During the long months of winter here in Wisconsin, a certain tension builds up that can only be relieved by the warm days of spring. It’s like winter is holding your soul captive in its cold, icy grip and you are not entirely sure you will ever be free...
Then, one day the sun rises a little earlier and stays out a little later. You breathe a silent sigh of relief knowing that spring is finally here. A few days later, you shed your winter coat, fling open the windows, and suddenly get the urge to clean your house. Once the dust and clutter that has accumulated over the winter has been flushed out, you feel refreshed and the world has a new sparkle to it.
Ah, SPRING CLEANING!
But have you ever considered spring cleaning for your body?
The same long winter that brought cold to weigh us down with sweaters, coats and hats, also brought heavy comfort foods and holiday indiscretions to weigh us down with indigestion, excess pounds and a sluggish feeling. That is why taking time to do a little spring cleaning in your body can be an extremely rewarding experience. Cleansing toxins from your body can refresh your energy level and give you that shiny new sparkle too!
While I will not attempt to give specific instructions for doing a “cleanse” in this article, I will share with you some basic principles of detoxification to incorporate into your daily routine, as well as suggest some local resources to learn more about cleansing and receive expert guidance and support.
But before we get to that, let’s talk about what cleansing is and what it has to offer you...
What is Cleansing?
Our bodies come equipped with some highly specialized organs and organ systems designed to detoxify and maintain the body in perfect balance; the digestive system, liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph system, skin and mucus membranes all work very hard to keep us clean and healthy on the inside and outside. Internal cleansing refers to techniques and methods aimed at assisting these organs and channels of elimination in the detoxification of the body, especially when they have become overburdened and clogged with toxins.
Signs of Excess Toxins in the Body
Signs of toxicity can range from mild to severe depending on your level of toxicity. Symptoms may include any of the following: allergies, chronic phlegm, chronic inflammation, obesity, arthritis, elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, fatigue, sluggish thinking, back aches and body pains, lack of appetite, GERD and other gastrointestinal disorders. Sharp headaches, dizziness, mild tremors in the limbs, and unexplained muscle aches, especially in the calf, can also be symptoms. There may be a greasy coating on the tongue and you may experience frequent sore throat. The skin may be dull, oily, break-out frequently, prone to sunburn and/or have dry patches.
With so many common complaints signaling the body’s need for detoxification, almost anyone would benefit from adopting a spring time detoxification routine.
Where do toxins come from?
Similar to the way “junk” accumulates in garages and closets over time, our bodies accumulate metabolic wastes and toxins over time. Our organs and channels of elimination become clogged with these toxins and build-up in the tissues of the body causing pain, lethargy, heaviness and sluggish thinking. If these toxins continue to build up without being adequately eliminated, the health and vitality of the body deteriorates and we may become more susceptible to illness and degenerative disease.
Why are our organs overburdened?
The concept of internal cleansing has existed in many cultures throughout the centuries and appears in medical texts of ancient physicians such as Hippocrates and Galen. If cleansing was a valued method of maintaining health in the ancient world, how much more important is it today?! Consider how dramatically our way of life has changed over the last few hundred years. It is not too difficult to understand why our bodily systems may need a little assistance.
As recently as one hundred years ago, all foods were non-GMO and organically grown. Today, even the most conscientious eaters are challenged to consistently find food that has not been tainted (Thank you, Willy Street Co-op, and all our local organic farmers who work diligently to provide these precious things to us. May we never take them for granted! Please support our local organic farmers).
For most Americans, the modern diet consists of low fiber, high fat, high calorie, highly processed, nutritionally void foods that are laden with chemicals, colors, additives and preservatives. Add to this, daily abuses of sugar, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and junk food and you have a recipe for toxic build-up.
Other factors that negatively impact our body’s ability to detoxify include: lack of exercise, improper rest, stress and overwork, exposure to chemical, electrical, magnetic and other pollutants.
If we don’t assist these toxins moving out of the body, our systems will inevitably suffer and we experience the symptoms mentioned earlier.
Benefits to Cleansing
Body detoxification through proper cleansing has many positive effects. As well as seeing a reduction of symptoms mentioned above, you may also experience elevated energy, a more positive outlook on life and look and feel younger.
Additionally, cleansing provides a great opportunity for personal reflection and growth. When we embark upon a purification process of the body, we instinctively take more time for ourselves and make our health a higher priority. This stimulates us to re-evaluate our life, activities, habits, relationships and more. Armed with inspiration and insight, we are motivated to make new, better aligned goals for our future.
Objectives of Cleansing
The two basic objectives of all cleansing approaches are to:
- Facilitate the release of stored toxins from body organs and tissues.
- Assist the eliminatory organs and channels in the evacuation of toxins in order to improve function and health.
While the details of individual cleansing methods may vary greatly, these objectives remain fairly consistent no matter what approach you use. Following the principles of cleansing outlined below will help you accomplish these goals.
Cleanse the body of Parasites
Because parasites can undermine progress of other cleansing efforts, cleansing parasites from the body should be the #1 order of business!
A parasite is a type of organism that lives off a host... it is scary to think that host could be you! A lot more people have parasites living in their body than know it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over one-third of the world’s population has at least one (and maybe hundreds) of intestinal parasites.
Nine out of 10 don’t even know it. They attribute symptoms to other causes and never imagine it could be parasites. Some symptoms associated with parasites include: bloated stomach, gas, fatigue, constantly hungry, allergies, asthma, digestive disorders, unclear thinking, anemia, constipation, obstruction of organs like the colon and the liver, diarrhea, fungal and bacterial infections, flu-like symptoms, depression, lack of concentration, immune dysfunction, anxiety, restlessness, and being predisposed to chronic degenerative diseases. Parasites live and grow off the food you consume, draining important nutrients and energy from your body. These little (and not so little) critters are bad news, which is why they should be #1 on the list of the order of cleanses. There are traditional herbs that can be useful in clearing parasites from the body when used properly, such as wormwood, clove, artemisia and black walnut. These bitter, digestive herbs paralyze and kill parasites in the digestive tract and also help destroy the eggs. They also improve digestive secretions (which are natural protectors against parasite overgrowth) and encourage healthy evacuation from the colon. Parasites can be, nevertheless, extremely tricky to get rid of and full instructions for a parasite cleanse is beyond the scope of this article. If you think you might have parasites, please seek the guidance of a qualified herbalist or natural healthcare practitioner.
A diet high in fat, sugar, meats and dairy, processed foods and instant meals put a tremendous amount of stress on your digestion system. Furthermore, improper food combining such as eating starches with proteins hampers digestion and can result in overproduction of acid, gas and bloating. To assist your body in riding itself of toxins, opt for lighter fare, such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are grown organically and are unprocessed, and do not eat starches and proteins together in a meal.
Some cleansing routines, such as the Master Cleanse and various juice fasts, severely limit food, or incorporate a partial or total fast. This type of cleanse facilitates the rapid release of toxins from cells into the blood and body fluids, but can precipitate a “healing crisis”—a temporary worsening of symptoms which can be quite severe—if not quickly evacuated from the body. Additionally, the lowered caloric intake and lack of fiber can create additional complications. For this reason, these types of detoxification protocols are more suited to experienced cleansers.
Did you know that the skin is the largest, most important eliminative organ in the body, eliminating over one pound of waste acids each day in the average adult? Dry brushing stimulates the lymphatic system and helps the body drain toxic mucous into the colon.
You will need a medium bristle brush that is easy to handle. A thorough dry brushing takes around 15 minutes and should be performed directly before taking a bath or shower. Start at the bottom of your feet and work your way up brushing all sides of the legs using long sweeping strokes. When you get to the abdomen, use circular counter-clockwise strokes. Brush hands and all sides of the arms with an upward motion towards the heart.
Details on the benefits of dry brushing, as well as instructions on how to go about it can be found at: http://articles.herballegacy.com/the-dry-brushing-technique/
The American Dietetic Association recommends a daily intake of 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams for men, but very few people come anywhere close to that.
Fiber comes in two basic types: soluble and insoluble. Most people should see that they consume both. Soluble fiber helps absorb excess cholesterol and toxins from the body, while insoluble fiber creates bulk in your intestines and speeds up the transit of waste through your gut.
Fiber also stimulates the good bacteria—or probiotics found in the colon. In the 2001 CRC Handbook of Dietary Fiber in Human Nutrition, fiber was found to significantly increase the populations of these beneficial bacteria in the gut. As a reminder, these gut flora play an important role in your immune system and are one of your first lines of defense against the pathogens that enter your body.
I recommend increasing naturally occurring fiber in the form of high-fiber fruits and vegetables. You may also take a fiber supplement to provide additional fiber. The secret to success with fiber supplements is in the name: “supplement.” Supplements are not intended to take the place of a healthy diet, rich in natural fiber and nutrients, but to supplement a small fraction of the daily recommended amount of fiber. Psyllium seeds and seed husks are popular fiber supplements because they provide both soluble and insoluble fiber. Psyllium, however, can irritate some individuals that suffer from digestive conditions such as diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease or IBS. Other fibers such as oat or rice bran, pea fiber, chia or flaxseed may be good alternatives. These sources also provide a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber. If psyllium seed is taken, it is essential to consume lots of additional water for it to be effective. If inadequate water is consumed, psyllium can exacerbate poor elimination. Many high-quality fiber supplements are available in the Wellness department at the Co-op.
The liver is arguably your body’s most important detoxification organ. It helps with the digestion and metabolism of fat, and detoxifies your body of harmful pollutants, food additives, and other toxins. Four herbs that support the health of the liver, as well as assist in detoxification are milk thistle seed, dandelion root, globe artichoke and turmeric.
Milk thistle protects the liver by inhibiting damaging substances from destroying specialized liver cells. Silymarin, the medicinal component in milk thistle, also stimulates liver cell regeneration to help rebuild after liver damage. Additionally, silymarin helps prevent depletion of the nutrient glutathione—one of the most critical nutrients for liver detoxification.
Silymarin in milk thistle seeds is not highly water-soluble, so taking an extract of milk thistle is preferable to making tea from the seeds.
Dandelion root—the same dreaded weed that you may curse as it pokes its yellow-flowered head through your green lawn—is one of nature’s finest liver herbs! Multiple studies have shown that dandelion root is an effective liver rejuvenator in cases of jaundice, liver swelling, hepatitis, and indigestion. Since the medicinal constituents of dandelion root are water soluble, it is easy to brew a medicinal tea by simmering dandelion root in water (a couple of teaspoons dandelion root per cup of water) for 15 minutes on the stove top. Drink 8 oz. two to three times daily.
Globe artichoke contains compounds called caffeylquinic acids which have demonstrated powerful liver regenerating effects similar to milk thistle. Globe artichoke can be found in herbal combo formulas for liver support at the Co-op.
Most of us are familiar with the spice known as turmeric—a common ingredient in Indian curries. Turmeric helps regenerate liver cells and is helpful in detoxifying the liver as well. Turmeric increases the production of bile to help expel toxins and may help reduce liver inflammation. Studies suggest turmeric promotes two liver-supporting enzymes that aid in phase 2 liver detoxification reactions. Turmeric supplements can be found in several brands and combinations in the Wellness department. If you prefer to add the spice to food, loose turmeric powder is available in the bulk spices section at the Co-op.
Built up toxins in the colon can adversely affect the kidneys, so effective colon cleansing benefits the kidneys. Herbs that may further assist in the detoxification of the kidneys are: dandelion, parsley, juniper berries, buchu, birch and uva ursi. These herbs all have diuretic effects—that is, they promote the excretion of fluid. While these may be hard to find, gravel root, hydrangea root, yarrow and birch will aid in dissolving kidney stones, while uva ursi and chamomile are antispasmodics that can ease the passage of stones.
Additional Tips for Successful Cleansing
- Hydrate. When releasing toxins, adequate water helps the body flush toxins from the system. Drink at least 8-10 8 oz. glasses per day.
- Rest. The body regenerates when you sleep. This is especially important when cleansing. Make sure to give your body at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
- Slow down. Cleansing releases toxins. Toxins circulating in the blood stream can make you feel a bit under the weather. When undergoing a cleansing protocol, it is a good idea to allow a little extra time to rest and relax.
- Stop smoking. Smoking has adverse effects on the body, which include colon problems and introducing toxins to the body. The Co-op offers homeopathic stop-smoking aids, as well as supplements to help rid your body of residual nicotine.
- Exercise. Try to exercise 30 to 40 minutes at least five times a week. This will help to stimulate and regulate your bowel movements. It also helps your immune system work better.
- Reduce alcohol. It is better not to consume alcoholic beverages at all during a cleanse. If you do choose to drink, limit the amount you drink to no more than two drinks for men and one drink for women.
- Sweat. Sweating supports your skin’s ability to eliminate toxins. Get in the routine of sweating at least three times a week. You can exercise or use a sauna.
Local Cleansing Resources:
If you are inexperienced with cleansing and this all sounds a bit intimidating, you don’t have to go it alone. Why not join a cleansing program that is guided by a qualified holistic practitioner. Here are a couple of options:
Ayurvedic Approach to Cleansing
As part of my research for this article, I had the opportunity to sit down with yoga instructor and Certified Ayurvedic Educator David Lincecum to discuss the Ayurvedic approach to cleansing. David has put together a cleansing program he calls the Cap City Cleanse, a cleansing program based on Ayurvedic principles. The beauty of David’s approach is that it is time-tested, simple and effective, yet easily customizable to your individual needs.
Ayurveda is the traditional medical system native to India. It is estimated that Ayurveda has been practiced for at least 5,000 years. Principles of Ayurveda focus on balancing three elemental substances or “doshas”: vata, pitta and kapha. Vata represents the energy of air and space and corresponds to the force of wind in the body. Pitta represents the energies of fire and water and corresponds to bile in the body. Kapha represents the energy of water and earth and corresponds to phlegm in the body.
In the Ayurvedic tradition, health-enhancing routines unique to each season of the year, called “ritucharya,” are adopted to support the body and mind as the weather and energetic forces of nature shift. Detoxifying your body in the spring is an important part of the spring ritucharya.
Spring is considered the Kapha season because the wet, cool weather of spring reflects the moist, cool, heavy qualities associated with the Kapha dosha. Because the events in nature are mirrored in the body, the springtime naturally supports the cleansing of the body. In spring, the accumulations of ice and snow begin to melt and water begins to flood drainage ditches. It is this same energy that is thought to “melt” the accumulated toxins in the body, or “Ama” as it is called in Ayurveda, and it begins to flood the microcirculatory channels of the body, also known as “shrotas.” The Cap City Cleanse teaches participants how they can assist toxins to flow out of the body, bringing about rejuvenation to body, mind and spirit simultaneously.
I was very impressed with David’s personalized program because the program incorporates things like daily self-massage, detoxifying baths, tasty foods tailored to your dosha and reflective meditation. It is one of the gentlest, most pleasant cleansing programs I have ever been acquainted with. David has a lot of knowledge and a gentle, calming energy about him as he guides participants through the detox process. David’s next session begins soon, so if you would like to find out more about the Cap City Cleanse and David Lincecum, please visit his website at www.tulaveda.com.
Naturopath Workshops on Internal Cleansing
Katy Wallace, Naturopathic Physician also offers workshops this spring on internal cleansing. In the “Body Tune-up” workshops, participants learn how to choose
and prepare health foods, tools for balancing your health, and how to address underlying conditions and patterns of stress that limit your health. More information can be found at: www.humannaturellc.com/Classes/body-tune-up-workshop.html.
I hope you have found this article helpful. If you need cleansing guidance, the Wellness staff at the Co-op can help you select cleansing products right for you.
Best of luck to you, and, as always check with your physician before starting any new regimen.