Can a 3-Week Juice Cleanse Cause Brain Damage?
It's old news that a "detox" juice cleanse can have some nasty effects on your body-like constant hunger. A recent story from Israeli publication Ha Hadashot 12 credited a 40-year-old woman's three-week cleanse with a much scarier outcome than frequent trips to the bathroom: brain damage. The woman had been following a strict water-and-fruit-juice diet at the direction of an "alternative therapist," according to the news outlet. Now, she's reportedly been in the hospital for three days with severe malnutrition, sodium imbalance, and potentially irreversible brain damage. (Related: Celery Juice Is All Over Instagram, So What's the Big Deal?)
Yes, a three-week diet of nothing but juice definitely sounds like a Very Bad Idea, but can it really lead to permanent brain damage? It's plausible, says Dominic Gaziano, M.D., director of Body & Mind Medical Center. When taken to the extreme, juice fasts can lead to hyponatremia (AKA water intoxication), which means severely low sodium levels. "Fruit has an extremely low sodium content, even lower than vegetables," explains Dr. Gaziano. "This coupled with the advice to drink extra water is likely what caused her severe hyponatremia and certainly could've resulted in brain damage."
Here's why: When your tissues have an imbalance of too few electrolytes and too much water, the latter will enter your cells, causing them to swell, says Dr. Gaziano. It happens all over the body, but "the most severe and lethal effects occur as brain cells swell in a tightly controlled space of our skull," he explains. In the worst cases, hyponatremia can lead to seizures, unconsciousness, coma, and possible stroke from pressure build-up on the blood vessels in the brain. (Related: *Exactly* What Happens to Your Body On a 3-Day Cleanse)
Aside from juice cleanses, water intoxication can also happen when endurance athletes drink a lot of water before and after events without adequately replenishing their electrolytes. It can also happen when people who have conditions that affect their kidney function, or who take medication that affects their kidneys (e.g. some antidepressants or pain meds), drink tonsof water, according to the Mayo Clinic. In most cases, the effects are mild and short-lived, including headache and loss of energy, but water intoxication can be deadly in some cases, says Dr. Gaziano. For example, in 2007, a woman died after competing in a radio station's water drinking contest, despite a caller to the station's warning about the effects of water intoxication beforehand. (Related: Is It Possible to Drink Too Much Water?)
Bottom line: If you needed another reason not to subsist on juice for three weeks straight, possible brain damage seems like a pretty convincing one.