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Byline: Evan Henerson Staff Writer

It's not, strictly speaking, a diet even though most people who go through it for an extended period of time do indeed lose weight.

And deprivation and self-denial aren't guiding principles - even though these are the feelings people most often associate with the practice of fasting.

Short for ``detoxification,'' the health detox, as it has come to be known, is exactly what it sounds like: a period of time used to purge the body of harmful toxic substances.

During a typical detox, which can last days or weeks, depending on the program, a person radically simplifies his diet and tries everything possible to reduce his stress level. Medications, caffeine, nicotine and animal products - bye-bye. Hello, quiet time, organic food, energy soup and juice. Lots and lots of juice.

A trip to your local health food store or a surf through alternative health Web sites on the Internet will turn up dozens of programs from the Liver Diet to juice fasts to the ``Detox for Health'' kit, a seven-day, take-home program that comes with a recipe book and massage oils. Like your detox on the tart side? Try Stanley Burroughs' Master Cleanser - also known as the Lemonade Diet.

``You start to hear all these things, that we're accumulating these chemicals, and living in sort of a toxic soup,'' says Dr. Michael Hirt, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Encino Tarzana Regional Medical Center. ``People get concerned that these things are in their system, Yes, there are plenty of harmful substances people should avoid - in food, water and the atmosphere - and they want them out. These kinds of detox diets have been around for a long time, and they're latching onto fear.''

Is detox healthy? Hirt and other practitioners of traditional medicine say it depends on the program and your own health status as determined by your doctor. They caution, though, that any regimen that all but cuts out a nutrient-supplying food group - such as protein - goes against the guidelines of the food pyramid recommended by the American Dietetic Association and gives your system a roller coaster ride.

``I'm one of those boring people. I go for the well-balanced diet,'' says Rosalyn Gross, a registered dietitian in charge of the diabetes education program at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills. ``Personally, I think juice diets are ridiculous, and there's no scientific merit to them at all.''

Hirt agrees. Too many all-juice or smoothie-dominated meals without any significant proteins, and your body will start trying to get those nutrients from muscle and internal organs. Then your decreased energy levels will be a sign of malnutrition, not a prelude to feeling better and ``you'll need to hire someone to toss your salad for you'' because you'll be so weak, Hirt said.

In fact, some who have tried detox programs have given up, saying the headaches and deprivation aren't worth it. Others, though, report experiencing lifestyle-altering changes - from weight loss to increased energy levels, from losing asthma to increased sexual potency.

``I'm very skeptical and I love meat,'' says Nancy Agosto of Newhall, who had to give up chorizo and any number of things while doing the 21 Day Detox run by the American University of Complimentary Medicine. ``But I feel like it was totally worth it. I feel like I've started a new life. I don't feel heavy inside now. I have more energy than I ever had in my life. I was a chronic asthmatic. Now not a spell.''

``It's like my body was thanking me for doing it,'' said Sarah Wolf of Glendale, who went through the same program with Agosto. ``I actually ate beef afterward, and my stomach hurt for two days. I think my body was cleansed. It didn't want that anymore.''

John Wood and Dr. Richard DeAndrea, founders of the 21 Day Detox that meets four Saturdays at the American University of Complimentary Medicine in West Los Angeles, say detox is just good personal housekeeping.

And you might actually do some healing, says DeAndrea, who claims regular detoxing can reverse the effects of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Wood says the health detox helped him clear up a digestive disorder called ulcerative colitis.

Their program takes detoxers from a plant-based diet (in week one) to a live food diet (week two) to a liquid diet. By the third week, your meals are smoothies and energy soups supplemented by - if you're so inclined - an enema. Staying with the program is no picnic, but the results will be otherworldly, say its creators.

``We try to make it really simple and flexible so people can stay with it,'' says Wood. ``At some point, you really have to take care of yourself. That's why you're doing a detox. A lot of the people we get are not health nuts.''

On a Saturday evening, with the first seven days nearly behind them, the current crop of 21 Day Detoxers gathered in the dimly lit AUCM on Olympic Boulevard. A youthful-looking DeAndrea, dressed Melrose Avenue chic with no socks, answered questions, gave a slide presentation and talked about healthy foods vs. foods that heal.

``I believe that every disease is reversible, not that they can be cured,'' DeAndrea said. ``I've said before, 'Curing is for pickles; healing is for people.' ''

His observation that the french fry of a popular fast food chain is ``about 5 percent potato'' and other research data prompted one participant to remark to a Detox-mate, ``This is very depressing; we've been poisoning ourselves.''

The presentation then turned to food preparation, with DeAndrea mixing a vanilla shake that the participants would consume for their Day 8 breakfast. Bananas, soaked almonds, dates, purified water and vanilla extract disappeared into an industrial-strength blender. The concoction came out a pea-soup-green color because of the presence of VitaMineralGreen, an organic, vitamin and mineral supplement recommended as a protein additive.

DeAndrea tasted the mixture. ``I can do better,'' he said, adding some more dates to enhance the flavor.

Later he prepared an ``energy soup'' - a blended mixture of avocado, apple, spinach, carrot, seaweed and spices that will become a full meal staple during the last two weeks. Tasting like a slightly sweet salsa, the concoction is thick, hearty and, yes, green.

Can you get all the required nutrients from an energy soup? Certainly, says Dr. Gail Frank, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Would you want to? Well ...

``If I'm blending each element of a complete meal separately and drink them, I've gone through the first stage of digestion,'' says Frank, who is also a professor of nutrition at California State University, Long Beach. ``The quirkiness of all this is that what people hate most is when they have to go to pureed food when they're in the hospital. They hate it and here it's being glorified as magic.''

Hirt says he agrees with several of the other detox requirements or suggestions. Any plan that encourages rest and low stress clearly has a person's health in mind, he says. A better nutritional alternative would be what he calls ``the God diet: If God didn't make it and put it in the earth, don't eat it.'' So potatoes are OK, but potato chips are a no-no; fish gets a thumbs up while fish sticks get a thumbs down.

``By changing your diet, getting healthy green vegetables and fruits, whole foods in their natural state, people will really feel amazing,'' he said. ``All those Happy Meals and fried dough do nothing but gum up your system. Our body is not designed to handle that food porn.''

As for a need for conscious ``detoxification,'' Hirt isn't buying.

``I ask my patients how often they clean a self-cleaning oven. You don't. It cleans itself. The body is self-cleaning as well, and it has its own blood purification system that protects it from toxins.''


5 photos


(1 -- cover -- color) Is fasting fruitful?

Health detox programs encourage people to cleanse their bodies, but some doctors, dietitians question the benefits

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

(2 -- 3) Left, Dr. Richard DeAndrea makes a fruit smoothie at the 21 Day Detox class at the American University of Complimentary Medicine in West Los Angeles. Above, participant Gisela Burquet pours herself a smoothie.

(4) More than fresh fruit is used in making the smoothies served at the program run by the AUCM, as this selection of ingredients indicates.

(5) Dr. Richard DeAndrea explains the principles of the 21 Day Detox to an AUCM class.

Photos by David Sprague/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 21, 2001

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