Fast thinking: Juice for health

If it hadn’t been for her daughter’s stubbornness, Mary DeMorest says, she might still be dragging herself through life sick, tired and cranky all the time.

“Hopeless” is how she describes her state two years ago.

After experiencing a long-term decline in her health and getting little help from conventional medicine, she was starting to feel as if she was beyond aid. Her daughter, however, had become a believer in juice fasting, which she had tried under the supervision of her naturopath, and she was insistent her mom at least talk to him.

“She was doing this juice fast and I scolded her because I disapproved of people doing fasts,” DeMorest recalls. “She’s skinny and a dancer and I couldn’t figure out why in the world she would be doing that. But when I got sick and couldn’t think for myself, she hauled me down there.”

Suffering from severe fatigue and joint pain she believes may have been brought on by a bout of viral meningitis a year earlier, DeMorest says she could not walk a block without becoming short of breath. By the time she arrived in Dr. Steven Bailey’s office in fall 2009, she says she was also having trouble remembering things and was experiencing irritability and mental fog.

“I hurt all over.”

Within about a week of joining one of the naturopath’s juice fasting support groups and starting on a fast, she says the fogginess, pain and fatigue began to lift and energy began to return to her body. She was forced to let go of everything she thought she knew about fasting and admit she felt good — really good, in fact — on a zero solid-food diet. As part of the naturopath-supervised group fast, she juiced and drank 64 ounces of fresh juices and 32 ounces of blended green vegetables and fruit (a “green smoothie”) every day.

Preparing everything in her own juicer and blender, she consumed the juices of beets, carrots and celery, as well as smoothies made from spinach, apples and apple juice. “I was hungry the first couple of days and then after that I was not quite so hungry,” she says. “I lost about 10 pounds during that first week and felt so good that I wanted to do a second week.”

Liquid diet drawbacks

But not everyone agrees there are health benefits to juice fasting. Though Bailey counts among his fasting clients some conventional medical doctors, most physicians tend to dismiss any kind of fasting for health reasons.

Dr. Valerie Halpin, a bariatric surgeon at the Legacy Good Samaritan Weight Management Institute, says there’s a risk associated with juice-only diets because of the lack of protein and the possibility the body could consume its own muscle fiber if not given protein for a prolonged period.

“Juice fasting does not include protein, which we consider a part of a healthy diet. Your body needs it to heal wounds and maintain normal body functions. So we would not advise going on a protein-free diet for any length of time. It’s probably not going to hurt anyone for a few days, but anything longer than a week would be considered dangerous.”

While she says a juice and green smoothie program sounds slightly safer than juices alone, she would advise adding a lean protein source to any such cleansing regimen to make it “safer.”

Patients who should not juice fast for any length of time include diabetics, pregnant women, those with poor immune function, those with stomach ulcers and those who are malnourished or underweight, Halpin said.

The juice fasting guru

Bailey, known as the fasting guru, argues the average person does just fine on a juice fast of a week or two, despite the limited protein.

The relatively small amounts of protein found in fresh juices and smoothies are more than adequate, he maintains, to keep the average body going on a fast of one to two weeks — or longer — and the risk of the body consuming its own muscle fiber during such a fast is minimal. Bailey has been leading patients on juice fasts since he started practicing medicine nearly 30 years ago. A graduate of the National College of Natural Medicine, he has also written two books on juice fasting.

“He’s well known for helping people do detoxes and teaching people about juicing,” says Dr. Satya Ambrose, a naturopath/acupuncturist and founder of the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine.

“And he’s a character to boot.” And though Bailey uses a full spectrum of naturopathic and healing modalities in his work, fresh juices have been at the heart of his traditionally based practice for 29 years.

In his books and in person, he produces a long list of conditions he has addressed with juice and green smoothie fasting, including migraines, gastroesophageal reflux, chronic gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, respiratory problems and chronic fatigue, among others.

“There’s almost no disease where the benefits of fasting — physiologically and immunologically — will not be revealed by an enhanced reparative response by a person’s body,” Bailey says. “We use juice and smoothies to remove barriers and promote the body’s natural ability to redress inflammation and disease and promote a higher state of health. But we don’t heal anybody. We are promoting the body’s ability to heal.”

Bailey appears to practice what he preaches. He says he has been fasting at least once a year since 1968, undertaking everything from regular five-day juice fasts to a 34-day water-only fast in 2003. He also did a 100-day combined water and juice fast in 1993 to bring awareness to a political cause.

There is one scenario in which he says fasting never works: when someone is coerced into it. “The one thing I would say is that fasting always has to be voluntary.”

Mainstream fascination

Americans are becoming increasingly interested in cleansing with juices and blended concoctions, thanks to the growing popularity of the raw foods and natural healing movements, as well as movies related to plant-based nutrition and health.

Released this year, the documentary “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead,” chronicles an Australian futures trader who embarks on a long-term juice fast and reverses a serious weight problem, as well as a chronic autoimmune disorder.

During his 60-day juice fasting road trip around America, the movie’s protagonist, Joe Cross chats with regular folks about nutrition and cleansing. Most people ignore him, but one obese trucker with the same auto-immune syndrome takes Cross’ adviceto heart and starts his own juice fast.

But before juice fasting and raw foods showed up in movies, meetups and on the Internet — there’s even a green smoothie iPhone app — Bailey was using them in his practice. “He’s very interested in honoring the old-time techniques that work,” Ambrose says. “Every time I see him at a convention, he’s with the old-timers asking about what they know and what they use.”

Traditional techniques

Fasting is as old-time as it gets for medicine. Though some hardliners define fasting as consuming only water for a period of time, others define it as giving up any normally consumed substance for a period of time for health or spiritual reasons.

“It’s the intentional restriction of a normal diet out of willful discipline,” Bailey says.

Taking juices alone has also been a part of traditional medicine for centuries. Ayurvedic doctors in India have used the juices of fruits, vegetables and herbs for several thousand years to restore and maintain health. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, used juices and used them to help patients suffering from a variety of ailments.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that juice fasting began to catch on in popular culture. Norman Walker, a naturopath who suffered from a stress-related chronic illness, restored his health using fresh juices and raw foods and spent the rest of his life researching and writing about nutrition.

Not only did he open what was likely the first juice bar in the world (in Long Beach, Calif., in the 1920s), he is credited with inventing the first modern juicer — the Norwalk — still sold today. At the same time, he was busy popularizing juicing through his books, while prescribing juices to his patients for various conditions.

Juicers might be the one household appliance that has come down in price over the decades. Bailey notes that a Norwalk juicer went for $720 in 1921. Today you can find a decent juicer online for about $250.

Bailey says about 99 percent off those who start his group fasts complete them. Though the basic fast lasts about five days, the group program also includes a “pre-fasting” diet of mostly fibrous vegetables and a “reintroduction” diet that allows people to start eating solid foods with fewer negative effects on the digestive system.


Dr. Steven Bailey is a graduate of the National College of Natural Medicine but has not worked at the school for more than 15 years. A story and caption in Wednesday’s Living section gave incorrect information.

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