Detoxifying the Body
By Decker Weiss, NMD.
- What exactly is "detoxification"?
- How do toxins accumulate in our bodies?
- What is whole body cleansing?
- What should I consider when choosing an effective whole body cleansing program?
- What’s the best way to have safe and effective detoxification?
- Are detoxification programs safe?
- Detoxification references
Safe, Effective Detoxification Cleanse
Hair spray. Lawn fertilizers. Food preservatives. Dry cleaning. Flea repellent on our pets. We depend on these products to keep our hair stylish, our grass green, our food fresh, our clothes clean, and our pets healthy. However, the creation of these and thousands of other products are exposing us to more chemicals and toxins than ever before. And the presence of these harmful substances is becoming increasingly widespread. According to organizations devoted to protecting the environment, including the Sierra Club, the Izaak Walton League, and even the Environmental Protection Agency, we are exposed to literally tens of thousands of chemicals and contaminants every day. All across America, from big cities to small villages, from sprawling suburbs to wide-open prairies, harmful toxins are present in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink.1-3The evidence is clear. It’s no longer a question of the need to detoxify, but how to detoxify. The proof is sitting on health food store shelves. But from the hundreds of detoxification products ranging from one simple supplement to complex and complicated regimens, how do you choose the best? In this issue of Ask the Doctor we will discuss the safest, most effective, and healthiest method of detoxification: a program of whole body cleansing with powerful, yet gentle, all-natural products.
What exactly is "detoxification"?
Detoxification refers to the elimination of poisons or toxins. Detoxification programs include a vast variety of treatments aimed at getting rid of bodily toxins and improving health. Don’t we have a built-in natural detoxification system?
Yes, we do. Our liver, lungs, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and skin all work to eliminate toxins that we take in. And, for the most part, they do a pretty good job. But the huge amounts of today’s environmental contaminants may present too tough a challenge for these built-in detoxification systems. The toxins remain in our bodies, accumulating dangerously.
How do toxins accumulate in our bodies?
When the food we eat and the water we drink leave the stomach, they enter the small intestine where they mix with digestive enzymes. These enzymes break down the food's fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into simple compounds. Some of these simple compounds goto the liver to be metabolized. Others are carried away by the lymph, an important part of the immune system. What’s left travels on through the large intestine, or colon, where water is removed and bowel movements are formed.4,5
But if toxins in the food we eat and the water we drink cannot be destroyed by the digestive eliminate toxins enzymes, or detoxified by the liver, or eliminated by the immune system, they begin to build up. As these toxins accumulate, they will affect every part of our body: slow our metabolism, rob us of energy, reduce our immunity, and can even lead to serious chronic illness.6 The result? A body in serious-need of cleansing.
What is whole body cleansing?
Most detoxification supplements focus only on the liver and colon. That’s because significant amounts of our body’s own built in detoxification happens in these important digestive organs. However, the only way to make sure that detoxification is truly successful, is to cleanse the whole body. And that demands detoxification of the blood and lymph. These two vital fluids nourish and protect the liver, colon, and every other organ, tissue, and cell. And if toxins are present in blood or lymph, every organ, tissue, and cell will be exposed to these toxinsand contaminants, too. Even if you are currently undergoing detoxification.6
Detoxifying the colon and liver without cleansing the blood and lymph is like replacing your car’s dirty oil filter with a new clean one, but not changing the oil. Running dirty oil through that new filter will certainly not improve the performance of your car or help it run more efficiently. It’s the same with your blood and lymph systems. These fluids need "changing" or detoxification, too, for your body’s best performance.
What should I consider when choosing an effective whole body cleansing program?
Many detox programs are complicated and difficult to follow. Even their instructions are confusing. If you can't understand what you need to do, chances are the detoxification is not going to work very well. Some programs contain such ineffective and useless ingredients that they are literally nothing more than money down the drain. And others contain products known to harm your health.
Many detoxification programs are based on senna and cascara, stimulant laxatives that can create bowel dependence, deplete vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, and leave their users feeling drained and fatigued.7Enemas and colonics, the basis of other detoxification programs, place significant demands on bowel health.7 While these types of detoxification programs may be helpful in certain situations, they are not appropriate for home use and should be used under the supervision of a health care practitioner.
What’s the best way to have safe and effective detoxification?
The best detoxification program is based on safe, effective, all-natural herbs and nutrients. The program should be gradual and gentle and work with your body’s own detoxification ability and normal patterns of elimination.
The initial two-week phase should:
- Scrub your intestines naturally, stirring up and freeing stored toxins
- Bind the freed toxins with fiber for excretion and elimination
- Restore power to the liver, so it can once more eliminate toxins, poisons, and contaminants
- Purify the blood, the fluid of life
- Cleanse the lymph, the fluid of health
Scrub the Intestines
One of the most effective, yet certainly one of the most gentle laxatives available, magnesium hydroxide, draws water into the intestines, causing its contents to soften and swell, then scrubs, loosens, and cleanses the intestinal walls.7 Slippery Elm Bark helps coat irritated mucous membranes, draw out toxins, and soothes the lining of the intestinal wall.8 Marshmallow Root helps white blood cells seek and destroy disease-causing germs, then coats and soothes the intestinal walls. 9 Peppermint Leaf Extract increases the flow of bile, relaxes intestinal muscles, and reduces cramps and gas that may occur during detoxification.10
Bind and Excrete Toxins
After the toxins have been stirred up and scrubbed from the intestinal walls, the next step is to grab onto them with natural detoxification fibers. When fiber enters the intestines, it expands, and soaks up the toxins and waste materials, for elimination through the intestines.11
The best and safest fibers to use in detoxification are oat bran (the most soluble fiber of any grain),11 pectin from citrus fruit (it provides fiber and helps strengthen immune cells, too),12 psyllium husk (has more reabsorption ability than any other bowel regulating fiber),13 and guar gum, (a dietary fiber and stabilizer from the seed of the guar plant helps clear the colon of toxins and other wastes).11
But even the best detox fibers can’t cleanse the colon if they can’t absorb and eliminate the toxins. The most effective detoxification fibers are specially formulated to be thoroughly dispersed and completely released throughout the entire colon.
Restore Liver Health
Without question the most revered herb for the health of the liver is milk thistle. Not only can milk thistle help regenerate liver cells injured by toxins, it can actually block the toxins from entering the liver inthe first place. Milk thistle has been shown to prevent liver damage in persons suffering from alcoholism or hepatitis and can improve the way the liver works in people with cirrhosis of the liver, a chronic and sometimes fatal disease.14
But not all milk thistle products are equal. Only milk thistle standardized to contain 80% silymarin and formulated in a patented process with phosphatidylcholine are capable of these amazing feats. And when combined with artichoke extract to stimulate healthy bile production,15 as well as licorice and dandelion to help bile flow better into the small intestine,16,17 these liver-loving herbs provide excellent liver restoration.
Purify the Blood
Blood is the fluid of life. As it flows through our body, it nourishes every tissue and organ in the body. Blood transports oxygen from the lungs, nutrients from the small intestine, hormones from glands, and immune cells to fight infection and reduce inflammation. Blood also takes toxins to the liver and transports waste to the kidneys.18 Unfortunately, if the liver is unable to detoxify as it should, toxins will remain in the bloodstream, affecting every cell, tissue, and organ in the body.
Burdock is by far, one of the most effective natural blood purifiers and cleansers. It also helps the kidneys filter impurities from the blood more quickly. And it helps cleanse the respiratory, lymphatic, urinary, and circulatory systems, too.19,20
Cleanse the Lymph
Lymph is the fluid of health. The lymphatic system—the lymph vessels, lymph nodes, and lymph fluids—are often the first to alert the body that toxins are present. Lymph absorbs cellular wastes and drains them into the lymph system, where they’re carried to the lymph nodes for filtration. Once lymph has been drained and filtered, it re-enters the bloodstream.21 It’s pretty easy to see how cleansing lymph and the lymph system is vital for good health. One of the most effective herbs for lymph detoxification is red clover extract. It has been studied for its ability to keep harmful toxins out of the lymphatic system.6 Red clover extract also keeps the liver strong, especially during the detoxification process and stimulates bile production, so important in digestion.22,23
Special Concerns During Detoxification While most people will obtain excellent results from the whole body cleansing program we just discussed, there are additional nutritional supplements that help with specific detoxification needs. High Potency Metal Chelation Humi-fulvate, an extract from Hungarian peat, is a mixture of humic acid, fulvicacid and phenolic acids. In clinical trials, Humi-fulvate reduced lead and cadmium levels in people who had been exposed to these highly toxic metals. This high potency supplement binds or "chelates" harmful metals in the intestinal tract, without depleting the body of healthy minerals, such as calcium or magnesium.24
Cleansing the gastrointestinal tract is the first step in eliminating intestinal parasites. If you follow your cleanse with high potency pancreatic enzyme supplements at high doses not only will the enzymes help keep your intestines parasite-free, they can also help your body make digestive enzymes, immune secretions, and beneficial flora. 25
Oregano, thyme, peppermint, and goldenseal root extract can inhibit the growth of candida, bacteria, viruses, and fungi after detoxification.6,26
Additional Intestinal Support After Detoxification
After detoxification is complete, your intestines may need some help in getting back to business. This transitional phase is like "re-booting" a computer after certain functions have been restored. There are several all-natural products that can provide powerful intestinal restoration.
Containing inulin and oligo fructose (OF),these soluble dietary fibers nurture the growth of friendly bacteria in the intestines. These fibers also help our immune system fight bacteria and viruses, improve the strength of the heart, and keep our entire digestive tract healthy.11
Retained intestinal toxins can cause bacterial flora to decline significantly. Once detoxification is complete, probiotic supplements can replenish this intestinal flora. However, many probiotic supplements actually contain dead and dying intestinal flora bacteria. That’s because these beneficial bacteria are easily destroyed by light, air, poor packaging, and (if they live long enough) stomach acid. Be sure to buy a probiotic product that Warranty delivery of the bacteria into the intestine, right where they belong.27,28
Are detoxification programs safe?
For most people, the answer is definitely yes. However, pregnant or nursing women should not use any detoxification programs—even those that are specifically designed to be extremely gentle.
And it’s best to not detox more than four times in one year, unless directed by your health care practitioner. If you develop cramping or diarrhea simply reduce the dose of the intestinal cleanser. And if these problems persist, are painful, or are disruptive you should discontinue its use.
It’s also very important to drink at least 64 ounces of bottled or filtered water every day while on the detoxification program. Try drinking the water on the rocks or with a twist of lemon.
How well we digest the food we put into our bodies is almost as crucial to our health as what kind of food we put into our bodies. A simple fact of a healthy life is that there is no true health without digestive health. And an essential key to superior digestive health is whole body cleansing and detoxification that gently and gradually works with your body’s own detoxification ability and normal patterns of elimination.
1. The Sierra Club. Accessed on May 28, 2003. Available at: http://www.sierraclub.org
2. The Izaak Walton League. Accessed on May 28, 2003. Available at: http://www.iwla.org
3. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment. Accessed on May 28, 2003. Available at:http://www.epa.gov/
4. Nick GL. The intestinal tract. In: Clinical Purification: A Complete Treatment and Reference Manual. Brookfield, Wis:Longevity Through Prevention Books; 2001: 43-44.
5. Porth CM. The liver and hepatobiliary system. In:Pathophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott; 1998:745-753.
6. Nick GL. Detoxification overview. In: Clinical Purification: A Complete Treatment and Reference Manual. Brookfield, Wis:Longevity Through Prevention Books; 2001:167-178.
7. Lehne RA. Laxatives. In: Pharmacology for Nursing Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: W.B. Saunders; 1998: 787-792.
8. Fleming T, ed. Slippery Elm bark. In: PDR® for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 2000: 697.
9. Marshmallow. Ibid. 505-506.
10. Peppermint. Ibid. 580-583.
11. Grodner M, Anderson SL, DeYoung S. Fiber. In: Foundations and Clinical Applications of Nutrition: A Nursing Approach. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2000: 102-108.
12. Nangia-Makker P, Hogan V, Honjo Y, et al. Inhibition of humancancer cell growth and metastasis in nude mice by oral intakeof modified citrus pectin. Journal of Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94:1854-62.
13. Marlett JA, Kajs TM, Fischer MH. An unfermented gelcomponent of psyllium seed husk promotes laxation as alubricant in humans. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2000;72:784-9.
14. Brown DJ. Milk thistle. In: Herbal Prescriptions for Health. California: Prima Publishing;2000:193-202.
15. Fleming T, ed. Artichoke. In: PDR® for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 2000: 44-46.
16. Licorice. Ibid. 469-474.
17. Dandelion. Ibid. 245-246.
18. Guyton AC, Hall JE. Circulation. In: Textbook of Medical Physiology.10th Ed. Philadelphia, Pa: W.B. Saunders Company; 2000: 647.
19. Fleming T., ed. Burdock. In: PDR® for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 2000:128-130.
20. Nick GL. Burdock root. In: Clinical Purification: A CompleteTreatment and Reference Manual. Brookfield, Wis: LongevityThrough Prevention Books; 2001:155-162.
21. Porth CM. Lymphatic system. Pathophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott;2002: 427-428.
22. Red clover. Ibid. 167-178.
23. Fleming T., ed. Red clover. In: PDR® for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 2000: 633-634.
24. Reduction of blood lead and/or cadmium levels by Humifulvate. Proprietary documentation. December 2002.
25. PDR Health. Supplemental enzymes. Accessed on May 16, 2003.Available at: http://www.pdrhealth.com
26. Fleming T., ed. Goldenseal In: PDR® for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 2000: 355-358.
27. Wollowski I, Rechkemmer G, Pool-Zobel BL. Protective role ofprobiotics and prebiotics in colon cancer. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.2001;73:451S-455S.
28. Bengmark S. Gut microbial ecology in critical illness: is there arole for prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics? Current Opinion Critical Care. 2002;8:145-51.
Author Decker Weiss is a licensed naturopathic medical doctor in the state of Arizona.
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