Trendy detox juice cleanses for kids alarm doctors

Experts question health benefits of juice cleanses

SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES | ABC NEWS GOOD MORNING AMERICA – Joanne Heyman and her 17-year-old daughter Emmy are part of a growing trend -- sharing a love of organic cleanses that come in flavors like lemon cayenne agave and cashew vanilla cinnamon.

The mother-daughter pair from Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., are on a five-day cleansing program because dad was out of town. They say it's all about health benefits and not diet, though both say they are looking forward to losing a few pounds. They have chosen the toughest cleanse with green juices -- "Excavation."

"I think of it more as a personal challenge to see if I can go through with it," Emmy told ABC News' "Good Morning America." "I feel a little weak and I'm a little tired, but I'm not hungry."

"Today, I was on a field trip and people had baked goods and I didn't have one," said Emmy, who has been intrigued with cleansing since she was younger.

Heyman, 51, said she wouldn't let her daughter do it if there were health risks.

"It's five days," she told "GMA." "We eat an incredibly healthy diet normally. For five days it's an experiment, not a life event."

And Emmy isn't the only child into cleansing.

Just this week, the New York Post reported that "cherub-cheeked" children as young as 6 were reaching for their mommies' green-and-purple juices with names like "Fountain of Youth" and "Glo." One little girl drinks three a day.

"I get upset -- they're expensive, up to $80 a day," Sandra Davella, a 44-year-old mother and banker, told The Post. "I have to buy extra because I know she's going to take it. ... She's not a French fry kid."

Some mothers brag that using these organic, designer drinks as a replacement for ordinary snacks are "complete nutrition."

Everyone knows fruits and vegetables are good for kids, but experts say no child should replace the real thing with colorful, expensive juice and fruit drinks. And doctors warn that this raw juice cleansing trend -- so popular among women into fitness and trim physiques -- can be dangerous for children.

Some say the cleansing with over-the-counter products could lead to anorexia, which is as much a public health concern as obesity.

"Any of these could be harmful for a variety of reasons," said Dr. Stephen Cook, of Golisano Children's Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "First, you never really know what is in them and they are probably also lacking in key nutrients, vitamins and minerals."

"This trend is outrageous and a real concern," said Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. "Kids don't need a cleanse, they need good food. A cleanse usually means they're also excluding necessary food groups and nutrients."

He said it's not a good idea for teens trying to lose weight either, as any pounds dropped are "temporary."

"If you are losing 10 pounds in 10 days, then you're mostly losing water and muscle mass, and that's not good for children," he said. "As meal replacements, this does nothing to train children to have good eating habits for the long-term. Of course, they learn what they're seeing, so their parents may need to be better role models, as well. This is ridiculously expensive nutrition. Good nutrition can be and is much more economical. A perfect example of how complicated doesn't mean better."

What would Ayoob tell parents about this new trend? "The digestive tract already is a juicer -- it just works more slowly. But that's fine and how it was meant to work. Besides, everyone -- kids included -- needs fiber and eating whole fruits and vegetables will give you that fullness and fiber, along with nutrients that won't necessarily make it into the juice."

Some experts were even blunter.

"Come on, seriously? A combination of pecuniary exploitation and stupidity -- I think that's all there is to say on the matter," said Dr. David Katz, founder of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and editor of the Childhood Obesity Journal.

These drinks can also have an effect on the colon.

Dr. Mark R. Corkins, professor of pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, said children can also become dehydrated faster than adults.

"The idea is you clean out the colon because it makes all sorts of ‘toxins,'" said Corkins. "Actually we are designed to have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria that live in our colon. They create short-chain fatty acids that the lining cells use for energy and also make some vitamin K. The colon bacteria also have role to protect from disease causing bacteria that might find their way into the colon. If you cleanse the colon, very quickly the colon will re-colonize with bacteria. So what is the purpose?"

"In a way, I think of this as reverse bulimia sometimes," he said. "I'm sure most of these parents would not want the child to binge and then induce vomiting but this is in many ways looking for the same outcome."