Is a gut cleanse really the answer to improving your digestion, skin, and immune system? Let's break down exactly what a gut cleanse is and whether it really helps your digestive system.
Updated: July 2021
What is a Gut Cleanse, Exactly?
There is no set definition of what a "gut cleanse" is, exactly.
In fact, many gurus have their own "flavor" of gut cleanses – types of gut cleanses include juice cleanses, specialized diets that incorporate “colon cleansing foods,” popular cleanses like the Master cleanse, and even things like coffee enemas and probiotic enemas.
Gut cleanses advertise all sorts of health benefits – that they’ll make your skin glow, “clean you out,” boost your immune system, help you lose weight, and more.
Unfortunately, not only do most gut cleanses not provide any of these benefits, but they may also do more harm than good.
Is a Gut Cleanse Good or Bad?
We’re not big fans of the common gut cleanses out there...not only are they super low in calories (you need those, remember?) but more importantly, most gut cleanses don’t actually help your gut health.
In reality, most gut cleanses are simply a version of fasting.
While fasting can temporarily reduce digestive problems, it doesn’t do anything to prevent digestive issues in the future (once you go back to eating food...which, you definitely should.)
Fasting also won’t really help your skin, your immune system, or help you lose weight over the long term...all the benefits most cleanses promise. While you may notice short-term benefits with the caloric restriction that goes along with most gut cleanses, none of them are likely to stick around.
Our overall take on gut cleanses: not worth it.
A New Take on a Gut Cleanse: Balance is Best
Instead of thinking about “cleaning out” your gut, you should think about balancing your gut.
More specifically, balancing your gut microbiome – the collection of bacteria, viruses, and yeasts living in your intestines.
It might be strange to realize that you’ve got a whole bunch of critters living in your gut, but these little guys are actually incredibly important in not only the function of your gut, but also in how well the rest of your body functions, too!
There are “good” and “bad” bacteria that live in your gut and you want the good to outweigh the bad.
But sometimes, the bad start to overgrow or your numbers of good bacteria dwindle.
When this happens, you have an imbalanced gut microbiome (also known as gut “dysbiosis”).
So here’s our new take on gut cleanses: instead of focusing on “cleansing,” we should focus on balancing those good and bad bacteria.
So...How Do You Balance Gut Bacteria with a "Gut Cleanse"?
One of the best things you can do to rebalance your gut bacteria is to incorporate prebiotics and probiotics.
But hold up, let’s define what those are!
Probiotics: Live, beneficial bacteria. These usually come in supplement form, or can be found in foods like yogurt or kombucha.
Prebiotics: Probiotics lesser-known friend, prebiotics can be thought of as “food” for good gut bacteria. When probiotics “eat” (metabolize) prebiotics, they produce helpful compounds like short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are great for your gut.
By incorporating prebiotics and probiotics into your routine, you help bring up counts of good bacteria in the gut.
These good bacteria can produce antimicrobial compounds that then help to kick out the bad guys; in other words, they'll help "cleanse" your gut from the bad bacteria inhabiting it.
The result, over time, is a more balanced gut microbiome – one that helps keep digestive problems in check and helps to keep you healthy overall! (Psst...this includes benefits to your skin, too.)
The Bottom Line: Is a Gut Cleanse Worth It?
The short answer is – no!
Not only is a gut cleanse starving you of the calories you need to function, but they don’t actually provide the benefits they promise.
The next time you’re tempted to cleanse your gut, think about balancing your gut microbiome – the organisms living in your intestines – instead.
By balancing your gut microbiome, you’re helping to cleanse it of overgrowing bad bacteria and increase your counts of good bacteria.
A balanced gut microbiome is a healthy microbiome. And one that can help support your digestion, your immune system, and pretty much every other body system you’ve got!
Taking prebiotics and probiotics will help balance your gut microbiome, so do that instead of the next trendy gut cleanse you come across.