The simple daily detox
A major principle of traditional naturopathic practice is that many illnesses result from an accumulation of toxic waste in the body. Naturopathic protocols for many diseases include an element of cleansing and detoxification. Regular internal cleansing and supportive detoxification programs are also paramount to ongoing health and are part of any preventative health plan. Detox during the summer months can prevent colds and flus during the winter months. In fact, summer provides an ideal opportunity to cleanse.
Warm, long days encourage more activity and increase the likelihood of outdoor exercise and exertion. The season provides fruits and vegetables to fill us with antioxidant goodness. We eat less and lighter food than in the colder months, reducing the load on our digestive systems.
Additionally, summer often means holidays, which presents the opportunity to embrace a fundamental element of detox: rest, relaxation and respite from the usual stresses of your busy life.
What is detox?
Detoxification is what your body constantly does to neutralise and dispose of chemical toxins. When toxin levels are too high for detoxification processes, the body protects itself by storing toxins in fat and bone marrow cells.
Toxins result from normal metabolic activity of body cells and are by-products from micro flora and poorly digested food in the gastrointestinal tract. Toxins also enter the body via the air we breathe, the food, water and drugs we consume or from products rubbed into skin or used on hair.
Detoxification involves the deactivation of toxins and their removal from the body. The way we detoxify is individual. We each have a toxic fingerprint due to our toxin exposure; we differ in genetic inheritance, constitutional type, nutrition and lifestyle practices. All play a role in how we experience a detox.
During a detox, toxins are liberated from storage, into the blood stream. It’s not unusual to feel slightly nauseous or headachy during detox, though this should be limited if the correct supportive practices are adopted. Once the toxins are transformed by the liver and excreted, a feeling of lightness and clarity often replaces a stagnant heaviness. Detox can clear old rubbish from the body, leaving you with bright eyes, clear skin and a natural grin.
Our world is becoming increasingly toxic and, consequently, so are we. More than 80,000 synthetic chemicals have been introduced to the environment since the 1940s. This rapid rate of environmental change has exceeded the rate that organic life requires to evolve adaptation tactics.
Daily, we are confronted by synthetic chemicals. Personal care and cleaning products, air pollutants, contaminants in our washing and drinking water, bleach in our tea bags, pesticide residues and artificial additives to our foods and fire retardants on our furniture and new clothes are a few examples of what a ‘normal’ day exposes us to.
A group of chemicals referred to as persistent organic pollutants or POPs are of the biggest concern. The infamous DDT was one of the first POPs. Although banned by the US in 1972, it is still exported and used in third-world nations.
POPs have incredible resilience in the environment, surviving and reacting for long periods of time. What’s more, POPs have the tendency to bioaccumulate: that is, their concentration in living tissue increases as they rise up the food chain. Although the quantities we are exposed to at any particular time is miniscule, there are many different chemicals creating an unknown cocktail effect over extended periods of time.
In the early 1960s, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring detailed bioaccumulation, citing many scientific studies. A study at Clear Lakes in California showed that DDT sprayed at 0.014 parts per million (ppm) accumulated in the local Grebes (a type of duck) at 1600ppm. No trace of DDT remained in the water. The toxin levels were due to the grebes eating the fish that ate the weeds that had grown in the water that had been sprayed with DDT.
The scientific alarm about the effect of toxic chemicals was sounded again in Theo Colburn’s Our Stolen Future, which detailed the toxic effects on hormone systems.
There is little knowledge about the process of eliminating POPs from our bodies. Professor Marc Cohen of RMIT explains that there is little research to qualify effective detox methods from POPs.
“Detox is hard to quantify and study,” he says. “It is a complicated science due to the multitude of toxins, having multi-system effects on many different tissue types over long periods of time in individuals with unique toxic fingerprints and without any standardised toxin screening tests.”
Additionally, Professor Cohen explains, there is a lack of commercial incentives: “The chemical industry has huge resources to maginalise the toxin warriors.” Research involving this complexity is expensive. “We’re looking at multiple toxins at sub-lethal levels, unlike traditional toxicology, which considers simple toxins at lethal levels.”
Naturopathic philosophy understands that a vital force works within our bodies to constantly move us towards balance and health. A naturopathic detox is a program involves three basic, equally important parts: minimising toxin intake, promoting toxin elimination and minimising harm throughout the detox process.
Making decisions about the duration and intensity of your detox is a good start. Your choice can range from a three-day nourishing, supportive retreat to a lifelong embrace of life-supportive practices. Enlisting advice from a health professional about how to construct your individual detox regime is particularly advised if you have never undergone a detox before.
7 steps to eliminating toxins
Sometimes eliminating toxins one at a time is the easiest, most thorough and least overwhelming method. Here are seven steps to finding where your toxins may be hiding:
- Personal care products. Check out what you are applying to your body each day via consumer information services such as Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. Throw away all that are suspicious and find a toxin-free range that works for you.
- Household cleaning products. Look at the material safety data sheets (MSDS) on the products you use to clean your bathroom, kitchen and living spaces. Weed out any that are damaging. Seek out and adopt non-toxic cleaning solutions like eucalyptus oil and white vinegar.
- Foods. Inform yourself of what the numbers on your food packets mean and if they are beneficial to your health. Avoid processed foods during your detox. Our bodies need and understand whole foods, not refined and processed ones. Pesticides on fruit and vegetables can be partially removed by soaking them in a bentonite clay bath. Bentonite clay attracts and absorbs some of the toxins used in conventional agriculture.
- Clean up your air. Have lots of plants in your living environment. Ensure your house gets fresh air daily. Ideally, if you live in the city, go to a nature reserve to indulge in some fresh air. Avoid all products that list “fragrance” on them, as these are totally unregulated.
- Source the purest water you can find. Filter water with a reliable quality filter; this includes drinking water and washing water. Water is a major ally during a detox. Every process in the body takes place in a water environment, so ensuring this is continuously refreshed is vitally important, even more so during detox.
- Stop drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and consuming drugs (of course, if on prescription drugs, discuss with your practitioner). If you are a relatively heavy user of recreational and social drugs, this alone will stimulate a detox reaction. Stopping caffeine in coffee, tea and soft drinks can be a hurdle for many. Reduce intake in a stepwise method. Deduct one drink each day from your usual intake. Substitute with decaffeinated versions for a few days. With coffee, have half-roasted dandelion root and half coffee in a pot, slowly increasing the dandelion root and reducing the coffee, until you can stop altogether without the dreaded withdrawal headache.
- Have a listen to what your internal commentary is and become aware of any toxic criticisms or reproaches you may be generating, either towards yourself or others. Nip them in the bud and express them with a healthier, constructive voice. Clearing these can create uncluttered spaciousness. Find some affirmations that are powerful for you, and read them during your detox program. The study of psychoneuroimmunology and endocrinology is proving that our thoughts affect our physical function more than we’d ever realised.
Fundamental to any cleansing is ensuring that the major detoxification organs, the liver and to a lesser extent the kidneys, are functioning optimally. If organs are in suboptimal condition, toxins are unable to leave the body and can create discomfort and damage.
The organ primarily responsible for detoxification is the liver. It is constantly performing a two-phase detoxification process that transforms toxins into harmless substances to be excreted. The simplest support for the liver is St Mary’s thistle seed. It is very safe for most people and it balances both phases of liver detoxification as well as having antioxidant action.
There are many herbs and nutritional supports to optimise liver function including the amino acids arginine and methionine and herbs turmeric, globe artichoke and dandelion root. Getting some professional advice on these can optimise their efficacy.
Your kidneys are the filters of your blood and can be burdened if the detox program is too rapid. Pure water regularly is great for kidney support and warm water very beneficial. Drinking cleansing herbal teas like nettle leaf and clivers can also be supportive. Add in some corn silk or marshmallow root if additional support is needed. Potassium-rich vegetable broth is a lovely detox aid and kidney supporter.
Additionally, take antioxidants to minimise the damage toxins can cause when being released. Crunch your grape seeds, as grape seeds contain a strong antioxidant action. Sip on freshly squeezed vegetable juices throughout the day. Ideally, use a live juicer which squeezes juice from food rather than breaking the food as centrifugal juicers do. Drink herbal teas, particularly rosehip and green tea, which are rich in antioxidants. Indulge in berries. Eat rainbow-coloured fruits and vegetables to ensure you get a broad range of antioxidants.
Supplementation is an adjunct to antioxidant support from food. Look for combination antioxidants vitamin C, beta-carotene and other carotenes, natural vitamin Es, bioflavonoids like heparin and rutin, zinc, selenium and St Mary’s thistle.
Out with the bad
The major elimination vehicles to get the toxins out of your body are faeces and urine. Minor elimination vehicles are sweat, breath, tears, bile and other bodily fluids. For effective detoxification, elimination channels should be operating optimally, otherwise toxins can circulate through the blood and lymph system, interfering with healthy function or being stored again in fat or bone marrow.
Elimination begins with chewing. Correct mastication — that is, chewing each mouthful 25-30 times — can improve digestive ability. This then affects how well the liver functions, easing the load on the digestive system and freeing up energy for cleansing processes.
Good-quality fibre must be consumed during a detox. Oat bran, rolled oats and psyllium are all great aids as are a range of well-chewed raw vegetables. Some fibres bind to bile and remove it from the body.
Colon hydrotherapy (colonics) involves gently injecting warm water into the large intestine, generally using an apparatus in a clinic setting. Enemas can be given at home with a retail purchased enema kit. The basic premise is that water is retained then released, taking with it toxins. If undertaking a more intense detox, particularly when solid food is restricted, colonics or enemas are ideal to keep the bowel moving.
Skin to tongue
Dry skin brush with a vegetable bristle brush before showering. This stimulates the lymph flow, enhances the skin’s circulation and exfoliates dead skin cells. Follow with a warm shower, or even a gentle exfoliation with fine Epsom salts and oil, to enhance skin elimination. Bentonite clay can also be employed for added detoxification through the skin.
Bodywork helps to stimulate lymph and blood circulation and relaxes muscles to aid the detox process. Reward yourself with a massage to assist your detox. Better still, invest in a regular body scrub and massage to maintain wellbeing.
Sweating is a great way of optimising detoxification through the skin. Infrared saunas are an ideal method of detoxification, as profuse sweating and increased heart rate occurs without creating any waste products like lactic acid from muscle use. This means blood movement increases throughout the body, aiding detoxification.
Practising deep breathing during a detox is another way of helping to eliminate toxins. Yoga has pranayama (breathing) practices and requires full breath throughout asanas (postures). Yoga asanas, while moving lymph and enhancing blood flow throughout the body, also provide “mind time”, which makes it an ideal accompaniment to any detox program. For some, Bikhram yoga combines heat, sweating, cardiovascular workout, detoxifying asanas and pranayama to accelerate detoxification processes.
Scrape your tongue every morning. The overnight buildup will vary as your detox continues. Don’t brush your tongue; use a spoon to scrape or, better still, a copper tongue scraper.
Detox for the spirit
Another fundamental need to successful detox is slowing down and relaxing. Aligning with the gentle, simple rhythms of nature can be highly challenging when accustomed, and possibly addicted, to the modern buzz. The stress level of contemporary life and lack of relaxing time out stimulates the nervous system that prevents toxic elimination.
A supportive environment for detox makes the process easier. You are less likely to sneak off for some chocolate if you are sitting in a forest with no fridge in sight. Resorts offering detox programs are often set in glorious natural settings to encourage sinking into the simplicity of natural rhythms. Going camping is a great budget option. Detox with good friends and support each other on the journey.
Let a few tears go. Watch a teary movie if you can’t access any sadness or grief inside your body. Select flower essences to help change negative patterns and release toxic emotions. The Australian bush flower essence bottlebrush or the Bach Flower Essence crab apple helps cleanse and release on an emotional level.
Spiritual masters regularly practised purification. Religions have purification practices embroidered into their calendars. Judaism has Yom Kippur, a day of fasting for atonement. Islam has Ramadan, a month of daily fasting to burn away the sins of the year. Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, inspiring Lent. Buddha learnt to fast to cultivate compassion and patience, leading the way for regular fasting retreats. Cleansing your physical and mental selves provides easier access to your subtle, spiritual aspects.
The New Year provides a time for reflection and the creation of new resolutions to improve your life and your world. Personal detox today involves environmental detox. Perhaps you can create a non-toxic lifestyle filled with life-giving practices in a way that suits you for 2009.
Sally Mathrick is a naturopath practising in Melbourne. E: firstname.lastname@example.org W: www.soundmedicine.com.au