Spring is a season of renewal and rejuvenation. It?s also the perfect time to detoxify your body. If you?re wondering what benefits a detox can provide for you, allow us to clarify the process.
Spring is a season of renewal and rejuvenation. It’s also the perfect time to detoxify your body. If you’re wondering what benefits a detox can provide for you, allow us to clarify the process.
Detoxification itself is a loose term. Depending on whom you ask and what you read, the process can involve everything from changing your diet to giving yourself daily enemas. A lot of people cleanse to lose weight.
The general purpose of true detoxification by professional health care standards is to eliminate stored body toxins that may have already caused symptoms such as fatigue and brain fog, or to stop them—and future health issues—in their tracks.
Your daily dose
We are exposed to thousands of chemicals in the air and in our food, water, and consumer goods. In Canada alone, more than 23,000 chemicals are registered for use in the market, and 300 are being added each year.
Basic biological processes such as digestion and cellular respiration also produce byproducts that we are genetically hardwired to handle.
A properly functioning body protects itself by either removing internal and external toxins through our eliminative organs—the lungs, liver, colon, kidneys, and skin—or by storing them in tissues where they do the least amount of harm.
When our systems get plugged up, however, the backlog stays in the body, builds up further, and can contribute to short- and long-term problems.
From 2005 to 2007, Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based watchdog group, released three groundbreaking reports on the pervasive status of toxins in Canadians. Their findings make it clear that no ages and no geographic locations are exposure-free.
Their 2006 report, Polluted Children, Toxic Nation, which involved families with children as young as 10, found traces of 46 of the 68 toxic chemicals that they tested for, including 38 known carcinogens, 23 hormone disruptors, 12 respiratory toxins, 38 reproductive/developmental toxins, and 19 neurotoxins. What’s more, the report authors noted that the typical body burden is increasing.
Heeding the body talk
When Caroline Farquhar found herself driving to the store in the dead of night to satisfy her intense sugar cravings, she admitted she had a problem. She knew she had to detox.
“I was exhausted all of the time,” recalls Farquhar, now a holistic nutritionist and teacher at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. In her case, the culprit was Candida albicans, an overgrowth of yeast in the body that produces 70 known microtoxins of its own.
For Farquhar, cleansing her system took two months on a strict diet including no sugar, no dairy, and no yeast. But once she managed to kill off the micro-beasties, they never came back. Nor did her cravings.
Farquhar is a detox convert and leads a healthier lifestyle that supports daily detoxification. She’s careful to consume enough filtered water (take your body weight and divide it in two to determine how many ounces you need) and fibre (30 to 40 grams a day), which she calls the “janitor of the system.”
Every morning, she throws carrots, beets, ginger, and lemon into a blender for a detoxifying drink. She also takes lemon in her water to stimulate digestion and alkalize the system.
Exercise, she points out, is important to support healthy detoxification. Just as the cardiovascular system pumps blood, exercise pumps lymph fluid through the lymphatic system, the body’s anti-toxin highway. If you’re in the midst of a true detox, however, heavy exercise isn’t recommended, as it would consume energy better used to support elimination processes.
Farquhar has done several cleanses: one full-body, another for the liver, a third for removing heavy metals. She cautions that if someone is new to cleansing, a general full-body cleanse is a good way to help prepare the system for a deeper detox.
“If your organs of elimination aren’t working properly, toxins and things like parasites will only circulate in the body,” she says.
Exploring the myths
Dr. Sharon Gurm of Port Moody Naturopathic Health and Wellness, agrees that detoxification is often more complicated than expected. For starters, people who should not detox without supervision are those who are on multiple medications, who have a chronic illness, or who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
“Any effort to minimize toxic exposure and give the body a break from harmful foods and lifestyle practices is good,” she says, “but are you really doing a detox? No. To effectively mobilize and eliminate toxins that are stored in the body, it takes time to even start the mobilization process.”
So although short-term health food binges are without a doubt beneficial, they can’t diminish a routine of taking the body for granted. “For most patients, I recommend 28 days or longer. Especially if they’re trying to kick a habit.”
The detox lifestyle
What some people call a detox diet, others would call eating for the long-term. A largely organic, plant-based diet full of vegetable protein, fibre, and colourful protective elements is nutritious and supports inner cleansing.
Cut out anything white and processed—rice, pastas, and baked goods—and you’re halfway there. Do it for a day, and you’re on the right track. Do it for three weeks, and you’ll probably feel too good to quit.
Dr. Gurm recommends the alkalizing diet in The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Breast Cancer (Robert Rose, 2004) by naturopathic doctor Sat Dharam Kaur. Food choices should be 80 percent alkalizing (most vegetables, herbs, spices, citrus fruits), and
20 percent acid-forming (red meats, sugars, coffee, some grains), according to Dr. Kaur.
The Healthy Breast Program website, mammalive.net, offers plentiful breast health information and detoxifying recipes such as those for morning smoothies (see sidebar).
Other therapies such as dry brushing the skin and regular infrared sauna sessions can help relieve the body’s toxic load. Pick up a rebounder (you can often find them second-hand on classified websites such as craigslist.com), then jump on it for 10 to 15 minutes a day for a safe, effective way to support lymphatic drainage.
Feasting versus fasting
“I am not a proponent of fasting detoxes,” Dr. Gurm says. “When you fast, you can mobilize a lot of toxins, but the body needs specific nutrients to support its detoxification pathways. You may not be getting these nutrients, and if toxins aren’t eliminated effectively, they can flood the bloodstream and lodge elsewhere.”
Bearable detox symptoms such as mild headaches, lethargy, or muscle aches for a few days are acceptable, but if you feel truly terrible, she says you should stop. “It’s either not the correct detox or you’re detoxing too quickly.”
Without proper preparation and focus, you may find yourself in the unfortunate position of dealing with headaches, skin breakouts, and other unpleasant symptoms.
People on a cleanse gone well, meanwhile, report better sleep, more energy, better clarity and mental focus, improved digestion, and healthier skin, nails, and hair.
“One of the best benefits of detoxifying is that people get accustomed to a healthier lifestyle,” says Dr. Gurm. “We give them the tools, and they learn to be creative. They’re introduced to new diet concepts that they never would have attempted, and they discover food cravings and other symptoms are gone. Then they say, ‘Well, why would I ever want to go back to the way it was?’ It’s so empowering.”
Detox by the numbers…and the organs
Success of the 1-day cleanse hasn’t been scientifically charted, but that doesn’t stop the practice. Consisting of a daylong fast, the practice often encourages drinking fresh lemon juice, warm water, and herbal teas. The 1-day fast is said to optimize immune, detoxification, and digestive systems.
Often called a mini-cleanse, a 3-day detox is designed to lessen the burden of modern life on our internal organs. Encouraging a simple, fresh, raw diet, a 3-day cleanse can include supplements such as fibre and elderberry juice. Drink plenty so that the kidneys can perform adequately, consuming 1/2 oz (15 mL) of water for every pound of body weight (for example, a 120-lb person should drink 60 oz (1.8 L) of water daily.
A 7-day cleanse can help to keep our detoxification systems running smoothly. It requires plenty of fresh water and a diet that reduces toxins by eliminating refined sugar, refined flour, caffeine, alcohol, preservatives, artificial colours, refined carbohydrates, refined oils, and meats.
Important supplements include a good quality multivitamin with minerals, plus vitamin C,
2 g twice a day; and Lactobacillus acidophilus, in a dose of 15 to 20 billion active organisms per day. Plants to assist in cleansing our systems include milk thistle, dandelion root, chlorella, cilantro, garlic, and kelp. Fibre is a must.
A successful 10-day detox would benefit from a 100 percent raw food plant diet. By reducing all cooked, processed, and animal foods we can reduce the toxic burden on our systems and even expel toxins through the skin and bowels. These toxins are molecules of foreign substances that we don’t need and that don’t belong in our bodies.
Our largest organ—the skin—eliminates waste through perspiration, so sweat it out. Heat causes toxins to be released from cells into the lymphatic fluid and excreted as sweat when the body perspires. Saunas or steam baths can create sweat for therapeutic purposes. Be sure to supplement with extra vitamins and minerals, particularly the antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E, and the minerals selenium and zinc) as well as B vitamins.
Many natural health practitioners point to 21 days as the minimum for a powerful detox. Lasting three weeks or longer, this detox program again consists of a clean, unprocessed diet and plenty of fresh water. Food choices are encouraged to be predominantly alkalizing.
Along with vitamin and mineral supplements, milk thistle and turmeric are both encouraged for organ rejuvenation. Exercise is also an important part of the detoxification process that stimulates the movement of lymphatic fluid, allowing toxins to be excreted. Breathing deeply helps eliminate toxins from the cells and enhances immunity. Combining deep breathing with exercise will improve lymph flow and aid the body’s detoxification ability and general state of health.
Liver and gallbladder cleansing
Responsible for more than 500 different functions, the liver is second only to the brain in terms of complexity and importance. In this day of high toxic burden, the liver is constantly working.
Liver cleansing can include the use of a myriad of Western, Chinese, or Ayurvedic herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion root, and bupleurum. Castor oil compresses, coffee enemas, and a liver/gallbladder flush using lemon or apple juice, garlic, and olive oil are stronger interventions. A variety of homeopathic remedies are also available.
Kidney and bladder cleansing
These organs are an important avenue for elimination. Herbal detoxifiers include parsley, dandelion leaf, and goldenrod. A ginger compress applied to the back is often employed to draw toxins out of the kidney area. Drinking one to three litres of pure water daily is essential to long-term kidney health.
Cleansing the lungs
Breathing is synonymous with life. High dairy intake, smoking, and air pollution can contribute to excess mucus and the development of lung disease.
Lung-cleansing therapies include botanicals, lotus root tea, wild cherry, licorice root, and fenugreek. Mustard plasters are believed by many to be effective. Acupuncture is sometimes suggested and is available through qualified health professionals.
Daily drinks to nourish and detox you
- Alkaline-boosting Smoothie
- Banana Berry Smoothie