To be able to understand what a gun cleanse is, first you need to know how your digestive system works. Most people affectionately refer to their digestive system as their “gut.” This tiny word encompasses a big part of your body. It includes the gastrointestinal tract (or GI tract) as well as the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder (1). The GI tract consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (AKA the colon), and the anus.
Your GI tract is your first line of defense against pathogens, toxins, and other harmful substances lurking in your food, beverages, facial and body products, and even the air. Think of your GI tract as your very own built-in detox system.
Every time you eat, the GI tract breaks down your food and uses the nutrients to build any tissues your body needs. It also absorbs toxins, sending them to the liver or kidneys, or out through your bowel movements.
Over time, your gut can become overwhelmed by the toxins it encounters. Your gut microbiome gets thrown off balance and bad bacteria begin to grow. A gut cleanse can restore gut health, making you feel better both inside and out.
Here’s everything you need to know about doing a gut cleanse.
A gut cleanse is a process that restores gut health by flushing out bad bacteria that have accumulated in the digestive tract. It rebalances your gut microbiome with good bacteria (AKA probiotics). It also calms gastrointestinal upset by eliminating trigger foods and increasing fruits and veggies.
It’s important to note that research into gut cleanses is still premature. Currently, a few clinical studies do support gut cleanses, finding that “commercial detox diets enhance liver detoxification and eliminate persistent organic pollutants from the body” (2).
However, these studies had a small sample size, so similar studies need to be conducted with many more people before the findings can be deemed accurate.
Now that you know what a gut cleanse is, you may be wondering if it's the right solution for you and when to do it. You’ll know it’s the right time for you to do a gut cleanse simply by being in tune with your body.
If you're wondering whether it's time for you to try a gut cleanse, the following symptoms are good indicators.
Stress is a huge driver for chronic illness (3). It can drive chronic inflammation and autoimmune conditions. Consider complementing your gut detox with a detox from common stressors. Maybe that’s reducing social media or spending less time with negative friends. Or maybe you can begin doing activities that help you manage stress, such as yoga or meditation.
Your gut microbiome plays a key role in your mental health (4). The bacterial species you have in your gut can influence whether or not you’re likely to experience depression. Chronic inflammation can also drive depression and anxiety (5).
A common sign that you have too many bad bacteria in your gut is constipation, bloating, diarrhea, and gas (5). Restore your digestive health with a gut cleanse.
Achy muscles and joints can be a sign of chronic inflammation. Leaky gut can contribute to chronic inflammation, which can in turn contribute to a host of chronic illnesses, so you shouldn’t ignore this underlying condition (5).
Food sensitivities are also connected to chronic inflammation and leaky gut syndrome. Inflammation is a primary driver of chronic disease. Once you have a lot of inflammation throughout your body, you may start noticing other health issues, such as food sensitivities, IBS, arthritis, skin problems, anxiety, depression, autoimmune diseases, and much more.
When your liver can’t handle the number of toxins coming its way, your body starts looking to the skin to eliminate excess toxins via sweat (5). Hello, acne and rashes.
Over time, eating processed foods and refined sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your GI tract (6). These bad bacteria love sugar, it’s how they survive and thrive. Your blood sugar and hormones also get out of whack with this diet. These factors all combine to increase your sugar cravings.
A gut cleanse has three basic steps: eliminate foods that commonly cause digestive problems, flush out accumulated toxins and bad bacteria, and replenish your gut microbiome with probiotics (7).
The standard American diet, or Western diet, is filled with foods that many people have a difficult time digesting. Over time, this diet can wreak havoc on your microbiome and negatively impact your gut health. During a gut cleanse, it’s important to avoid foods known to cause digestive upset (8). This includes wheat and gluten, dairy products, alcohol, processed foods, fatty foods, processed sugar, soda, and more.
In the long term, you can keep your gut healthy by maintaining a balanced, healthy diet. During a gut cleanse, your goal is to increase foods that are very effective at cleansing your digestive system. Focus on increasing your consumption of fruits and dark green, leafy vegetables (9).
Studies show 75% of people are chronically dehydrated (10). That’s a lot of people. For general well-being, it’s very important to drink enough water. Water consumption becomes even more important when doing a gut cleanse. If you’re not drinking enough purified water, your system won’t be able to flush out bad bacteria and waste as effectively. So drink up.
Probiotics are a well-proven way to help maintain gut health (11). For complete gut synergy, support probiotics by taking prebiotics and postbiotics as well. Prebiotics help beneficial bacteria, including probiotics, survive and thrive. Postbiotics provide further support and promote the formation of positive bacterial strains.
Support your gut cleanse with ample vegetables. Dark green leafy vegetables are particularly good, especially bitter leafy greens like arugula, kale, watercress, mustard, and dandelion greens (12).
You'll also want to increase your fruit consumption — the fresher, the better. Add lots of blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, pineapple, watermelon, grapefruit, and more to your diet. You can’t go wrong with fruit.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha are a great source of good bacteria (13). They also help combat bloating, so it’s a win-win.
The following foods should be avoided while doing a gut cleanse:
- Gluten and wheat
- Dairy products
- Processed meats like sausage, bacon, and deli meat
- Fatty foods
- Salty foods
- Sugary foods (from processed sugar, not the natural sugars found in fruit)
- Processed foods
- Cakes, candies, confectioneries
- Artificial, colors, flavors, and additives
After your gut cleanse, consider limiting your consumption of these foods on an ongoing basis. Focus on increasing your fruit and veggie intake for a more healthful, balanced diet.
There is no straightforward answer to how often you should do a gut cleanse. This depends on your diet, your symptoms, and your body. You may find you wish to do a gut cleanse after taking antibiotics. Or maybe you feel the need to support your body’s detox process after indulging in high-fat meals over the holidays.
According to the Global Healing Center, the ideal gut cleanse lasts for 6 days, during which time you eat mostly fruit and vegetables (7). Staying on a very restricted diet long term could result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies and is not advisable.
Whenever you choose to do a gut cleanse, make sure you work with a healthcare provider. If at any time you feel pain or discomfort, stop the cleanse and seek medical advice.
Maintaining a healthy gut goes beyond diet and supplementation. There are small lifestyle changes you can make to keep your gut healthy and happy long term.
You know exercise is good for you, but did you know it’s good for your gut too? Exercise promotes a healthy gut by increasing the amount of good gut bacteria (7). Balancing your gut microbiome helps improve your digestion and your immune system while lowering chronic inflammation.
It takes more than diet and exercise to maintain a healthy gut. Your mental health is also a huge influence. Stress can exacerbate chronic inflammation and autoimmune conditions.
Researchers have found that both vegetarian and vegan diets support the growth of beneficial bacteria, contributing to a healthy gut microbiome and overall well-being (14).
The benefits of gut cleansing are not backed by science at this time (15). However, many people report anecdotal benefits, such as:
- Increased energy
- Restored immune system
- Decreased constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas
- Improved mood and reduced anxiety and stress
- Boosted metabolism
- Improved nutrient absorption
If you're suffering from one of these issues, give a gut cleanse a try to see if it works for you.
Your gut works hard for you. Give it the break it deserves by eliminating reactive foods, flushing out bad bacteria, and restoring a healthy gut flora with probiotic supplements. A healthy gut promotes overall health and well-being by reducing chronic inflammation and lowering your risk of autoimmune disease (16).
As a friendly reminder: we’re not doctors and this information does not constitute medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting a gut cleanse.
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Editor's note: Originally published on March 12, 2019. Edited and updated on April 13, 2022.