It’s a very popular word right now. And for good reason.
Cleansing is associated with a number of health benefits:
- improved mental clarity and concentration
- weight and body fat loss
- lowered blood insulin and sugar levels
- reversal of type 2 diabetes
- increased energy
- improved fat burning
- increased growth hormone
- lowered blood cholesterol
- prevention of Alzheimer’s disease
- longer life
- reduction of inflammation
There are many different types of cleanses out there. Each one is made up of slightly different components and promises to do slightly different things. But, at the heart of it all, the underlying principle of a good cleanse has to be intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is a diet that focuses more on when calories are consumed rather than the type of food eaten. Some have likened intermittent fasting more to an eating pattern, rather than an actual diet.
This article is going to focus on one of the benefits of cleansing: improved fat burning.
I’d like to take you into the biology of this really beneficial aspect of cleansing.
If you’re already an avid cleanser, you might find it enjoyable to learn exactly what’s going on in your body when you cleanse.
If you’re new to cleansing, you might find it interesting to learn of the biological upsides of cleansing, which could help you stay motivated and on track.
If you’ve never tried cleansing before, maybe this will inspire you to give it a try and get healthier!
Cleansing and visceral fat
A study conducted by Monica Klempel and her colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago showed that women who intermittently fasted with calorie restriction lost more visceral fat than women who fasted without calorie restriction.
Visceral fat is the deep abdominal fat that surrounds organs like the liver, pancreas, and intestines.
It is sometimes referred to as “active fat” because it can play potentially dangerous roles in affecting how our hormones function.
Cleansing allows you to burn visceral fat because it gives your body the opportunity to use it as a source of energy.
When you cleanse, you limit the number of calories consumed. Because fewer calories are being consumed, your body will begin to turn to stores of energy otherwise untouched when abundant calories are consumed on the regular.
These alternate stores of energy are fat stores.
How cleansing gets the body to burn fat
To really understand how this works, let’s back up just a little bit to consider how our body functions when there is an abundance of carbohydrates around for energy.
Non-cleanse days (carbohydrates are in abundance)
Glucose, the type of carbohydrate that circulates in the blood when foods with carbohydrates are eaten, is in abundant supply. These glucose molecules circulate in the blood making themselves available to cells requiring energy.
Glucose is too big to get into cells on its own. Insulin acts like a chaperone of sorts, helping glucose get across cell membranes and into the interior of the cell where it can be used as energy.
It occurs this way on non-cleanse days because carbohydrates are the first line source of energy for cells.
Now let’s consider what happens when you cleanse.
Cleanse days (carbohydrates are in short supply)
Cleanse days involve restricting calories.
Restricting calories means you’re not eating as much and your regular intake of carbohydrates is going to be much lower.
The first thing your body will do is use as much of the glucose circulating in the blood as possible. As blood glucose levels fall, less insulin will be released from alpha cells in the pancreas and insulin levels in the blood will eventually fall too.
Your body needs to create energy somehow from somewhere, otherwise you’ll die (and no one wants that).
Luckily, your beta cells, which can be found right next to the alpha cells in the pancreas, work in the exact opposite conditions that insulin does: they respond to low blood glucose levels.
The beta cells, sensing the low levels of insulin and, indirectly, low levels of blood glucose, release a hormone called glucagon.
Glucagon stimulates the liver to get more glucose into the blood stream by converting its glucose stores (glycogen) back into glucose.
Temporarily this works to increase blood glucose levels and the cells craving energy have enough to get by.
But glycogen is created from excess glucose taken in from the diet. When you’re cleansing, you’re not taking in carbs (i.e. glucose) so those stores are not going to be replenished.
Blood glucose levels are again going to fall and your body is going to be in a situation where it’s looking for alternative sources of energy.
Glucagon is again released from beta cells in the pancreas. Glucagon has multiple functions: it can stimulate the liver to create more glucose and it can stimulate fat cells to release their fat stores for energy.
Glycerol and fatty acids are released into the blood stream. Glycerol ends up in the liver where it can be converted into useable forms of energy for cells and fatty acids can be taken up by cells and used as sources of energy.
This is the biological mechanism behind increased fat burning during cleansing. By limiting the intake of calories you force the body to use its energy reserves. Depletion of carbohydrate reserves transition the body into using fat as an energy source and the storage containers of fat (fat cells) dump their contents into the blood stream to be burned up as useable energy.