Juice Fasts

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Juice Fasts








Research and general acceptance



Juice fasts, sometimes called juice therapy, are short-term dietary practices—typically one to three days in length—during which the dieter consumes only fruit, vegetable, or other plant juices in order to cleanse the body of heavy metals and other chemical toxins; as a practice related to Ayurvedic medicine; as the first step in the treatment of colitis, arthritis, depression, cancer, HIV infection, or other diseases; for weight reduction; as part of a vegetarian, fruitarian, or vegan lifestyle; or as a part of a general program of eliminating such other unhealthy habits as smoking, drinking large amounts of alcohol or caffei-nated beverages, and overeating. Some people drink large amounts of freshly extracted fruit or vegetable juices as part of their regular diet without necessarily fasting; this practice is called juicing.

Many people who undergo juice fasts combine them with massage therapy or the use of laxatives and enemas to completely relax the body and cleanse the digestive tract.


Juice fasts can be traced back for over 5500 years to an annual ritual of bodily detoxification and spiritual preparation known as pancha karma, which is part of the practice of Ayurvedic medicine in India. Ayurveda is a traditional system of health care that dates back to about 3500 bc; its name is Sanskrit for “science of long life.” Pancha karma is undergone for disease prevention, which in Ayurvedic practice requires spiritual renewal and the breaking of negative emotional patterns as well as physical purification. It has three phases: a preparation phase, in which the person eliminates sweets, caffeinated drinks, and processed foods from the diet, as well as spending more time in meditation and taking walks in natural surroundings; the cleansing phase, which includes bloodletting, emesis (forced vomiting), nasal cleansing, and the use of enemas and laxatives as well as a very restricted diet; and a rejuvenation phase, in which solid foods are gradually reintroduced to the diet. It is not unusual for people to experience spiritual and psychological changes during this third phase. In addition to pancha karma, contemporary Ayurvedic practice recommends juice fasts for colitis and other ailments of the digestive tract. Ayurvedic medicine is a system that emphasizes the prevention of disease by identifying and treating imbalances within the body rather than making diagnoses of existing illnesses in the usual Western fashion. Juice fasts are therefore regarded as a way of restoring balance within the person’s physical constitution rather than as “treatments for illness” in the Western sense.

The second major influence on the popularity of juice fasts in Canada and the United States is natur-opathy, which is an approach to health care that developed out of the natural healing movement in Germany and North America in the late nineteenth century. Naturopaths of the twenty-first century use a variety of techniques in treating patients, including hydrotherapy, spinal manipulation, and physical therapy as well as nutrition and dietary advice. Like Ayurveda, naturopathy emphasizes prevention of disease and recommends noninvasive treatments that rely on the body’s own self-healing powers. Juice fasts are an important part of naturopathic dietary therapy.

The third factor that has contributed to interest in juice fasts since the 1970s has been the widespread adoption of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. People who are concerned in general to minimize or eliminate meat from their diet, whether for environmental, religious, or health-related reasons, are often drawn to juice fasts as periodic intensifications of their normal vegetarian practices. Two subgroups of vegetarians that are particularly likely to practice regular juice fasts are raw-food vegetarians and fruitarians. Raw-food vegetarians, also known as raw foodists, are attracted to juice fasts and juicing because of their belief that cooking destroys most of the nutrients in food. The two best-known proponents of juice therapy in the 1980s, Jay Kordich, “the Juiceman,’ and Bernard Jensen, a chiropractor in California who died in 2001, were both raw-food vegetarians.


The following description focuses on juice fasting as it is usually practiced in North America, as the Ayurvedic practice of pancha karma has already been summarized.


Most practitioners of juice fasting recommend restricting it to the warmer months of the year, or traveling to a spa in a warm climate for a wintertime juice fast. Most people undergo juice fasting only once or twice a year; however, some undergo a one-day juice fast every week, or a two-day fast once a month.

Beginning 7 to 10 days before the fast, the person should reduce their intake or eliminate entirely all stimulants (coffee, tea, cocoa, and cola drinks), alcoholic beverages, animal meats, fish, eggs and dairy products, sugar, and wheat. The diet during this preparation period should consist entirely of organic fruits, vegetables, and beans.

Making and consuming the juice

The dieter is instructed to drink between 32 and 64 ounces of juice per day, with 6 glasses of warm filtered water in addition. Some therapists recommend one or more cups of herbal tea each day in addition to the juice and water. The juice should be made in a juicer from fresh organic produce; prepackaged juices should not be used because they are pasteurized to retard spoilage. The heat required for pasteurization destroys some of the vitamins and enzymes in the fruit. If organic fruits and vegetables are unavailable, ordinary supermarket produce may be used, provided it is peeled or washed in a special produce cleaner (available at health food stores) to remove pesticide residue. A combination of fruits and vegetables is recommended rather than fruit or vegetable juice alone. The juice should be consumed within half an hour of processing in the juicer because the natural enzymes in the fruits or vegetables begin to break down the other nutrients in the juice after that time. It should not be refrigerated.

There are a number of recipe books for combining fruit and vegetable juices to make the fast as tasty as possible. Fruits and vegetables that are commonly recommended in these books for juicing include:

  • Greens: parsley, beet greens, kale, chard, celery, spinach, dandelion greens
  • Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts
  • Root vegetables: carrots, beets, sweet potatoes
  • Fruits: grapes, apples, watermelon, pineapple, cranberries, strawberries, peaches, some citrus fruits
  • Herbs: fennel, yucca, spearmint, peppermint, basil, ginger, garlic
  • Wheatgrass and bean sprouts
  • Aloe vera gel: sometimes taken orally as part of a juice fast for treatment of arthritis

Bowel care

An important part of juice fasting is the use of laxatives or enemas to cleanse the lower digestive tract because the juice will not supply enough fiber to keep the bowels moving. Since many practitioners believe that juice fasts are necessary to detoxify the body, the removal of wastes is considered essential to prevent the toxins in the digestive tract from being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Some juice therapists recommend mixtures of slippery elm or other herbs to cleanse the


Ayurveda— The traditional system of natural medicine that originated in India around 3500 BC. Its name is Sanskrit for “science of long life.” Juice fasts can be traced back to Ayurvedic practice.

Bioavailability— The rate at which a substance or chemical is absorbed into the body or made available for a specific physiological process. Juice fasting sometimes affects the bioavailability of prescription medication.

Colonic— Sometimes called colonic hydrotherapy, a colonic is a procedure similar to an enema in which the patient’s colon is irrigated (washed out) with large amounts of water. Some people undergoing a juice fast have one or more colonics to remove fecal matter remaining in the intestines during their fast; however, this procedure is discouraged by mainstream physicians because of its potential risks to health.

Detoxification diets— A group of diets that are followed in order to purify the body of heavy metals, toxic chemicals, harmful microbes, the waste products of digestion, and other substances held to be harmful. Juice fasts are one type pf detoxification diet.

Fruitarian— A vegetarian who eats only plant-based products, as fruits, seeds, and nuts, that can be obtained without killing the plant. Many fruitarians make occasional use of juice fasts.

Naturopathy— A system of disease treatment that emphasizes natural means of health care, as water, natural foods, dietary adjustments, massage and manipulation, and electrotherapy, rather than conventional drugs and surgery. Naturopaths (practitioners of naturopathy) often recommend juice fasts as a way of cleansing the body.

Pancha karma— An intensive one- to two-week ritual of detoxification practiced in Ayurvedic medicine that includes enemas, bloodletting, and nasal irrigation as well as fasting.

Pasteurization— A process for partial sterilization of milk or beverage juices by raising the liquid to a temperature that destroys disease organisms without changing its basic taste or appearance. Pasteurized fruit or vegetable juices are considered unsuitable for juice fasts on the grounds that pasteurization destroys important nutrients in the juices.

Spa— A hotel or resort for relaxation or health and fitness-related activities. Some people undergoing a juice fast do so at a spa in order to combine the fast with colonics, massage therapy, and other practices associated with juice fasts. The English word spa comes from the name of a famous health resort in Belgium.

Vegan— A vegetarian who excludes all animal products from the diet, including those that can be obtained without killing the animal. Vegans are also known as strict vegetarians. Some vegans practice juice fasting.

colon; others prefer saltwater laxatives, enemas, or colonics for cleansing the bowel. A colonic is a procedure in which a large amount of water, sometimes as much as 20 gallons, is infused into the colon through the rectum a few pints at a time. It differs from an enema in that much more fluid is used, and a colonic is infused into the colon, whereas an enema infuses water or a cleansing solution into the rectum only. The reader should note, however, that mainstream physicians do not recommend colonics, on the grounds that they are unnecessary, based on a nineteenth-century misunderstanding of the process of digestion, and very often uncomfortable for the patient. In some cases they pose serious risks to health.

Breaking the fast

People should not return to solid foods immediately at the end of a juice fast because the intes-tines need time to readjust to grains and other solid foods. One sequence of breaking the juice fast through a gradual return to a full diet is as follows:

  • Day 1: Two pieces of fruit, each divided in half
  • Day 2: Steamed non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach or zucchini
  • Day 3: Green salads and brown rice. Rice and other solid foods should be thoroughly chewed to assist digestion
  • Day 4: Organic yogurt and eggs
  • Day 5: Chicken, fish, red meat (if a normal part of the diet), or tofu
  • Day 6: Beans and grains other than rice
  • Day 7: All other foods


As has been mentioned, people may undergo juice fasting for one or more of the following reasons:

Spiritual or religious practice

Some people find a juice fast to be useful as part of a general religious or spiritual retreat. As was noted earlier, the first stage of an Ayurvedic pancha karma includes extra time given to meditation and nature walks as well as gradual exclusion of stimulants and solid foods from the diet. Those who undertake a juice fast in order to wean themselves from smoking, drugs, or a food addiction are also often looking for spiritual as well as physical release from the habit they are struggling to break. Many people report relief from emotional stress as a side benefit of juice fasting.


Naturopaths frequently recommend juice fasting as a way of ridding the body of various toxins, which they identify as coming from several sources:

  • Heavy metals. These include such substances as cadmium, arsenic, nickel, aluminum, chromium, mercury, vanadium, strontium, antimony, cobalt, and lead, which are used in various manufacturing processes and some medical procedures as well as being present in batteries, electronic equipment, coins, cookware, food containers, and other common household items
  • Toxic chemicals taken directly into the digestive tract through alcoholic beverages, pesticide residues on supermarket produce, additives in processed foods, or drugs of abuse; or taken into the respiratory tract through breathing household solvents (nail polish remover, spot or stain removers containing benzene, etc.)
  • Toxins in the digestive tract produced by yeast and other microorganisms. Ridding the body of this group of toxins is frequently cited as a reason for combining laxatives or enemas with a juice fast. The reader should note that mainstream physicians dispute the notion that normal digestion produces toxic substances in the colon that must be removed by a laxative or enema
  • Ammonia, urea, and other breakdown products of protein metabolism. Naturopaths often recommend a vegetarian lifestyle as well as periodic juice fasts in order to minimize the production of these byproducts of meat and dairy products consumption

Treatment of specific illnesses

Juice fasting is sometimes recommended for the treatment of specific diseases and disorders, most commonly arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and depression, but it has also been claimed to be an effective treatment for severe infections (including AIDS), multiple sclerosis, and cancer. Both Jay Kordich and Bernard Jensen have maintained that juice fasts healed them of cancer. One theory that is sometimes advanced to explain the healing power of juice fasting is that the energy that the body would normally use digesting heavy or high-protein meals can instead be directed to its natural self-healing capacity. The medical profession would not recomment the thes practices as a sole treatment and many would discourage their use as they may interfere with and complicate conventional treatments.


The benefits of juice fasting include a rapid immediate weight loss, an effect frequently mentioned in client testimonials. Average weight loss runs between three and five pounds for adults for a three- or four-day juice fast. Mainstream medical research also indicates that juice fasts are useful in providing a period of rest for the digestive tract for patients with irritable bowel syndrome or other functional disorders of the intestines. Lastly, juice fasts have sometimes been helpful in identifying food allergies. As solid foods are gradually reintroduced after the fast, some people discover that they have a previously unsuspected allergy to such foods as corn, wheat, or tomatoes.


In general, anyone considering a juice fast should consult a health professional beforehand. Some groups of people, however, should not undertake a juice fast:

  • Pregnant or lactating women.
  • Children.
  • People with any of the following medical conditions: diabetes, hypoglycemia, anorexia or bulimia nervosa, kidney or liver disease, gout, asthma, impaired immune function, epilepsy, cancer, terminal illness, active infections, anemia, malnutrition, or ulcerative colitis.
  • People who are underweight.
  • People who have increased energy needs such as those who have recently undergone surgery or treatment for severe burns.

People taking any prescription medication should consult their primary care physician before a juice fast, as the bioavailability of some drugs is affected by fasting. In addition, grapefruit or pomegranate juice should not be used for a juice fast because the juices of these fruits may increase the blood levels of prescription medications in the body.

Juice fasts should not be extended beyond three or four days without medical supervision, as longer fasts can lead to poor intakes of nutrients such as protein and calcium and could lead to deficiencies. In addition, anyone who feels faint or dizzy, develops an abnormal heart rhythm, feels nauseated or vomits, or has signs of low blood pressure, should discontinue the fast and consult their doctor at once.

On the economic side, juice fasting is a potentially expensive form of dietary therapy. Readers interested in juice fasts at home or in juicing as a dietary addition should be prepared to pay between $60 and $200 for a juicer or juice extractor—although some deluxe models are marketed for as much as $2000. The chief difference is that juice extractors remove the fruit or vegetable pulp from the juice (and are difficult to clean) while juicers generally leave the pulp in the juice. In addition to the cost of the machine and the fruits or vegetables to be juiced, people on a juice fast will usually need to purchase laxatives or enemas for cleansing the bowel. Colonics cost anywhere from $50 to $105 per treatment (as of 2007), while a 5-day juice fast retreat at a spa costs at least $1600 per person at double-occupancy rates.


The major risks to health from juice fasts include metabolic crises in patients with undiagnosed diabetes or hypoglycemia; dizziness or fainting due to sudden lowering of blood pressure; diarrhea, which may result in dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes in the body; and protein or calcium deficiencies from unsu-pervised long-term juice fasts.

Minor side effects include headaches, fatigue, constipation, acne, bad breath, and increased body odor.

Juice fasters who undergo colonics are at risk of contracting an infection from improperly sterilized colonic equipment; of serious illness or death from electrolyte imbalances in the blood; or of serious illness or death resulting from perforation of the intestinal wall by improperly inserted equipment. Colonics can also worsen the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.

Research and general acceptance

Juice fasts as a specific dietary practice have not received much attention from mainstream medical.


  • What are the potential benefits, if any, for a person of my age, sex, and lifestyle in taking a periodic juice fast?
  • What are the potential health risks of a juice fast, if any, for me as an individual?
  • What specific types of juices would you recommend for a juice fast? Have you tried any of them yourself?
  • Are there any specific types of juice that you would not recommend, and why?

researchers; however, they have received some evaluation within clinical studies of Ayurveda and naturop-athy as alternative medical systems. Part of the difficulty is that Ayurveda and naturopathy do not lend themselves easily to the standard clinical trial protocol, which generally focuses on only one illness or one medication at a time rather than on multimodal therapies or the general lifestyle changes recommended by Ayurvedic practitioners and naturopaths.

There have been two studies conducted in Germany in 2005 and 2006 that have reported on the benefits of juice fasting in general lifestyle adjustment and in treating functional bowel disorders. In the United States, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has carried out clinical trials of two specific plants that are often used in juice fasts, aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) and cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon). Cranberry juice is still being studied as of 2007 for its possible usefulness in preventing urinary tract infections in women. With regard to aloe vera, NCCAM warns that the gel from the plant has a laxative effect that causes cramps and diarrhea in some people, and may inhibit the absorption of prescription drugs.

Juice fasts as a treatment for AIDS and other severe diseases, however, have come in for severe criticism from mainstream physicians. Jay Kordich, “the Juiceman,” has been attacked for his claims that he was cured of cancer when he was 20 by drinking 13 glasses of carrot/apple juice each day. In particular, Kordich’s claims that raw vegetable juices boost the human immune system or improve digestion are questionable. One physician summarizes his critique of juicing by saying, “The enzymes in plants help regulate the metabolic function of plants. When ingested, they do not act as enzymes within the human body, because they are digested rather than absorbed intact into the body. . . . Sensible eating, which is not difficult to do, furnishes an adequate nutrient supply. . . . Since the fiber in fruits and vegetables is an important part of a balanced diet, there is no reason to remove it while making juice. There’s nothing wrong with including extracted juices in a diet that is adequate in fiber. But promoting them as alternatives to whole foods or as powerful healing agents is irresponsible.”.



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Jensen, Bernard. Dr. Jensen’s Juicing Therapy: Nature’s Way to Better Health and a Longer Life Los Angeles: Keats Publishing, 2000.

Kordich, Jay. The Juiceman’s Power of Juicing. New York: Morrow, 1992.

Meyerowitz, Steve. Juice Fasting and Detoxification: Use the Healing Power of Fresh Juice to Feel Young and Look Great, 6th ed. Great Barrington, MA: Sproutman Publications, 1999.

Murray, Michael, ND, and Joseph Pizzorno, ND. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 2nd ed. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1998.

Pelletier, Kenneth R., MD. The Best Alternative Medicine, Chapter 7, “Naturopathic Medicine,” and Chapter 10, “Ayurvedic Medicine and Yoga” New York: Fireside Books, 2002. A useful introduction to naturopathy and the traditional natural medicine system of India.


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Ciccone, Diane. Heal Thyself Natural Living Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Natural Living through Vegetarian Cooking and Holistic Juicing Brooklyn, NY: A&B Publishers Group, 1998. .

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Stafford, Julie. Juicing for Health Boston: C. E. Tuttle, 1994.


Barrett, Stephen, MD. “Juicing.”Quackwatch, September 7, 1999. Available online at http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/juicing.html (accessed February 26, 2007).

“The Juice Craze.” Consumer Reports 57 (1992): 747–751.

Michalsen, A., B. Hoffman, S. Moebus, et al. “Incorporation of Fasting Therapy in an Integrative Medicine Ward: Evaluation of Outcome, Safety, and Effects on Lifestyle Adherence in a Large Prospective Cohort Study.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 11 (August 2005): 601–607.

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Stange, R. “Naturopathic Dietary Treatment in Functional Disorders.” [in German] MMW Fortschritte der Medi-zin 148 (February 16, 2006): 34–36.


Kordich, Jay, with Susan MacArthur and Jeff Lawrence. The Juiceman Audio Cassette Series with Jay Kordich Novi, MI: JM Marketing, Inc., 1989. (Six tapes).


National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Fact Sheet. Herbs at a Glance: Aloe Vera. Bethesda, MD: NCCAM, 2006. Available online at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/aloevera/

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Fact Sheet. Herbs at a Glance: Cranberry Bethesda, MD: NCCAM, 2005. Available online at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/cranberry/


American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). 4435 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 403, Washington, DC 20016. Telephone: (866) 538-2267 or (202) 237-8150. Website: http://www.naturopathic.org

American Vegan Society (AVS). 56 Dinshah Lane, P. O. Box 369, Malaga, NJ 08328. Telephone: (856) 694-2887. Website: http://www.americanvegan.org/index.htm

Juice Fast for Health. [no mailing address] (760) 508-8117. Website: http://www.juicefastforhealth.com

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892. Telephone: (888) 644-6226. Website: http://nccam.nih.gov

National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine (NIAM). 584 Milltown Road, Brewster, NY 10509. Telephone: (845) 278-8700. Website: http://niam.com

North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS). P.O. Box 72, Dolgeville, NY 13329. Telephone: (518) 568-7970. Website: http://www.navs-online.org

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD.