Anything that promises detoxification sounds a little questionable – like products that claim to “pull toxins out of your system” or “cleanse the liver.” The body does have detoxification mechanisms that are working all the time, and both healthful eating and intermittent fasting can accelerate those processes. Several-day juice “fasts" are one way to tap into the benefits of intermittent fasting and enhance removal of toxins from the body, because the body enhances the removal of toxins when not digesting food and burning more fat for its energy needs. Our fat supply stores toxins, and when we lose body fat we release more toxic waste simultaneously. The body also needs adequate phytochemical and antioxidants for the liver to most effectively process fat-soluble toxins so they can be excreted via the urine.
We’re always either in a fed state or a fasting state; you’ve likely read about the anabolic and catabolic phases of digestion in my books or articles that discuss toxic hunger. When we are eating, digesting, and absorbing nutrients from food, we are in the anabolic phase; think of it like filling your car’s tank with gas. That is followed by the catabolic phase, between meals, in which our energy needs are met by burning energy that we stored during the anabolic phase.
The catabolic phase is when most healing and self-repair happens, and there is evidence that prolonged time in this fasting (catabolic) state has significant health benefits. Also, these benefits don’t necessarily require an extended, several-day water fast, which is difficult for most people to commit to.
I always say, the longer you live in the catabolic phase, the longer you live. Here’s why: Being in a fasting state shifts the body’s cells away from growth, and instead toward a mode of maintenance and repair.1,2 This repair mode is associated with a reduction in insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) production; two hormones that play a huge role in health and longevity.3,4 These hormonal changes lead to reduced inflammation, improved insulin sensitivity and stress resistance, slower cell growth, improved immune function, and reduced oxidative stress.5, 6 Fasting also stimulates autophagy, an important self-repair process. Autophagy removes damaged components from cells and tissues.7
On a cellular level, many dietary phytochemicals – such as isothiocyanates derived from cruciferous vegetables, sulfur compounds from garlic and onions, and carotenoids from a variety of colorful produce – drive the production of enzymes that enable the excretion of carcinogens and other potentially harmful compounds. This detoxification system counteracts oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage.8 Eating right, in itself, enables valuable detoxification mechanisms.
Caloric restriction adds to this, and has been the one intervention that extends life in a number of different species. Adding periodic calorie restriction to an already nutrient-rich diet could intensify the body’s ability to heal and repair by extending the amount of time in the fasting repair mode and reducing growth-related signals.4 It also can enhance the breakdown and excretion of fat-soluble toxins; lowering the body’s toxic load.
Intermittent fasting or a juice detox could also be a warm-up to incorporating occasional water fasting. Back in 1995, in my book, Fasting and Eating For Health, I discussed my experience of how fasting improved health parameters in my patients. I also co-authored a series of case reports documenting remission of autoimmune diseases following supervised fasting.9 More recently, fasting has been shown to have dramatic regenerative effects on the immune system. Studies over the past few years in animals and humans have suggested that fasting signals the immune system to discard old and damaged cells and generate new cells by increasing hematopoietic stem cells. The reduction in IGF-1 signaling was a necessary factor in this immune boosting. 6,10
Intermittent fasting – usually by reducing calorie intake dramatically a few days per week – is a method for getting some of the benefits of longer-term fasting. Human studies on intermittent fasting suggest it improves insulin sensitivity and promotes weight loss.2,11,12
I recommend incorporating a juice detox into your life, with vegetable juices plus one salad per day for several days, to act as a method of intermittent fasting, to slow aging and prolong lifespan as an easier alternative to water fasting. Water fasting has a rapidly decreasing effect at removing toxins, as nutrients necessary for the removal also decrease as the fast progresses. Also, juice fasting enables the participants to continue to work and is safer, compared to water fasting, as it prevents dehydration, loss of electrolytes and fainting. It is also compatible for people who must remain on medications, so almost anyone can participate.