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August 1st, 2011
12:30 AM ET

Mayo doctor is no fan of cleanses

Editor's note: "AC 360” senior producer Jill Billante was considering a cleanse and went to the Mayo Clinic for expert answers. Dr. Michael Picco didn’t have good things to say. A new study out Monday backs up Picco’s opinion. But CNN Showbiz writer-producer Lisa Respers France has done it for years and says it really makes her feel better.

The answer to weight loss continues to be eating a healthy diet, but many Americans want a shortcut, and there are plenty of companies willing to offer it. Type the word cleanse into your browser and you'll be overwhelmed with choices. Walk down the aisle of your health food store and you will find products promising to cleanse the colon and now, they can even be found at drugstore chains. Pick up a box and you might go into sticker shock; most cleanses are expensive. There are even companies that offer to deliver juice cleanses right to your home.

This spring, with my New Year’s resolution a distant memory and bikini season looming, I was considering a cleanse to help me lose some weight. After reading a few books on the subject, and one book in particular that seemed to have a smart approach, The Ciminelli Solution, which advocates eating more fruits and vegetables and healthy fats to help cleanse your body, I had some pretty big questions, and I did what journalists do: I started reporting.

I went to Dr. Michael Picco, a consultant on gastroenterology at the Mayo Clinic, for his expert opinion on cleanses.

Do cleanses help you lose weight quickly?

Any weight loss you get is not real. It's due to loss of fluid and waste and it is potentially harmful. Weight loss needs to be done with diet and exercise. I support a diet rich in veggies and a good, well-balanced diet that  includes complex carbohydrates, fat and fruits and vegetables.

When it was reported that Beyonce lost weight fast on the "Lemonade Diet" cleanse, sales of maple syrup, a component of the diet, shot up. What are your thoughts on the "Lemonade Diet?"

We don't endorse this at all.

Do cleanses have any real benefits?

No. The whole basis to this cleansing business is people say it can help things like the immune system, fatigue and depression and it can clean the toxins out of the colon and it can aid in losing weight. There is really no evidence to that at all. Sometimes those cleanses could actually be quite harmful, too. Both in terms of what’s in the cleanse and also in administering them.

Is there any upside to a cleanse?

There is really no good evidence based upon any good research that this stuff makes any difference. The FDA doesn't regulate these products because they are considered within the supplements category. Dietary supplements don't have to meet the rigor that proprietary medicines would require. As a result of that, companies can claim just about anything.

How can cleansing be harmful?

Colon cleansing means you are doing something to cleanse out the colon. That can take the form of enemas or oral preparations. The methods are nowhere near standardized. Some cleanses could have electrolytes or irritants that make the colon more irritated. This can make existing conditions like hemorrhoids worse, and increase dehydration, malnutrition and fatigue. Those who have other medical conditions, elderly folks who are more susceptible to dehydration, continue to increase the risk of adverse effects.

Is there ever a time when the colon needs to be cleansed?

There is no need to cleanse colon; the colon does its own job cleansing bacteria. There are billions of bacteria in the colon, and they work in a symbiotic way to help with various different colon functions. The colon does a good job of changing its lining. It basically works quite well and does not need a periodic colon cleanse to get rid of any toxins.

The  bottom line on cleanses?

The bottom line is that there isn't any evidence that these work. The people claiming they do have evidence it works are not correct. They can do that simply because they are not regulated. I think your readers need to know this before they believe these claims and purchase these preparations and understand there is a downside as well.

Follow @jbillante on Twitter


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.