Asheville-area health experts offer tips on dietary cleanses

The Asheville Citizen-Times

By Casey Blake, March 7, 2011

Dr. Eric in Citizen-Times
Dr. Eric Lewis, a naturopathic doctor with Lewis Family Natural Health in Asheville, explains the benefits of a safe and healthy detoxifying cleanse.

ASHEVILLE — The season for spring cleaning is fast approaching, and local health experts recommend not only sprucing up the home, but also the body.

Whether it’s a kick-start to a spring weight-loss goal, a fasting regimen in honor of Lent or just a way to detoxify from a day of Mardi Gras indulgences, a cleanse could be the perfect way to eliminate some of the thousands of toxins that most people let into their bodies every day.

Find your cleanse

As physicians and other health experts adamantly agree, the trend of cleansing is not a one-size-fits-all healthy habit.

Cleanse options and strategies range from full-on fasting (drinking only water with no food intake) to simply eliminating certain foods from the diet, like processed sugar or carbohydrates.

As Park Ridge Health wellness educator Julie Palmer explains it, a cleanse is just a strategy to eliminate toxins from the body.

“The universal idea is just to look at what you’re putting into your body and eliminate what’s negative,” said Palmer, also a certified personal trainer. “There are a lot of ways to effectively do that, but it depends entirely on your individual health and what your real goals are.”

One of the most popular cleanse choices is the Master Cleanse, a detoxification program using only lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water. Juice cleanses, in which only fresh-squeezed juices are consumed, have also become popular. Reasons for cleansing are as diverse as the cleanse options themselves, ranging from weight loss to cancer treatment.

[NOTE:  The doctors at LFNH do NOT recommend the Master Cleanse.—Eric and Kristina Lewis, ND]

“We’ve seen time and time again that people who make major dietary changes after a cancer diagnosis can fight the cancer cells much more effectively,” said Park Ridge Wellness director Jeremy Pettit. “If you do a fast or cleanse correctly, it can be incredibly effective.”

Palmer said supervised seasonal cleansing can be a good way to transition between light and weather changes.

Daylight-saving time begins Sunday, and the first day of spring is March 20.

“This can be an ideal time to start fresh and eliminate the toxins we’ve been putting into our bodies through the winter months,” Palmer said. “A lot of bad stuff can build up while we’re all indoors for months and moving around less.”

Draining the bucket

Eric Lewis, a naturopathic doctor in Asheville, said the body’s need for cleansing is a lot like emptying a bucket of toxins.

“Every body has a different type of chemical sensitivity, and we all introduce different toxins into our bodies,” Lewis said. “Think of your body as a bucket that slowly fills with increasing exposure to allergens, toxins and stressors. Every time you make a poor food choice, you breathe in pollution or you are exposed to toxic chemicals, it goes in your bucket.”

Lewis said a cleanse can serve as an excellent drain on the bucket, but supervision and moderation are paramount.

“Like a lot of things that are considered natural, ‘cleanse’ is definitely a buzzword,” Lewis said. “And with that buzz can come a lot of misconceptions.”

One of the primary misconceptions, Lewis explains, is that the more restrictions employed in a cleanse, the more effective it will be.

“A common mistake is making too many restrictions that take the body’s natural detoxifiers out as well,” Lewis said. “The important thing is to assess what your individual body needs to get rid of — whether that’s processed food, stress or whatever else — and to only place as many restrictions as it takes to get rid of your specific toxins.”

Recommendations for the length of a cleanse depend on the individual, Pettit and Lewis agreed, but both say to err on the side of a less harsh regimen.

“For one, you set yourself up for failure if you attempt a cleanse that’s too intense because you won’t be able to keep it up,” Pettit said. “Rather than doing something very difficult, try something you can definitely succeed with like a fresh-fruit cleanse or raw vegetable diet for a few days, then build from there.”

Whether you’re looking for a Lent-related fast in search of spiritual fulfillment or simply looking to jump-start a pre-swimsuit season weight-loss regimen, Pettit said the benefits are universal.

“Giving something up for spiritual reasons can be a great impetus to eliminate something unhealthy from your life,” Pettit said.

“It can be a great opportunity to step back and look at what you’re putting into your body, and what you could do without.”

Want to Cleanse?

Health experts agree that undergoing a cleanse without proper consultation can be dangerous and ineffective. Consult a doctor or dietitian before attempting a detoxifying diet or cleanse.