Are cleanses safe?

Whether it’s over-the-counter mixes or juicing, cleanses often appeal to the masses because of the promise to clear out toxins from the body.

Juice cleanses, promising everything from increased energy to weight loss to better skin, are becoming increasingly popular. But are these programs safe, and should they be subject to the same regulations as other food and dietary products?

Some nutritionists believe cleanses can actually be harmful.

"Juice cleanses are a weight-loss fad marketed as a health-promoting strategy," said nutritionist Lora Sporny, a nutrition professor at Columbia University in New York.

The problem with some cleanses, during which users drink only prepackaged juices for days at a time, is that the juices do not contain sufficient calories, proteins, carbohydrates and good fats, explained Chicago dietician and clinical nutritionist Judy Manisco.

Companies such as the Chicago-based Peeled cleanse, Organic Avenue and Cooler Cleanse all sell juice cleanses online. Their websites advertise dozens of possible benefits, including increased energy.

But dietary experts are quick to point out that the observed benefits described may actually be symptoms of poor health.

"I do believe I had more energy and clearer skin," Chicago resident Elissa Glavash, 27, said. She has done two three-day cleanses through Peeled.

Manisco cautioned that this side effect may feel like an energy increase, but is actually just adrenaline, a warning from the body that it is not receiving enough nutrients.

Not all nutritionists agree: Sporny attributed the energy increase to a placebo effect. But she pointed out other digestive concerns cleanses raise.

Organic Avenue, the maker of a three-day cleanse called LOVE*deep, said its program "allows you mental and physical relief from the preparation and digestion of food!" according to its website.

"People think that our digestive tract needs a rest. In fact, when you do that, it degrades," Sporny said.

With these health concerns, should the FDA be taking a closer look at these programs before they are even available to customers?

"We do not evaluate diet plans or supplements before they enter the market," wrote FDA Press Officer Tamara Ward in an email. "FDA is responsible for taking action against any unsafe dietary supplement product after it reaches the market."

Nutritionists are divided on whether the FDA should increase its responsibility for programs like juice cleanses.

"I don't know that it rises to that level," Sporny said."If they are merely fruit and vegetable concoctions, I can't say where they would come into play."

Some nutritionists also recognize benefits moderate juicing can have.Jim White, a registered dietitian and representative of the Chicago-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said he sees "no problem with juicing three times a day and detoxing the system."

The problems start when people juice over long periods of time, he said.

"I don't necessarily need the FDA to recommend a detox or cleanse for me or my patients," Manisco said. She has used Metagenics, a detox program that includes food with a sufficient amount of calories, since 1998, she said.

Still, especially without FDA approval, consumers should be careful to look at the facts behind claims made online, even for products made simply of fruits and vegetables.

"If it looks too good to be true, it probably is," said Manisco.