In the case of Rodgers’s Panchakarma cleanse, there are real health risks in following its principles, says registered dietitian nutritionist Tiffany Godwin, director of nutrition and wellness at Connections Wellness Group.
“From a medical standpoint, engaging in activities such as induced vomiting, forced diarrhea, and enema use pose a high risk of extreme dehydration,” she says. “Dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches, and dizziness at best. At worst, it can lead to seizures, kidney failure, coma, and death.”
Also, a cleanse that is designed to rid your body of toxins may introduce them to your body if you are using herbal medicines.
“Some of the products used in ayurvedic medicine contain herbs, metals, minerals, or other materials that may be harmful if used improperly,” Pike explains. “Ayurvedic medicines are regulated as dietary supplements rather than as drugs in the United States, so they are not required to meet the safety and efficacy standards for conventional medicines.”
When it comes to ayurveda, which is based on ancient writings that rely on a “natural” or holistic approach to physical and mental health, there is scant research or clinical trials in Western medical journals to support the approach. So people interested in following the practices should always consult with a doctor before trying them.
Rodgers’s approach includes a “nasal herbal remedy,” for instance.
“Tread very lightly with herbs and supplements,” advises DeGore. “We have the FDA to put drugs through a rigorous process before they approve them. These supplements are unregulated and don’t go through the same processes.”
Another danger is that when “cleansing,” you are starving your body of the nutrients it needs.
“When we vomit, or have diarrhea, we are not simply losing a mass amount of fluid from our bodies, but we are also losing essential electrolytes and minerals,” says Godwin.
Instead, say the registered dietitians, you can help your body by feeding it what it really needs.
“Eating plenty of fiber-rich foods such as fruits, veggies, beans, legumes, and whole grains, for example, keeps our GI tract moving and grooving, creating an ideal environment for our gut to use the useful things, and get rid of the not so useful,” says Godwin. “These systems can be compromised in different disease states, such as liver disease, kidney disease, and other GI disorders like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. With these disease states, however, cleanses can be even more harmful.”