When I was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003, more than one person suggested that I start juicing. At the time, I wasn’t exactly sure what that entailed.
I soon learned that I would need a machine, more powerful than my blender, with blades that could grind whole vegetables and fruit into fresh beverages.
The theory behind juicing is that unpasteurized, highly concentrated juice has more nutrients, antioxidants, and disease-fighting compounds than bottled or pasteurized juices — or even the whole fruit or vegetable itself.
Juicing came into vogue in the early 1990s, and has only grown more popular since then. Today, the Internet abounds with testimony to the good health it fosters.
There are even claims that juicing can cure cancer. One man reported that he had successfully treated squamous cell neck cancer by drinking five pounds of carrot juice a day.
In another regimen, called the Gerson Therapy, cancer patients consume up to 13 glasses of fresh, raw carrot, apple, and green-leaf juices a day. The juices are prepared hourly from fresh, raw, organic fruits and vegetables, using a two-step juicer or a masticating juicer with a separate hydraulic press.
Most of the beneficial nutrients, antioxidants, and disease-fighting chemicals found in whole produce are contained in their juices, which some people find more palatable than the produce itself.
Some people who wouldn't otherwise eat kale, parsley, or celery, find that they can drink the juices, and thereby get some nutrients they wouldn't otherwise encounter.
Unfortunately, the downsides to juicing are as compelling as the benefits.
For starters, skins, seeds, and fibrous materials are discarded in the juicing process (which, quite frankly, makes a mess.) This means that you may not get enough fiber in your diet.
Juicing proponents suggest that removing fiber helps the body access nutrients more easily, but experts at the Mayo Clinic and elsewhere say the body needs fiber to promote healthy digestive function.
Also, consuming too much of certain juices can cause severe diarrhea. And the juices from fruits and starchy vegetables such as carrots or beets contain a lot of sugar, which can be harmful for diabetics and can also lead to weight gain.
And for people with suppressed immune systems, store-bought, unpasteurized juices can lead to infection.
Lastly, despite accounts like that of the man with squamous cell neck cancer, there’s no proof that juicing is a miracle cure.
"There is no convincing scientific evidence that extracted juices are healthier than whole foods," according to the American Cancer Society. "Available scientific evidence does not support claims that the enzymes from raw foods have special, health-giving properties since they are broken down during digestion anyway."
Overall, juicing is considered safe when it is part of a healthy diet. The American Cancer Society warns, however, that relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.
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