The advent of April means spring cleaning—of our cluttered spaces, digital presences, and, arguably of the utmost importance, our bodies. The changing of the seasons is an excellent time to cleanse the blood, lymph, and digestive tract of harmful, inflammation-generating toxins. At this time of year, we encourage participants of our Hawaii wellness retreat to engage in some form of cleansing to jumpstart their health and productivity.

There are many different ways that you can conduct a fast. At Gingerhill’s Hawaii wellness retreat, we typically employ Ayurvedic principles to guide us in times of cleansing. Ayurvedic prescriptions dictate that one fasts in accordance with both one’s individual dosha, or bodily constitution, and the time of the year.

This week, we will be exploring the benefits and drawbacks of juice fasting. Some tout juice fasting as a miracle cure for a host of inflammatory conditions. During warmer times of the year, like spring, juice fasting can be an incredibly rejuvenating practice for some. We often conduct a sugarcane juice fast around this time of year. However, juice fasting may not be appropriate for all doshas, and we therefore only recommend it to some of our Hawaii wellness retreat participants.  

Should you attempt a juice fast? Read on to find out.

The Basics of Juice Fasting

During a juice fast, an individual consumes only fresh-pressed juices, herbal teas, and water. Juice fasts must be performed for at least three days to have a cleansing effect. However, they are most effective when performed for five or more days. Some individuals conduct three or four-week juice fasts. However, most healthy individuals do not require such an extensive and strenuous fast.

The purpose of a juice fast is to expel harmful toxins from cells. We spend up to 70% of our energy digesting our food. When we consume only juices, thereby eliminating fiber, fat, and protein, our body is able to divert energy normally allotted for digestion to other tasks, such as detoxification and cellular repair. Furthermore, the high concentration of enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in fresh-pressed juice aid in the process of detoxification. We therefore recommend juice fasting to our Hawaii wellness retreat participants over water fasting, which deprives the body of essential nutrients.

The Benefits of Juice Fasting

The primary benefit of juice fasting is, of course, detoxification. With the stomach and intestines at rest, the body diverts energy to cleansing the kidneys, liver, blood, and lymph. Some medical professionals contend that juice fasting is not necessary since these systems are functioning around the clock to detoxify the body. While they are correct that the body is in perpetual detoxification mode, individuals who lead stressful lives and have poor diets consume more toxic matter than the body can efficiently expel. The result: storage of toxins in fat cells. In many cases, the root cause of inexplicable weight gain is toxic overload. Juice fasting allows cells to cleanse themselves and generate energy without having to fight off damaging free radicals.

Juicing yields several other benefits as well. Juice fasting requires the elimination of all potentially inflammatory foods—meat, dairy, sugar, corn, soy, grains, sugar substitutes, alcohol, caffeine, additives, and more. Once our Hawaii wellness retreat participants remove these items from their diets, they often find they have more energy and fewer symptoms of chronic illness. The reason: a marked decrease in inflammation. According to Ayurveda, inflammation is the root cause of all disease. Once we stop consuming inflammatory foods, we often find relief from what ails us. Furthermore, reintroducing foods one by one after a juice fast is a great way to determine which foods your body may be sensitive to.

Juicing for Appetite and Digestion

Many tout juice fasting as an effective method of appetite control. Our Hawaii wellness retreat participants often remark that their cravings for unhealthy foods fall remarkably after completing a juice fast. The sugar and nutrients in juice also provide quick, powerful, and clean energy.

Finally, juice fasting can do wonders for your microbiome. Stress, medications, sugar, toxins, non-organic foods, and other compounds can disturb the balance between good and bad bacteria in our digestive tracts. Juice fasting removes these toxic substances, allowing the intestines to heal themselves and reestablish microbial balance. Reduced permeability of the intestinal wall after a juice fast may help to address food sensitivities and digestive discomfort.

The Downside of Juice Fasting

While juice fasting can improve your mood, energy, and health, it is not necessarily an easy and comfortable process. In the beginning of a juice fast, calorie deprivation and fluctuating blood sugar levels may result in low energy, irritability, headaches, and foggy thinking. For those with blood sugar complications or diabetes, juice fasting may even be dangerous.

Some may experience a phenomenon called the Herxheimer reaction. The Herxheimer reaction occurs when cells expel toxins more quickly than the body is capable of eliminating them. The resultant increase in blood toxicity can lead to headaches, chills, nausea, congestion, skin conditions, and other uncomfortable complications. Light exercise, saunas, and elimination may be helpful in easing the side effects of detoxification. However, for some it may be prohibitively uncomfortable.

There are several people who should not engage in juice fasting for medical reasons. Those who are malnourished, physically weak, pregnant, diabetic, or afflicted with an eating disorder should not engage in juice fasting. In accordance with Ayurvedic principles, we advise that the vata dosha—individuals with slight frames that are prone to chills, dry skin, anxiety, and constipation—refrain from juice fasting. Vatas should only fast on warm, hearty, cleansing foods, like rice and beans, and for no longer than two days. The other two doshas—Pitta and Kapha—typically tolerate juice fasting. Those with a larger body type can fast for longer than active or slim individuals.

A Word of Caution

Even if your constitution is appropriate for juice fasting, never employ juice fasting as a long-term weight loss strategy. In the short term, juice fasting indeed leads to weight loss: as the body burns through its glycogen stores to compensate for low calorie consumption, cells expels water. But this weight loss is just that—weight loss. You lose water weight, but you are unlikely to lose a substantial amount of fat in a short period of time. Though longer juice fasts will lead to greater fat loss, they can be very dangerous. Juicing will help you learn to regulate your hunger and eat healthier foods, but it is not a dieting strategy.

As always, consult with your physician before engaging in juice fasting or any other sort of cleanse.

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