Detox diets: Health regimen or latest fad?
By Stephanie Smith
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- A body detoxification program that urges people to "Be your own doctor" is growing in popularity -- but some doctors say the regimen doesn't do anything that the body doesn't do naturally.
"You can't live in a dirty environment, breathing dirty air ... eating food that's contaminated with poisons and pesticides and be healthy," said John Wood, a co-founder of the "21-Day Detox" program in California.
Organizers of 21-Day Detox say the "full-body detox" program eliminates from the body toxins encountered in daily life -- polluted air and water, hormones in some foods, even harmful chemicals in cleaning products -- by modifying diet.
"[People are] not relying on medicine to cure all their ills," Wood said. "It's a time when people are really taking back their health."
Books and tapes about different detox and fasting programs abound, with claims that include age reversal, body cleansing and stopping disease.
At the American University for Complementary Medicine in Los Angeles, program participants attend classes led by Dr. Richard DeAndrea and learn about recipes, health-food store shopping and meditation, among other things.
DeAndrea said that it's possible for the body to heal without a prescription.
"I've actually seen people reverse conditions like psoriasis, arthritis, nagging conditions," said DeAndrea. "Things they've been told they'd have to take pills for the rest of their lives."
Going vegan, fasting
During the course of the three-week program, the group avoids animal products and dairy and go vegan. The program even includes abstaining from confrontation with others, billing itself as a holistic detox.
Participants start off on a plant-based diet, move on to raw food and then go on a blended liquid fast for seven days, under physician supervision.
The blended liquid is a greenish concoction called "energy soup," which Wood and DeAndrea say supplies all the body's daily nutrients.
Some participants twist their faces at the mere mention of the soup, yet most admit during weekly meetings that it bolstered their flagging energy.
Star Hansen said the program put her on a path to restored health.
"I feel very, very good," Hansen said. "My head is much more clear, I have a ton of energy. Just really refreshed, rejuvenated."
She said the detox also improved a skin condition and helped her kick a serious sugar habit.
"Before, it was really easy to focus on the sugar or focus on the bad things," she said. "But with this you're so busy finding foods that are fueling your body and are good for you, that you really aren't looking for those avenues anymore."
Hansen admits that the detox was not always easy. Other participants admitted experiencing serious lapses in energy, with one person saying she felt dizzy at times.
'Potentially quite dangerous'
Critics say the program is unnecessary and health care providers are sharply divided over the efficacy of fasts or detoxification programs.
"There is no process that I know of ... that supports the claim that you will purge environmental toxins over and above what your body itself is capable of doing," said Dr. Peter Pressman, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California.
"There's no such thing as detoxification through a three-week diet," Pressman said. "It's certainly not medicine and it's potentially quite dangerous, especially if embarking on such a diet delays seeking mainstream medical care."
Dr. Roger Clements, a chemist at the U.S.C. School of Pharmacy, bristles at the program's claim that the body or digestive system ever needs a break.
"We are not made to give it a rest," said Clements. "We have this wonderful thing called a liver and G.I. [gastrointestinal] tract which is quite long. Between the liver and the G.I. tract, we manage everything shoveled into our bodies quite well."
But program organizers disagree. "We feel like this is the future of medicine," Wood said.
Both camps agree that before people embark on any fast or detoxification regimen, they should see a physician, especially if they have a chronic illness.