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Digestive cleanses vary -- some are water-only fasts, some permit only certain fruit juices and others involve restrictive liquid diets to wash down supplements. Certain plans also include colon cleansing. These programs might promise to detoxify your system, but it's highly unlikely that you have excess toxins in your body. The turnover rate of the cells that line your digestive system is as short as a few days, so your body already cleanses itself, according to Colorado State University.
Digestive cleanses don't supply your body with the fats, proteins, carbohydrates and micronutrients it needs to carry out essential metabolic processes. While missing a meal or two is unlikely to harm a healthy person, going without a full complement of vital macronutrients and micronutrients forces your body to draw from its own reserves. Without sufficient dietary protein to carry out cellular repair, your body begins to use its own muscle tissue. Even with nutritional supplements, you aren't getting enough of the building blocks of life while you're on a liquid cleanse.
It may seem strange that you could become dehydrated on a diet plan that calls for drinking your meals, but it can happen. Many cleansing programs include laxatives to stimulate intestinal activity; others include colonic irrigation to help flush the bowels. Whether you take a supplemental laxative or get a colon cleanse, you're losing more fluid than you can easily replace by drinking. Cleanses that limit the amount of liquid you can drink are particularly likely to leave you at risk. Note feelings of lethargy, irritability, headaches or dizziness, as these could be early signs of dehydration.
Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and calcium regulate several systems in your body. These charged particles carry neural impulses, keep your blood pressure steady and regulate your kidney function, among other things. During a digestive cleanse, you aren't taking in sufficient electrolytes to maintain the necessary balance of many delicate systems. Colonic cleanses strip your body of essential electrolytes before your body can absorb them. Either kind of digestive cleanse depletes your body of the tools it needs to function.
Restrictive or repeated dietary cleanses can lead to permanent organ damage over time. As the body uses muscle tissue to supply necessary protein, the kidneys must handle the metabolic byproducts of the process; over time, it can lead to kidney damage. Colon cleanses can cause a more direct form of damage: intestinal perforation. This emergency requires immediate medical attention and usually surgery.
Before engaging in any cleansing program, talk to your doctor about why you feel a cleanse is necessary and what other steps you could take to get similar results safely. Less drastic changes, such as adding more fiber-rich whole grains, to your diet, eating more fruits and vegetables or eliminating soft drinks may give you the same sensation of purifying or detoxifying without the physical stress a cleanse places on your body.