Betty’s Spring-Cleaning Series
Will fasting and high colonics detoxify your body?
I’ve always said I’ll do anything for a story, and in fact I’ve rock-climbed, river-rafted, even competed in the Baja 1000 off-road race. But the assignment that gave me pause – the one I nearly said no to — was a SpaFinder article on the pros and cons of fasting. Go four days without food? Not bloody likely.
In the end I did it, participating in a juice fast at a Canadian spa that specializes in detox. To my surprise, the fast wasn’t a big deal. Yes, I was hungry, but not debilitatingly so. I sort of floated through the days, reading, taking gentle yoga classes, doing a little rowing on the lake my room overlooked. In three and a half days, I lost three pounds, but within a week of eating normally, I’d returned to my original weight.
Weight loss is not the point; cleansing your system is. Proponents of fasting claim that it can cure or alleviate illnesses ranging from psoriasis to Crohn’s disease. The theory goes like this: Giving your gastrointestinal system a few days off allows it to devote itself full-time to removing toxins from your body. Joel Fuhrman, M.D., author of Fasting and Eating for Health, has been prescribing fasts for more than 15 years. “It allows the immune system to reset itself,” he says, helping with conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Eldon M. Haas, M.D., author of The New Detox Diet, has used fasting to wean patients off blood pressure and cholesterol meds.
Many physicians take a less rosy view. Abram Eisenstein, the director of gastroenterology at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas, says, “The idea that colon builds up layers of grime and toxic waste that needs to be reamed out and cleansed sounds right if you’ve ever had a gassy, constipated, distended feeling.” But our bodies already have a detoxification system, he says. “It’s called the liver and kidneys.” He points out that evidence for the benefits of fasting is purely anecdotal and attributes the improvement some people feel to the fact that they’ve stopped eating bad food like cheeseburgers and shakes. “People who go on a two-day fast, meditate and do relaxation exercises do feel better. It’s really the avoidance of food rather than any positive benefit of fasting. It’s like hitting your head against the wall. When you stop, you feel better.”
Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of Fit For Life, agrees that our bodies do a fine job of cleaning up their own messes. She’s comfortable with a single-day fast, as a break between old eating habits and the new, healthier regimen of the future.
Colonics – pumping water into the large intestine to irrigate out wastes — were part of my spa’s fasting regimen. Beyond specific risks, including perforation of the colon from excessive water pressure and electrolyte imbalance caused by removing friendly bacteria from the intestine, colonics are frowned by most doctors for the same reason fasting is: If we eat well and are healthy, our bodies are already providing the cleansing these methods claim to deliver. I was unimpressed with colonics – mildly undignified, mildly uncomfortable — and agreed with a friend, who remarked, “It’s like a stranger-assisted enema.” For other people at the spa, though, it was a world-rocking experience. As one told me, “It lifted a cloud over my head.” If you’re wary but intrigued, consider Dr. Fuhman’s recommendation: a simple warm-water enema. “It’s a lot less invasive and a lot less stressful on the body.”
Read more from Betty’s Spring-Cleaning Series: Time to De-Tox Your Skin