Many cultures around the world and throughout history have known and practiced the art of detoxification as a form of enhanced cleansing of the body and also the mind. By contrast, practitioners of Western medicine have not yet come to a universal consensus over the actual health benefits or potential dangers of detoxing. Skeptics argue that the natural propensities of the human body are self-sufficient enough to eliminate toxins without outside help. But there is also a growing trend in today’s medical community that is more open to acknowledging the benefits of pro-active detoxification.
What you must know before you detox
While it is true that the body is equipped with a highly capable detoxification system that can handle a great deal of toxic assaults, it is also clear that the amounts of toxins we all are exposed to every day are increasingly pushing our natural defenses to the limit.
So, given the sheer onslaught of environmental and diet-related abuse, supporting the body’s natural detoxification processes with a little extra help from the outside now and then makes sense.
Unfortunately, many commercial programs promise quick fixes and are sold as detox and weight loss packages. Most of these are not only ineffective, especially for weight loss, they can be counterproductive and some are simply not safe. The removal of toxins from the body should never be hurried or forced by “magic potions” of doubtful origin, whether they are made from herbs, pharmaceuticals or any other chemicals.
Generally speaking, proper detoxification should help the body to restore its optimal health and vitality by strengthening its natural cleansing and healing processes – nothing more.
I would also warn against fasting in combination with detoxing. The primary purpose of enhanced cleansing from toxins is to promote healing and recovery. Weight loss may result as well, but it should not be the predominant motivation. In cases where a patient’s body has become severely weakened or depleted, I recommend to begin treatment with a highly nutrient-dense diet, not fasting.
Particularly people who suffer from diabetes, liver-, kidney- or heart disease and are on respective medications, are strongly advised to consult with their physicians to avoid sabotaging their medical treatments. Even when there are no such concerns, potentially negative side-effects on the metabolism, which may be thrown off balance by sudden dietary changes, must be considered and monitored accordingly.
Detoxification from the inside out
The body has a number of ways to rid itself of toxins naturally. In a normal detoxification process, the liver filters toxins from the blood stream; the kidneys flush these out and eliminate them through the urine; the lungs bring not only fresh oxygen to the blood, they also work as a purifier by releasing carbon dioxide; digestive by-products and other toxic substances are neutralized through the bacteria in the intestines and removed as waste through the bowels; toxins are also disposed of by the skin through sweating. All of these natural detoxification mechanisms work together for the single purpose of the body’s continuous self-cleansing.
The liver’s many complex functions are essential for the body’s health. Foremost, the liver is in charge of removing toxins from the blood. It also plays a major role in the digestive process and stores glycogen and other essential nutrients. It is an amazing organ that can handle a lot of abuse and regenerate itself, even after it gets severely damaged – to a point.
There are countless toxins present in our environment and work places, like asbestos, lead, mercury, pesticides, polycarbonate (PCB), polypropylene (PP) and other chemicals we encounter every day, including chlorine in our tap water, many of which are known to be carcinogenic.
Alcohol abuse, excessive caffeine consumption, processed and fatty foods, medications and prescription drugs as well as the exposure to environmental hazards can all cause liver damage. Continuously elevated levels of toxins can lead to live-threatening deterioration of the organ in form of fibrosis, cirrhosis or cancer.
The liver thrives on a wholesome, balanced diet. Eating plenty of organically grown produce is especially recommended because it is free of toxins from pesticides and fertilizers. In addition, many vegetables have what is known as an “alkalizing effect,” which is beneficial for the liver’s health. By contrast, the “aciditive effect” from processed foods with high levels of refined sugar can be quite detrimental.
Through the kidneys, waste and toxins are “filtered” from the blood. Symptoms of elevated presence of toxins in the kidneys are reduced urination, dark and cloudy coloring of urine and urinary-tract infections.
The best way to support the kidneys is to stay hydrated. Our kidneys function best on lots of water and other healthy fluids, such as diluted fruit drinks or herbal teas. Although the need for hydration may vary depending on temperature, climate, altitude and other factors, it is advised that adults drink eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of water over the course of a day. Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, on the other hand, are diuretic and contribute to dehydration.
Another significant stressor on the kidneys is salt. Excessive intake of sodium, which is commonly present in processed foods, can not only inhibit the kidneys’ normal functions, it can also cause permanent damage. On the other hand, increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables and reducing fatty and processed foods can benefit kidney functions.
Through breathing, the lungs bring oxygen to the blood stream and release carbon dioxide back into the air. Exposure to pollutants in the environment from chemicals, fumes, smoke, dust, pollen, etc. can cause serious harm over time and lead to allergies, asthma, bronchitis and also lung cancer.
It is a well-known fact that smoking constitutes a number of health hazards, but it is especially dangerous for the lungs. Other environmental health threats may be less obvious, but they can be equally as destructive.
While there is no specific treatment to help detoxifying the lungs, getting some clean fresh air is always a good idea. Besides that, there are some herbal therapies specifically geared toward the lungs’ health. For example, ginger is widely considered a lung tonic. However, before you use any medical (as opposed to culinary) herbs for the purpose of detoxification or any other therapeutic reasons, you should always consult with your physician about possible, unwanted side-effects.
Through the gastrointestinal tract or digestive system the body absorbs nutrients and eliminates waste. These functions can easily become inhibited by unbalanced nutrition and other lifestyle factors. A diet that is dominated by processed foods with high levels of sugar, salt, fat, chemicals and pollutants can disrupt the normal digestive process. And so can mental and emotional disturbances, like stress, anxiety and exhaustion.
Typical symptoms include gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas and also skin reactions. Short term, a few dietary adjustments can take care of many of these problems, if the body is otherwise healthy.
Chronic constipation can be both a symptom as well as a cause of toxicity in the GI tract. If toxins in the waste are not eliminated in a timely manner, they can become absorbed back in the system, causing potentially more harm the second time around.
One of the simplest and most efficient ways to help eliminate waste is to drink lots of water. Foods that are naturally high in fiber, like fruits, vegetables, beans, etc. can help to promote waste elimination and have therefore a detoxifying effect. It is important to replenish the bacteria in the intestine with live culture yogurt or kefir after completion of a detox regimen.
The skin is our largest organ. It plays a vital role in the natural detoxification process. In fact, the body constantly eliminates toxins through sweat. Enhanced sweating from intense physical activity or sauna and steam bath visits is highly recommended. In addition, skin brushing can be very beneficial, not only to remove dead skin cells but also to stimulate blood and lymph circulation.
The best approach is a healthy lifestyle
The right approach to detoxification always depends on the state of health of the individual candidate. For some, a few simple diet- and lifestyle changes will suffice, others may require major intervention efforts. In most cases, however, I recommend to take small steps to give the body time to make gradual improvements. Of course, the best detoxification program is a daily routine of healthy lifestyle habits. Continue to Week Eleven »