High in concentrated nutrients, fruit and vegetable juices are ideal for keeping your immunity high and fighting off colds, flu, and other infections. Enthusiasts claim that juice therapy can also lower blood pressure, remedy skin disorders, and relieve digestive problems, though the evidence for these benefits is less than conclusive. In addition, juice therapy is a favorite aid in “detoxification” regimens, and is often used during elimination diets to detect the cause of an allergy.
How the Treatments Are Done
Extracting the juice from fruits and vegetables yields a liquid that’s rich in sugars, starches, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals, but low in mass–in other words a concentrate that contains almost all the nutrients of the plant without the fibrous cell walls that originally contained them. The juices are used in two ways: as a supplement to a normal diet, or as a substitute for solid food (a “juice fast”). Most treatments are do-it-yourself, although the oversight of a physician is occasionally required.
There are a variety of juice therapy combinations. Indeed, the growing number of juice recipe books reflects the increasing popularity of this type of therapy. Since juices are mostly water, they can be mixed in ways you’d rarely attempt with solid foods. For example, combining fruits and vegetables is common in juice therapy, although it’s unwise to mix acidic juices, such as lemon or orange, with other types of juice. The acids can curdle some liquids, and are best when juiced and consumed alone.
Almost all fruits and most vegetables can be juiced. (A few vegetables–asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and squash–yield bitter juices that, for many people, aren’t worth the benefits they provide.) The fastest and easiest way to extract juice from any of these products is with a commercial juice machine. Those on the market today typically use one of two mechanisms:
Centrifugal force: This type of machine cuts fruits and vegetables into tiny pieces and then spins them at high speeds. The liquid is extracted by centrifugal force in much the same way that water is wrung from clothes during the spin cycle of your washing machine.
Triturator: This juice machine chews and rips the vegetables and fruits into a wet mass. The liquid is then squeezed out by a hydraulic press or some other mechanical pressure. Because this process exposes the pulp to less air and thus keeps more nutrients intact, some juice aficionados consider the triturator to be superior. However, it is also slower, larger, more complex, and higher priced.
Enthusiasts recommend drinking juice as soon as it’s made, since raw, unpreserved juice is highly perishable. Any contact with light, heat, or air starts an oxidation process that will eventually break down many of the nutrients. Nevertheless, you can store juice for up to two days if you keep it as cold as possible–35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit–without freezing it. Juice therapists also recommend using a dark, sterile, pre-chilled bottle to store any juice that contains riboflavin (vitamin B2).
When combined with other dietary regimens, juice therapy can be used to augment athletic training, or simply improve overall health. Keep in mind, however, that juicing a fruit or vegetable removes its fiber. Juices therefore cannot be used as a substitute for whole fruits or vegetables, but only as a low-fat supplement to a balanced diet.
A typical supplementary juice regimen calls for 3 to 4 eight-ounce glasses per day, taken throughout the day.
Juice therapists advocate juice-only fasts to cleanse and rejuvenate the body. Such fasts are also a good way to detect an unsuspected food allergy. If you experience a major improvement in chronic symptoms during a juice fast, chances are they were caused by an item in your regular diet. Reintroducing your favorite foods one at a time after the fast should quickly identify the culprit.
Juices can also provide at least some nutrients if you are unable to keep solid food down–for example, if you’re undergoing cancer chemotherapy or have a severe illness. They are especially good for convalescents because they are easier to consume and digest than solids, yet still provide the much needed nutrition.
Juice fasts typically last for 2 to 5 days. Juice advocates often recommend them for general health improvement twice a year, in spring and fall.
What Treatment Hopes to Accomplish
Juice serves as a valuable nutritional supplement in the treatment of all manner of debilitating illnesses, from cancer to AIDS. However, it’s important to remember that it’s not a magic cure-all. It won’t do any more for you than a similar supply of vitamins and minerals from any other source. It lacks the fiber, fat, and protein needed to maintain energy and preserve optimum health. And it won’t necessarily give you any more quick energy than you’d get from iced tea or cola.
Juice therapy has a lore all of its own, some of it true, some of it not.
Carrot juice, rich in vitamins and minerals, is a favorite among advocates, but despite claims to the contrary, it won’t boost energy, and combining it with beet juice doesn’t stimulate the liver.
Green juices, those made from green vegetables, are said to heal, stabilize, and calm frayed nerves, but they are not a source of long-term energy.
Wheatgrass juice, made from kernels that have sprouted to resemble grass, is another favorite, often recommended to detoxify the body, flush the liver, and purify the blood. There is, however, no evidence to support such claims, nor is there any reason to believe that it will remedy degenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
Juice advocates also focus on the many antioxidants and phytochemicals that show a promising role in the prevention of cancer. Foods such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, oranges, grapefruit, and lemons are especially rich in these compounds. Juice from these sources can provide you with a concentrated mixture of unique nutrients that can’t be obtained from commercial supplements.
Who Should Avoid This Therapy?
Juice fasts provide minimal calories and little fat or protein. They are not recommended during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, and they are also unwise for infants, young children, and the elderly.
Certain health problems can make it necessary to avoid or limit intake of particular juices. For example, you should obviously avoid the juice of any fruit or vegetable to which you may have an allergy. If you have a problem with sugar, you’ll need to dilute sugary juices such as carrot and beet with low-sugar juices such as celery. And if you have diabetes or suffer from hypoglycemia, you should always take fruit juices with food.
What Side Effects May Occur?
Although, in general, there are no side effects from juice therapy, certain medical conditions such as diabetes may be aggravated by excessive intake of certain juices. It’s also possible for a juice such as grapefruit to interact badly with certain prescription drugs such as Crixivan, Halcion, Lexxel, and Neoral. If you have chronic health problem or are currently undergoing treatment, it’s wise to check with your doctor before undertaking juice therapy.
Avoid including excessive amounts of tomato and citrus juices in your regimen. Because they are highly acidic, they could conceivably upset the body’s natural acid-base (pH) balance. Remember, too, that the juice of a food to which you’re allergic can be just as upsetting as the original source.
How to Choose a Therapist
There are no special certification requirements for physicians who prescribe juice therapy. Any medical doctor should be able to help you with recommendations for most any health problem. However, if you are seeing a specialist for a particular ailment, it’s best to consult this physician first.
You may also want to consider consulting a naturopathic physician, since these doctors tend to be especially experienced in juice therapy. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians in Seattle maintains a referral database of naturopathic physicians who practice juice therapy throughout the United States. (See “Resources” below.)
When Should Treatment Stop?
Juice supplementation can last a lifetime. Juice fasts, however, should be limited to no more than 2 weeks at a time. No matter how many juices you include in the regimen, it will still lack many of the elements of a balanced diet. A protracted diet of juice alone will damage, rather than improve, your health.
See a Conventional Doctor If…
While juice can boost overall health and resistance, it can’t cure any serious chronic disease. For example, cabbage juice may relieve the symptoms of an ulcer, but it won’t cure one. (For that, you’ll typically need a course of antibiotics and antacids.) Seek standard medical treatment for any long-term problem, and use juice only as an adjunct to regular therapy.
Likewise, juice therapy may help the body overcome an infection, but it won’t kill any germs by itself. If an infection hangs on or gets worse, your best bet for getting rid of it is probably a prescription drug. Don’t delay seeing a conventional doctor. Some uncontrolled infections can quickly become life-threatening.