We challenged a staff writer at the Stranger to take a five day juice fast. We knew it was risky but we felt so strongly about our juice that we decided to take a gamble. Sadly, Anna Minard did not enjoy the fast in the way we expected.
Juice and juice fasting is gaining in popularity and we have found it a great way to re-tune the body, suppress insulin secretion and reduce the taste for sugar. It’s a pretty simple fact those that consume less calories more often than not are healthier people.
Anna Minard took our challenge more as a dare and less with the intention of changing her diet or observing her body without food. We don’t encourage anyone embarking on a short-term fast as a dare. Your body will be giving signals of changes occurring (like acne and headaches) during your time without food. If your only concern is to get through the dare you may not be watching for these signals as a way to gauge what is taking place.
Much has be said about Anna’s approach. Because her fast was not approached with any serious intention the outcome could be predicted. We are quite impressed she completed the fast although some commenters on the blog have argued the technicality of her completion because she consumed a bit of vegetable matter. We don’t adhere to a strict dogma at Strawberry Moon we just encourage you to give your best shot at improving your health. Our main goal with the challenge was just to let people know that a few days without food can be done. Unfortunately we offered the challenge to someone who’s main outcome was to entertain the public with high jinks. Her story and trails will not be the same for everyone.
Half way through the five day fast Anna ate an avocado. Her comments on that avocado are a bit closer to the stories we usually here from clients. Anna’s avocado taste so good because a week of not eating combined with the “burn” of astringent green juice (with or without STI’s) actually cleans fat off the tongue. The more you coat your tongue in fats, sugars, salt and chemical additives the bigger your food “experience” must become. Thus making you need more sugar, salt and fat to enjoy food.
There is a bit of truth in Anna’s assessing that “the science on juice cleansing is spotty”, and Anna is right; your liver does exist to filter out toxins so do your kidneys, lymph system and lungs. Our body is always cleansing itself. Every breath you take is a release of carbon dioxide, a waste gas that can be toxic. Sweat is a known excretory system for metals and waste.
However, to say that your liver “doesn’t need a break” is an absurd statement. If an alcoholic went to a doctor for cirrhosis of the liver would a doctor say keep drinking because your liver does not need a break it will just filter out the toxins? A good Dr would not! She’ll tell you to stop drinking. Is a smoker with emphysema told to keep smoking because the lungs don’t need a break? Only a Dr. at Phillip Morris. If our organs will filter out all the sugar, alcohol, fats and chemicals we consume then why are obesity, diabetes, cancer and psychological deviations at an all-time high?
Anna mentions that “people who cleanse talk a lot about toxins” but failed to mention that we were not those people. We do, however, like to talk about enzymes because enzymes are not crap. Dr. Edward Howell has studied enzymes and his work surmises that heavy consumption of an enzymeless diet leads to lavish secretions from the pancreas resulting in shortened life span, illness and lowered resistance to stresses both psychological and environmental. Tests have proved positive on many animals but will go undetermined on humans until someone willing offers a set of identical twins to science allowing one twins pancreatic fluids to be drained then forcing both to live an identical existence while being monitored and studied for their lifespan. This is one good reason why the science and study of human consumption will always be spotty.
At Strawberry Moon we sell raw unpasteurized juice and Anna gave quite a humorous description of our juice. In no way did we feel it undermined our product. Our juice is real juice. We have not laced it with flame retardants to suspend the color and prevent separation. We do not pump it with nitrogen to simulate freshness. We do not add color to please your eyes and we do not add chemicals to make it more “craveable”. We crush fruits and vegetables. The enjoyment of that juice is highly subjective.
We encourage short term fasting as way to learn to control bad food habits. We all need to eat and desire to eat. We all seek rewards, pleasure and comfort in food. It’s hardwired into us. Because the standard American diet is filled with high calorie, nutritionally depleted, carbohydrate-laden and reward-centered food, our insulin levels stay high. Studies now show hyperinsulinemia (high insulin) can alter perceived hunger, taste and food consumption. It’s easy to dismiss our constant need to gratify and consume as our nature but what you eat and drink directly affects your desire for food.
Every time you eat, free radicals are released into your blood stream and these free radicals will attack proteins, DNA and cells. The more you consume the more you stress the body. So if juice fasting did nothing else, temporarily halting free radicals should be reason enough to fast.
We are not here to admonish anyone’s lifestyles or ask you to live the life of an ascetic. We, like everyone else, seek rewards, love a good time and indulge to sinful levels. It’s a fine line living like there is no tomorrow while simultaneously living to be well prepared for tomorrow. But if the party is non-stop, it ceases to be a party and becomes a way of life. Strawberry Moon believes that occasionally we all need to step back from our indulgences to make sure that we are able to regulate our hormones, our desires, our weight and our clarity.
In the big picture we had hoped Anna’s fast would shed light on what we believe to be true – that the more we have, the less we appreciate, and the less we have, the more we appreciate.
It's a shame that Anna Minard did not enjoy her juice fast. Wrestling food and alcohol dependancies are hard. Some will kick and scream their way through it, others grin and bear it. Those people who are most seasoned in juice fasting actually have a positive experience. If you are looking to change your eating habits, lose weight, tackle chronic health conditions and feel more alive a little work is the only way you are going to accomplish it. What ever you want in life, you must give up something to get it.
It's no secret now that good nutrition, exercise, peace of mind and sleep lead to a healthy body. A recent UCLA study shows that changes in diet are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities and counteract the effects of aging. A link to the article can be found below. In a nutshell the study shows that
Cutting calories may delay the ageing process and reduce the risk of disease, a long-term study of monkeys suggests.
The benefits of calorie restriction are well documented in animals, but now the results have been replicated in a close relative of man over a lengthy period.
Over 20 years, monkeys whose diets were not restricted were nearly three times more likely to have died than those whose calories were counted.
Writing in Science, the US researchers hailed the "major effect" of the diet.
It involved reducing calorie intake by 30% while maintaining nutrition and appeared to impact upon many forms of age-related disease seen in monkeys, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and brain atrophy.
Whether the same effects would be seen in humans is unclear, although anecdotal evidence so far suggests people on a long-term calorie-restricted diet have better cardiovascular health.
The precise mechanism is yet to be established: theories involve changes in the body's metabolism or a reduction in the production of "free radical" chemicals which can cause damage.
Half had their diets restricted, half were given free rein at feeding time.
The rate of cancers and cardiovascular disease in dieting animals was less than half of those permitted to eat freely.
While diabetes and problems with glucose regulation were common in monkeys who ate what they wanted, there were no cases in the calorie controlled group.
In addition, while most brains shrink with age, the restricted diet appeared to maintain the volume of the brain at least in some regions.
In particular, the areas associated with movement and memory seemed to be better preserved.
"Both motor speed and mental speed slow down with ageing," said Sterling Johnson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine.
"Those are the areas which we found to be better preserved. We can't yet make the claim that a difference in diet is associated with functional change because those studies are still ongoing.
"What we know so far is that there are regional differences in brain mass that appear to be related to diet."
Earlier this year, German researchers published findings from their study of elderly people which suggested that calorie reduction appeared to improve memory over a period of just three months.
Various studies on the positive effects of calorie restriction on the life spans of various organisms - from yeast to dogs - have been published over the last 70 years
But dieticians sounded a note of warning.
"Monkeys may be a close relation but there are significant differences which means not everything we see in them can be translated to humans," said Catherine Collins, spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association.
"And there should be some serious reservations about cutting calories so dramatically, particularly for anyone under the age of 30. Any such diet would need to be very balanced to avoid malnutrition, and it would be a long-term commitment.
"People would have to weigh up whether they are prepared to compromise their enjoyment of food for the uncertain promise of a longer life, and a life which could be dogged by all sorts of problems - including osteoporosis."
Scientists are uncovering evidence that short periods of fasting, if properly controlled, could achieve a number of health benefits, as well as potentially helping the overweight, as Michael Mosley discovered.
I'd always thought of fasting as something unpleasant, with no obvious long term benefits. So when I was asked to make a documentary that would involve me going without food, I was not keen as I was sure I would not enjoy it.
But the Horizon editor assured me there was great new science and that I might see some dramatic improvements to my body. So, of course, I said, "yes".
I am not strong-willed enough to diet over the long term, but I am extremely interested in the reasons why eating less might lead to increased life span, particularly as scientists think it may be possible to get the benefits without the pain.
Calorie restriction, eating well but not much, is one of the few things that has been shown to extend life expectancy, at least in animals. We've known since the 1930s that mice put on a low-calorie, nutrient-rich diet live far longer. There is mounting evidence that the same is true in monkeys.
The world record for extending life expectancy in a mammal is held by a new type of mouse which can expect to live an extra 40%, equivalent to a human living to 120 or even longer.
It has been genetically engineered so its body produces very low levels of a growth hormone called IGF-1, high levels of which seem to lead to accelerated ageing and age-related diseases, while low levels are protective.
The IGF-1 hormone (insulin-like growth factor) is one of the drivers which keep our bodies in go-go mode, with cells driven to reproduce. This is fine when you are growing, but not so good later in life.
There is now evidence suggesting that IGF-1 levels can be lowered by what you eat. Studies on calorie restrictors suggest that eating less helps, but it is not enough
As well as cutting calories you have to cut your protein intake. Not entirely - that would be a very bad idea. It's about sticking to recommended guidelines, something most of us fail to do.
The reason seems to be that when our bodies no longer have access to food they switch from "growth mode" to "repair mode".
As levels of the IGF-1 hormone drop, a number of repair genes appear to get switched on according to ongoing research by Professor Valter Longo of the University of Southern California.
One area of current research into diet is Alternate Day fasting (ADF), involving eating what you want one day, then a very restricted diet (fewer than 600 calories) the next, and most surprisingly, it does not seem to matter that much what you eat on non-fast days.
Dr Krista Varady of the University of Illinois at Chicago carried out an eight-week trial comparing two groups of overweight patients on ADF.
"If you were sticking to your fast days, then in terms of cardiovascular disease risk, it didn't seem to matter if you were eating a high-fat or low-fat diet on your feed (non-fast) days," she said.
I decided I couldn't manage ADF, it was just too impractical. Instead I did an easier version, the so-called 5:2 diet. As the name implies you eat normally 5 days a week, then two days a week you eat 500 calories if you are a woman, or 600 calories, if you are a man.
There are no firm rules because so far there have been few proper human trials. I found that I could get through my fast days best if I had a light breakfast (scrambled eggs, thin slice of ham, lots of black tea, adding up to about 300 calories), lots of water and herbal tea during the day, then a light dinner (grilled fish with lots of vegetables) at night.
I stuck to this diet for 5 weeks, during which time I lost nearly a stone and my blood markers, like IGF-1, glucose and cholesterol, improved. If I can sustain that, it will greatly reduce my risk of contracting age-related diseases like cancer and diabetes.
Current medical opinion is that the benefits of fasting are unproven and until there are more human studies it's better to eat at least 2000 calories a day. If you really want to fast then you should do it in a proper clinic or under medical supervision, because there are many people, such as pregnant women or diabetics on medication, for whom it could be dangerous.
I was closely monitored throughout and found the 5:2 surprisingly easy. I will almost certainly continue doing it, albeit less often. Fasting, like eating, is best done in moderation.
Michael Mosley presents Horizon: Eat, Fast and Live Longer on BBC Two at 21:00 BST on Monday 6 August.
Some clients choose to not change caffeine intake while on a fast while others drop it cold turkey*. One of the effects caffeine has on your body is it increases metabolism, or the rate at which your cells consume energy. This is why caffeine is often used as an appetite suppressant and is a common ingredient in diet pills. But as caffeine wears off it can have the opposite effect on the body.
Stimulated by caffeine, your cells burn through much of the sugar in your bloodstream, decreasing your blood sugar level. This can, in turn, make you feel hungry. It also causes you to release sugar from the liver into the blood**. The rapid rise and fall of blood sugars becomes difficult to regulate thereby increasing the desire to eat and makes the fast more difficult. Additionally the fluctuation in blood sugar can increase mood swings, irritability & cause dizziness and/or weakness. Those with pancreatic issues, hypo/hyperglycemia will have more difficulty during the fast and should seek advice from their healthcare provider before embarking on a fast/cleanse.
Dropping coffee ‘cold turkey’ can lead to headaches and cold chills. Should you choose to remove coffee, for a fast or as a dietary goal, do so slowly. Transitioning to green tea can help eliminate headaches that might happen.
*fun fact cold turkey describes the skin's reaction to heroin withdrawal. As an addict stops using the drug, blood is drawn toward the internal organs, thereby leaving the skin to resemble a cold, plucked turkey
**Biochemistry by Drs. Reginald Garrett and Charles Grisham
Preparing for a fast/cleanse
Preparing for a cleanse can be different for each person. Your lifestyle, diet and current state of health should be evaluated to determine the preparation necessary in undertaking a juice fast.
If you live and diet like a Japanese Buddhist Monk, stepping peacefully into a juice fast needs little preparation. As they say “you cannot wake someone who is awake” so please skip to the order form.
If your fruit intake usually comes rolled-up and if you count chips as a vegetable, you should take at least a week or two to prepare. Lack of preparation will make the fast/cleanse a bit harder but not impossible.
Start a few weeks out, and each day add a new goal for the daily diet. Maybe the first day of preparation is as simple as not covering everything you eat in melted cheese. Building on that goal, the next day you might eliminate fried foods. See bullet points below and try to address as many bullet points as possible before start of cleanse.
Don’t over think the process and don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a goal. All is not lost; 80% of something is better than a 100% of nothing. It’s a general philosophy we like to use. The pursuit of radiant health should not add new stress. Just know that in health, as in life, you cannot give as little as possible and expect generous returns. Change happens with practice and dedication.
CUT DOWN OR ELIMINATE