Another day, another horrible-for-you health fad gone viral. Something called the soy sauce colon cleanse is making headlines. The extremely dangerous fad reportedly left one woman brain dead, reminding us just how dangerous viral trends like this one can be.
The so-called cleanse suggests that drinking a liter of soy sauce within two hours will rid the body of toxins. Soy sauce is high in sodium, and the idea behind the fad is that “toxins” will follow the sodium as it passes through the body.
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According to a video on the YouTube channel Chubbyemu, the 39-year-old woman who tried the cleanse went into cardiac arrest shortly after. The woman did begin to stabilize while in the hospital, but she continued to drift in and out of consciousness. When she woke up a few days later, she was unable to move, swallow, or speak and was diagnosed with central pontine myelinolysis, or severe nerve damage.
“One of the roles of sodium is to regulate fluid balance in and around cells,” says Cynthia Sass, Health contributing nutrition editor. “When so much sodium is ingested so quickly, it completely throws off that balance, which in the case of brain cells can result in severe damage and dysfunction.”
This isn’t the first viral cleanse to go terribly wrong. Earlier this year, a woman claimed that drinking a gallon of a fermented blend of cabbage, water, and salt (called Jilly Juice) per day could cure Down syndrome, among other health conditions. People who tried it reported migraines, fever, numbness, high-blood pressure, and even stroke.
To decipher if a health fad is ineffective but harmless or truly dangerous, Sass recommends consulting an unbiased health professional. “Also, listen to your gut instinct. If something seems extreme, way out of the norm, or sounds like it will be unpleasant or make you feel unwell, it probably will.”
Those with certain health conditions need to be especially cautious. “People with type 1 or 2 diabetes should avoid cleanses, as well as anyone with a chronic illness, compromised immune system, those recovering from an injury, anyone following a therapeutic diet to manage a specific condition, and people with a history of disordered eating,” Sass says.
It’s also important to keep in mind there isn’t one definition of a cleanse. For some people, a cleanse could mean cutting out sugary, processed foods, and instead switching to fresh, whole foods and drinking more water. “If a cleanse is balanced, meaning it’s not devoid of macro and micronutrients, and it’s brief, it may be beneficial as a transition step to a long term healthier eating routine,” she says.
But very strict or extreme cleanses are another story. They tend to result in fatigue, irritability, rebound overeating, reduced immunity, and loss of muscle mass. In some cases, like the ones mentioned above, the side effects can become even more serious.
“Even though cleanses are popular, trying one may not be right for you,” says Sass. “And for anything that sounds unusual or extreme, take the time to do some homework, not just a quick online search, but also opinions from experts.”