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How to do a safe detox

Every three months, Pamela Bryant, 50, stops eating food for atleast 10 days to clean the gunk out of her body. When she's hungry,she drinks a concoction of lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maplesyrup, laxative tea or saltwater.

The popular liquid detox diet, known as the Master Cleanser, hasfew nutrients and is ridiculed by most nutrition experts. But Bryantswears it helps her lose weight and reduce cravings for sugar,caffeine and marijuana.

When it's over, "you feel incredible," said Bryant, a Mauimassage therapist. "You have way more energy, and all your vitalorgans are rested and detoxified."

Detox or cleansing diets can involve water, potions, fruit andvegetable juice, raw food, herbal supplements, nutraceuticals or acombination of approaches. Proponents say they're necessary becauseour bodies take a lot of abuse from modern life: overly processedfood, alcohol, cigarette smoke, chemicals and environmental pollution.

But some cleansing rituals aren't safe if used for extendedperiods, and there's virtually no scientific evidence that they work.Conventional doctors, meanwhile, say the lungs, kidneys, liver andskin are perfectly capable of detoxifying on their own.

Tennessee internist J. David Forbes agrees that the body's naturaldetoxification system is usually adequate. But "we're constantlybombarding ourselves with toxic stuff, mostly in the form of foods weeat," said Forbes, president of the American Holistic MedicalAssociation. "We have to give the body a chance to catch up."

At the very least, there may be an emotional benefit associatedwith starting over.

Here's how to try one safely:

Plan ahead. A week before you plan to detox, reduce caffeine andsugar (including excessive fruit juices) to avoid withdrawal symptoms,said nutrition and diet expert Ann Louise Gittleman, author of severalbest-selling books on detoxification. "Drink a cup or two a day ofdandelion tea to shore up the liver."

Don't stop eating. Fiber moves waste through the body, and we getthat through whole grains, beans and vegetables, said Kathy Freston,author of "The Quantum Wellness Cleanse" (Weinstein, $14.95).Fasting also slows down your metabolism.

Choose plans that involve nutrient-dense foods. Fresh, raw andorganic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts andseeds will be your best choices. The liver works harder when it'sdealing with heavy, greasy, refined foods.

Skip the laxatives. The seven-day detox programs based on fiber andlaxative pills with little or no food "only tax the body's systems,"said Delia Quigley, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to DetoxingYour Body" (Alpha, $18.95).

Time it right. Don't detox if you're overly stressed, said LagunaBeach, Calif., nutritionist Stella Metsovas. It adds more stress andcan make you sick. Avoid liquid fasts if you have kidney or liverdisorders, are pregnant, have an eating disorder or are on heavy-dutymedications.

Take it easy. "You don't have to stop working, but allow plenty oftime for rest and relaxation," said Gittleman. In the first fourdays, you might feel irritable, tired or have headaches, all signsthat your body is detoxifying, she said.

Make it last. "Doing a 3- to 10-day detox diet and going back tosmoking and eating McDonald's does nothing," said Dr. Melinda Ring,director of the Northwestern Center for Integrative Medicine andWellness in Chicago. "It's how you live your whole life."

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4 DETOX DIETS: THE PROS AND CONS

Detox diets range from intense liquid fasts to whole-foods dietsthat include sleep, exercise and whole foods. Here's how four popularplans shake out:

Master Cleanser by Stanley Burroughs, mastercleanser.com

Claim: Eliminate toxins and cleanse the kidneys and digestivesystem.

You eat: Nothing. But you get to drink a lemon, maple syrup andcayenne pepper (for B and C vitamins) cocktail 6 to 12 times a day forat least 10 days and up to 40. Also includes laxative tea andsaltwater flush.

Pros: Probably not harmful in short term. May lead to temporaryweight loss.

Cons: Devoid of most nutrients. Avoid it if you have certaindiseases, especially renal failure. Must stay close to the bathroom.

The Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox, by Roni Deluz and James Hester,mvdietdetox.com

Claim: Can help you lose 21 pounds in 21 days.

You eat: Juices and soups from whole foods and vegetables. Nochewing allowed. Supplements include food enzymes and inner cleansingproducts for the colon and liver.

Pros: Urges people to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Cons: A cumbersome plan that's hard to stick with. It also promotescolonics, which haven't been shown to help with weight loss.

Quantum Wellness Cleanse, by Kathy Freston, kathyfreston.com

Claim: A 21-day program to heal your body, mind and spirit.

You eat: Plant-based and gluten-free whole foods.

Pros: Comprehensive, holistic approach. No strange brews to drinkor pills to purchase.

Cons: Most people can't sacrifice sugar, alcohol, caffeine, glutenand animal products.

Clean, by Alejandro Junger, thecleanprogram.com

Claim: "Helps the body naturally heal itself."

You eat: Two liquid meals, one solid, all designed by someone whois a nurse, raw foods chef and cleansing expert. Weeklong programinvolves exercise, rest and "detox enhancing" techniques such assauna, massage, hot and cold baths, and skin brushing.

Pros: A whole-body, whole-foods plan. It's mild enough that you canstill function.

Cons: A lifestyle overhaul that requires commitment.

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