Cleansing for “The Event”: Blair Underwood’s 20 pound weight loss

Blair Underwood, who plays the President Elias Martinez on the NBC show, The Event, told Regis Philbin today on Live with Regis and Kelly that he lost 20 pounds using a master cleanse diet.  He was spurred on by seeing himself in the pilot of the new show: “I saw the pilot and was like, ‘Oh brother, you better lose some weight!'” He added that in using the master cleanse, “I basically starved myself for two weeks.”

Originally created in the 1940’s by a nutrition guru named Stanley Burroughs who thought it would treat ulcers and other internal ailments, the fast enjoyed a vogue in the late ’70s with the publication of his book “The Master Cleanser.” The master cleanse has recently had a resurgence of interest, especially by those looking to lose weight quickly. Several celebrities, including Beyoncé Knowles, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, and Gerard Butler have touted the diet, which consists of two weeks worth of a mixture lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Gwyneth Paltrow is also a detox fan, although she prefers a three week-long ‘Clean’ detox program. The program, designed by detox specialist, Dr. Alejandro Junger, consists of two liquid, and one solid meal a day. The solid meal must be without processed foods, dairy and sugar.

Detox diets claim that they can help chronic conditions that occur when the body become victim to a build up of “toxins.” As Dr. Junger puts it: “When our systems are overtaxed, they begin to break down in a multitude of ways. Allergies, headaches, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, weight gain and insomnia are just a few of the symptoms that can result. The majority of these common ailments are the direct result of toxin build-up in our systems that has accumulated during the course of our daily lives.” Dr. Junger’s book currently is number 13 in Amazon sales rankings.

Do Detox diets work? Is there any scientific evidence to recommend them?

Detox (short for detoxification) diets usually consist of a variable period of altered diet. This diet is high in fluids, high in fruits and vegetables, and eliminates alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods. Colonic cleansing (enemas to remove fecal material from the colon) are frequently included as well. Some diets also include special herbs or supplements which are supposed to enhance toxin removal.

“But the science behind the detox theory is deeply flawed“, says Peter Pressman, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “The body already has multiple systems in place — including the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract — that do a perfectly good job of eliminating toxins from the body within hours of consumption.”

Detox dieters often report a variety of benefits, but most of these improvements may be due to changes in the diet unrelated to any change in “toxin levels.” For instance, a decrease in headaches could be related to elimination of caffeine or alcohol in the diet. Decreased bloating just from eating less. Clearer skin may be related to better hydration.

Many individuals will have weight loss from these diets (mostly because they are low in calories), but it is usually due to a loss of fluids and some muscle, and not fat loss, and therefore the weight loss is temporary. Colonic cleansing, in general, is unnecessary except in preparation for colonoscopy. Colonic enemas can tamper with the body’s normal fluid and electrolyte balance and can lead to infection, irregularity, and dehydration. A high fiber diet works better for improving bowel irregularity.

For more information, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on Detox Diets.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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