By Linda Page, ND.
The detoxification recommendations are not intended as a substitute for the advice and treatment of a physician or other health care professionals. I feel that education is the key to making wise health decisions. Part of the job of taking more command of your own health care is using your common sense, intelligence, and adult judgment based on the knowledge of your own body experiences. Ultimately, you must take the full responsibility for your choices and how you use the information presented here.
Understanding Detoxification: What Is It?
Our bodies naturally do it every day. Detoxification is a normal body process of eliminating or neutralizing toxins through the colon, liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph and skin. In fact, internal detoxification is one of our body's most basic automatic functions. Just as our hearts beat nonstop and our lungs breathe continuously, so our metabolic processes continuously dispose of accumulated toxic matter. But in our world today, body systems and organs that were once capable of cleaning out unwanted substances are now completely overloaded; thus many unwanted substances stay in our tissues. Our bodies try to protect us from dangerous material by setting it aside, surrounding it with mucous or fat so it won't cause imbalance or trigger an immune reaction. (Your body stores foreign substances in its fatty deposits - a significant reason to keep your diet and body fat low. Some people carry around up to 15 extra pounds of mucous that harbors this waste)
Ideally, we should live in a pollution-free environment, eat untainted foods, and drink pure water. But, since humans are born with a "self-cleaning system," we know this has probably never been possible. Today, it isn't even practical, so the next best thing is to keep pollutants to a minimum and to periodically get rid of them through a detoxification program.
If our bodies can't cleanse us anymore, can we do it through a detox program?
Detoxification through special cleansing diets may be the missing link to disease prevention, especially for immune-compromised diseases like cancer, arthritis, diabetes and fatigue syndromes like candida albicans. Our chemical filled food diet, with too much animal protein, too much fat, too much caffeine and alcohol radically alters our internal ecosystems. Even if your diet is good, a cleanse can restore body vitality against environmental toxins that pave the way for disease-bearing bacteria, viruses and parasites.
A detox program aims to remove the cause of disease before it makes us ill. It's a time-honored way to keep immune response high, elimination regular, circulation sound, and stress under control, so your body can handle the toxicity it encounters. In the past, detoxification was used either clinically for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, or individually, as a once-a-year mild "spring cleaning" for general health maintenance. Today, a regular detox program two or three times a year makes a big difference not only for health, but for the quality of our lives.
Are detoxification and cleansing the same thing? After a detox, is my body purified?
There is sometimes confusion about these terms because cleansing rituals are so ancient. In cultures like Native American, cleansing was regarded first as a religious practice, purifying the body as a living temple to God. In others, such as Chinese medicine, cleansing was part of preventive health care. Today, and in this book, the terms are used interchangeably.
Why should you detoxify?
Today, Americans are exposed to synthetic, often toxic chemicals on an unprecedented scale. Industrial chemicals and their pollutant run-offs in our water, pesticides, additives in our foods, heavy metals, anesthetics, residues from drugs, and environmental hormones are trapped within the human body in greater concentrations than at any other point in history. Every system of the body is affected, from tissue damage to sensory deterioration.
Many chemicals are so widespread that we are unaware of them. But they have worked their way into our bodies faster than they can be eliminated, and are causing allergies and addictions in record numbers. More than 2 million synthetic substances are known, 25,000 are added each year, and over 30,000 are produced on a commercial scale. Only a tiny fraction are ever tested for toxicity. A lot of them come to us from developing countries that have few safeguards in place. This doesn't even count the secondhand smoke, caffeine and alcohol overload, or daily stress that is an increasing part of our lives.
The molecular structure of many chemical carcinogens interacts with human DNA, so long term exposure may result in metabolic and genetic alteration that affects cell growth, and behavior. World Health Organization research implicates environmental chemicals in 60 to 80% of all cancers. Hormone-disrupting pesticides and pollutants are linked to hormone problems, psychological disorders, birth defects, still births and now breast cancer. As toxic matter saturates our tissues, antioxidants and minerals in vital body fluids are reduced, so immune defenses are thrown out of balance. Circumstances like this are the prime factor in today's immune compromised diseases like candidiasis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chemical oxidation is the other process that allows disease. The oxygen that "rusts" and ages us also triggers free-radical activity, a destructive cascade of incomplete molecules that damages DNA and other cell components. And if you didn't have a reason to reduce your animal fat intake before, here is a critical one: oxygen combines with animal fat in body storage cells and speeds up the free-radical process.
Almost everyone can benefit from a cleanse. It's one of the best ways to remain healthy in a destructive environment. Not one of us is immune to environmental toxins, and most of us can't escape to a remote, unpolluted habitat. In the last few decades we have become dangerously able to harm the health of our entire planet, even to the point of making it uninhabitable for life. We must develop further and take even larger steps, such as cooperation and support. Mankind and the Earth must work together - to save it all for us all. It starts with us. We can take positive steps to keep our own body systems in good working order so that toxins are eliminated quickly.
We can also take a closer look at our own air, water and food, and keep an ever watchful eye on the politics that control our environment. Legislation on health and the environment follows two pathways in America today...the influence of business and profits, and the demands of the people for a healthy environment and responsible stewardship of the Earth.
Is your body becoming toxic?
Chemicals are polluting the earth's environment faster than the human organism can adapt to them. Toxins are building up and our bodies are becoming filters trapping the pollutants. The current level of chemicals in our air, food and water supply alters us at the most basic level - our enzymes, then spreads throughout every body function to lower our threshold of resistance to disease.
Besides coming into our bodies through every orifice and organ, prolonged mental stress and negative emotions can create internal poisons. A highly processed foods diet, a severely unbalanced diet, or simply too much food overburden elimination systems. Lack of exercise contributes to toxicity, too. The body's natural cleansing cycle of oxygen and vital nutrients depends upon exercise. A stagnant system encourages toxic buildup.
Do you need to detox?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you feel congested from too much food or the wrong kinds of food?
- Do I feel lethargic, like you need a good spring cleaning?
- Do I need to eliminate drug residues?
- normalize after illness or hospital stay?
- Do I need a specific detox program for a serious health problem?
- Do I want to streamline your body processes for more energy?
- Do you need to remove toxins causing a health problem?
- Do you want to prevent disease? Or rest and rejuvenate your whole body?
- Do you want to assist weight loss? Do you want to clear up your skin?
- Do you want to slow aging and improve body flexibility?
- Do you want to improve fertility?
Note: Laboratory tests like stool, urine, blood or liver function, and hair analysis can also shed light on the need for detoxification.
Body signs can tell you that you need to detoxify. We all have different "toxic tolerance" levels. Listen to your body when it starts giving you those "cellular phone calls." If you can keep the amount of toxins in your system below your toxic level, your body can usually adapt and rid itself of them.
Do you have:
- Frequent, unexplained headaches or back or joint pain, or arthritis?
- Chronic respiratory problems, sinus problems or asthma?
- Abnormal body odor, bad breath or coated tongue?
- Food allergies, poor digestion or chronic constipation with intestinal bloating or gas?
- Brittle nails and hair, psoriasis, adult acne, or unexplained weight gain over 10 pounds?
- Unusually poor memory, chronic insomnia, depression, irritability, chronic fatigue?
- Environmental sensitivities, especially to odors?
What benefits can you expect from a good detox?
A detox cleans out body waste deposits, so you aren't running with a dirty engine or driving with the brakes on. After a cleanse, the body starts rebalancing, energy levels rise physically, psychologically, and creativity begins to expand. You start feeling like a different person - because you are. Your outlook and attitude change, because through cleansing and improved diet, your actual cell make-up has changed.
- Your digestive tract is cleansed of accumulated waste and fermenting bacteria.
- Excess mucous and congestion is cleared from the body.
- Liver, kidney and blood are purified, impossible under ordinary eating patterns.
- Mental clarity is enhanced, impossible under chemical overload.
- Dependency on habit-formers like sugar, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol or drugs is less.
- Bad eating habits are often turned around; the stomach has a chance to reduce to normal size for weight control.
- Cleansing also releases hormone secretions that coupled with essential fatty acids (EFAs), from fresh plant sources stimulate and strengthen the immune system.
What are the steps in a good detox program?
You've decided your body needs a cleanse. How long can you give out of your busy lifestyle to focus on a cleansing program so that all the processes can be completed?24 hours, 2 or 3 days, or up to ten days? The time factor is important - you'll want to allot your time ahead of time, and prepare both your mind and your body for the experience ahead.
A good detox program is in 3 steps - cleansing, rebuilding and maintaining.
Years of experience with detoxification have convinced me that if you have a serious health problem, a brief 3 to 7 day juice cleanse is the best way to release toxins from the system. Shorter cleanses can't get to the root of a chronic problem. Longer cleanses upset body equilibrium more than most people are ready to deal with except in a controlled, clinical environment. A 3 to 7 day cleanse can "clean your pipes" of systemic sludge - excess mucous, old fecal matter, trapped cellular and nonfood wastes, or inorganic mineral deposits that contribute to arthritis.
An all-liquid diet is traditionally called a fast. It's not absolutely necessary to take only liquids, but a few days without solid food can be an enlightening experience about your lifestyle. A juice fast increases awareness and energy availability for elimination. Fresh juices literally pick up dead matter from the body and carry it away. Your body becomes easier to "hear," telling you what foods and diet are right for your needs via cravings - a desire for protein foods, or B vitamins or minerals, for example. This is natural biofeedback. Fasting works by self-digestion. During a cleanse, the body decomposes and burns only the substances and tissues that are damaged, diseased or unneeded, such as abscesses, tumors, excess fat deposits, and congestive wastes. Even a relatively short fast accelerates elimination, often causing dramatic changes as masses of accumulated waste are expelled.
You will know your body is detoxing if you experience the short period of headaches, fatigue, body odor, bad breath, diarrhea or mouth sores that commonly accompany accelerated elimination. However, digestion usually improves right away as do many gland and nerve functions. Cleansing also helps release hormone secretions that stimulate immune response and encourages a disease-preventing environment.
What about a water fast?
I don't recommend it. Here's why:
Leading nutritionists and detoxification experts agree that fresh vegetable and fruit juice cleansing is superior to water fasting. Indeed, juice cleansing is an evolution in detoxification methods. Fresh juices, broths and herb teas help deeply cleanse the body, rejuvenate the tissues and guide you to a faster recovery from health problems than water fasting. A traditional water fast is harsh and demanding on your body, even in times before huge amounts of food and environmental toxins were part of the picture. Today, it can even be dangerous. Deeply buried pollutants and chemicals from our tissues are released into elimination channels too rapidly during a water fast. Your body is essentially "re-poisoned" as the chemicals move through the bloodstream all at once. Sometimes, the physical and emotional stress of a water fast even overrides the positive benefits.
Vegetable and fruit juices are alkalizing, so they neutralize uric acid and other inorganic acids, better than water, and increase the beneficial effects. Juices support better metabolic activity for fasting, too. Metabolic activity slows down during a water fast as the body attempts to conserve dwindling energy resources that further reduce productive cleansing. Juices are very easy on digestion - easily assimilated into the bloodstream. They don't disturb the detoxification process. Of course, making fresh juices at home is preferred.
The first step of your cleanse is elimination.
You'll be cleaning out mucous and toxins from the intestinal tract and major organs. Everything functions more effectively when toxins, obstructions and wastes are removed. Try to drink 8 glasses of water each day of your fast in addition to your juices.
The second step is rebuilding healthy tissue and restoring energy.
With obstacles removed, your body's regulating powers are activated to rebuild at optimum levels. Eat only fresh and simply prepared foods during the rebuilding step. Your diet should be very low in fat, with little dairy (cottage cheese and yogurt are okay), and no fried foods. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and sugars. Avoid meats except fish and sea foods. Include supplements and herbal aids for your specific needs.
The final step is keeping your body clean and toxin-free-very important after all the hard work of detoxification.
Modifying lifestyle habits is the key to a strong resistant body. A diet for health maintenance relies heavily on fresh fruits and vegetables for fiber, cooked vegetables, grains and seeds for strength and alkalinity, sea foods, soy foods, eggs and low fat cheeses as sources of protein, and lightly cooked sea foods and vegetables with a little dinner wine for circulatory health. A personalized group of supplements and herbal aids, as well as exercise and relaxation techniques, should be included.
Author Linda Page is a natural health expert and naturopathic Doctor.