritional problem with skipping meals is far worse than any benefit that may occur due to resting the intestines a little longer each day.
A far better way to lose weight is to follow a nutritional balancing program, which consists of a diet of mainly cooked vegetables several times daily, with animal protein daily and a small amount of cooked whole grains and a few other foods. In addition, one must take about 8 targeted supplements to assist the thyroid, the adrenals, the eliminative organs and other aspects of body chemistry. When this is done, many people lose 100 pounds or more quickly, easily, without a need for exercise or drugs, and most importantly, they do it safely.
What about fasting one day a week, or one day a month, as some recommend, to clean out your body? An occasional fast for a day on water alone, or perhaps on vegetable juices, is probably okay, but not recommended. I would not advise it more than once every few months. Also, it is not needed if one eats well and lives well. Too many people think they can eat junk food or just the wrongs foods and then fast for a few days or weeks and they will be “back to normal”. This is never the case.
What about juice fasts or fruit fasts? The answer is no. Problems with juice and fruit fasts are:
1. They are still very deficient in nutrients such as fatty acids, meats, proteins, eggs, etc.
2. They are extremely yin in Chinese terminology. This means they are too cold, raw, expanded and sugary. This seriously unbalances most people’s bodies.
3. They are too high in sugar, especially fruit juice fasts or fruit fasts. This has many detrimental effects, from damaging the dentin layer of the teeth in some cases, to upsetting the blood sugar, causing inflammation and more. Even fasting on carrot juice is too high in sugar. A fast of just green juice would be best, but still is very deficient in many nutrients.
4. Juice or one-food fasts are not the same as a water fast, in that one is supplying usually just one kind of food. This does not allow the body and the digestive system to rest. For this reason, some authorities rightly say that a juice or one-food fast is not really a fast. It is a diet – and a very limited and unbalanced diet that is usually hard on the body and makes people worse.
5. Once again, I find that juice fasts are not needed, and basically just waste time and money, and upset body chemistry even more than it was previously in many cases.
OTHER CONCERNS WITH FASTING
Fasting slows the oxidation rate. This is almost always the case. If one is a fast oxidizer, this might be helpful, at least at first. One’s blood pressure might decline and the blood sugar will usually decline quickly. However, most people are slow oxidizers and further slowing of the oxidation rate makes them even more ill. This is especially true if one is a very slow oxidizer or is ill.
In the common case of a fast oxidizer due to the presence of toxic metals, fasting might not slow the oxidation rate, as it does not, of itself, cause the removal of most toxic metals. In this case, fasting would just cause a very low blood sugar problem until the body stabilizes itself as best it can.
Fasting often stresses the liver and the kidneys. Fasting authorities have written that during a fast, one’s urine often turns dark in color. This is because the body will remove some toxins during the fast. Essentially, the energy that was spent digesting food is now freed up to be used for other purposes, including the elimination of wastes.
This is a good thing, provided the kidneys can handle the extra load. One must be sure to drink plenty of high-quality water on any fast, even for one day, for this reason.
Fasting can also stress the liver. Once again, when no food is taken in, more energy may be used for detoxification. This is fine, but it can put more strain on the liver.