by guest blogger Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrative medicine pioneer, researcher, clinical practitioner, author, and lecturer
Spring and summer bring us wonderful warm weather, offering an ideal opportunity to engage in a gentle seasonal cleanse. Since many people are unfamiliar with this health-promoting process, I thought that now would be a good time to introduce the practice of gentle detoxification/cleansing and its numerous benefits. Warmer weather usually prompts us to eat lighter, healthier, more hydrating foods, which is perfect since nourishing foods of this nature are at the foundation of a successful cleanse program.
Why should you do a cleanse? The main purpose is to clear the body of toxins, contaminants, and heavy metals that can accumulate in joints, organs, tissues, cells, and in the bloodstream. These health-robbing pollutants can come from a number of sources, including pesticides, environmental contaminants, everyday household products, overprocessed foods and packaging agents, alcohol, OTC and prescription drugs, and more. By giving your body a break from its toxic burden and deeply nourishing yourself with the right foods, supplements, and exercise, you can reach a new level of health and vitality. A gentle cleanse can also help improve mental clarity and emotional stability; balance blood sugar, reducing cravings and crashes; and increase strength, flexibility and stamina, and more.
The Signs of Toxin Overload. Toxin overload in the body can potentially express itself through a dizzying array of symptoms. The most common are chronic digestive complaints, joint problems, skin conditions, persistent allergies, frequent colds or flu, head and body aches, lethargy, weight gain, irritability, and mental fog. (If you experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis, however, it’s important to see your doctor to rule out other possible conditions.)
The Health Benefits of Gentle Detoxification. Normally, our detoxification organs and systems—liver, kidneys, digestive, lymphatic, lungs, and skin—would successfully eliminate most contaminants. In today’s world however, many of us can benefit significantly and noticeably from a gentle cleanse. The health effects are numerous and can often be experienced in just a matter of days, particularly the greater energy and vitality that can result. Other important benefits include improved digestion and immunity, reduced inflammation, stabilized blood sugar, increased circulation, healthier weight, balanced hormones, clearer skin, and improved well-being on all levels. Long-term exposure to toxins has been linked to numerous types of cancer, diabetes, and other chronic, life-threatening conditions.
How to Get Started. How long your cleanse program lasts is up to you: It can be three days, three weeks, or three months, depending on your lifestyle, health goals, and so forth. Any detox program can easily be tailored to suit your individual needs, but regardless of how long or what type of program you do, there are a several key components, listed below, which are essential to a successful cleanse. They serve as the basic foundation for a cleanse program, and they can also be combined with other therapies to enhance your experience.
The Four Essentials of a Healthy Cleanse
1. A cleansing and hydrating detox diet. A cleansing diet is at the heart of any detoxification program. The goal is to focus on organic, nutrient-dense, and minimally processed foods. Here are the basics:
- Eat less animal protein, particularly red meat and dairy. Instead, favor organic plant-based proteins, which will help ease digestive stress and improve elimination. You can incorporate a plant-based protein powder to supplement and fill your protein needs. Green powders, made of concentrated greens such as cereal grasses, sprouts, and green vegetables, can add extra nutritional value and increased detox support.
- Eat more alkaline fresh vegetables, such as cucumber, spinach, broccoli, avocado, to counteract the acidity toxins create. An alkaline environment in the body helps promote oxygenation and detoxification, among other health benefits. Emphasize other low-starch leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, and collard greens. Vegetables may be eaten raw, juiced, steamed, or sautéed in liquid.
- Add fiber to your diet, such as flax or chia seeds, psyllium, or rice bran.
- Include probiotic foods to improve digestive and overall health by reintroducing healthy probiotic flora (beneficial bacteria) to the digestive tract. Probiotics, like yogurt, pickles, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi, are shown to boost immunity, support detoxification, improve nutrient assimilation, and promote overall health.
- Eliminate inflammatory foods, that can cause increased toxic body burden, such as alcohol, sugars, processed foods, trans fats, cooked oils, caffeinated beverages, and nonorganic foods.
- Drink plenty of pure, filtered water (at least 64 ounces per day), as well as herbal tea. Homemade vegetable broth is an excellent addition, as it’s very nutrient rich and hydrating.
If you stray away from your detox diet, don’t be too hard on yourself! You can always start again.
2. Include herbal, botanical, and nutritional supplements. These powerful natural remedies can help remove toxins and heavy metals, support the organs of elimination, help reduce inflammation, improve circulation, enhance digestion, and promote stronger immunity. Here are my recommendations, in two phases:
- Phase 1—Modified citrus pectin and sodium alginates. Modified citrus pectin (MCP) and sodium alginates help remove heavy metals and environmental toxins from the digestive tract and circulation, and they combat inflammation and improve cellular health and immunity. MCP has been clinically proven to eliminate lead, mercury, arsenic, and other heavy metals from the body, without affecting the minerals our bodies need. Sodium alginates also have the ability to bind with heavy metals and environmental toxins and safely remove them. Both pectins and alginates have been well researched and were first used in Chernobyl to remove radioactive particles from victims of the disaster. This first phase removes heavy metals and toxins and addresses the circulatory and digestive systems. Even if you don’t progress to a deeper, more in-depth Phase-2 detoxification process (described below), you can still achieve significant health benefits in Phase 1. This phase can be as short as two days, two weeks, or last up to a month. The goal of this initial step is to alkalize your body with a cleansing diet and target toxins in the circulation and digestive tract.
- Phase 2—Herbs and nutrients for deeper detoxification. Phase 2 cleansing targets toxins and heavy metals that get stored within organs and tissues over the long term. It’s helpful to include amino acids like N-acetylcysteine (NAC), and methyl sulfonyl methane (MSM) as well as lipoic acid, and herbs such as cilantro, Oregon grape root, goldenrod, dandelion, milk thistle, garlic, and astragalus. These herbs and nutrients target toxins in organs and tissues, combat free radicals, help reduce inflammation, and boost vital energy. Medicinal mushrooms (Coriolus versicolor, Gandoderma lucidum, Grifola frondosa, Phellinus linteus, Poria cocos, and Cordyceps sinensis, for instance) help remove toxins and metabolic waste, and support immunity, digestion, vital energy, and overall health. They work remarkably well at repairing damage and restoring function in areas of the body that are weak. For additional detox support, digestive enhancement, and improved elimination, include things like cardamom, pomegranate, tangerine peel, black pepper fruit, ginger, lotus seed, licorice, and cinnamon. Also, chromium and zinc are important digestive minerals.
3. Exercise! Movement makes the world go ’round. It also supports our health on every level. Regular exercise is critical during a cleanse because it moves the lymphatic system to promote more efficient elimination of toxins and wastes. Without regular exercise, the process of detoxification slows to a halt, like a traffic jam. Proper circulation is essential for overall health, and in the case of detoxification, it’s simply a must. You don’t have to be a triathlete, just make sure you move your body for at least 20 minutes a day. Even a regular walk or gentle stretching routine can make a big difference.
4. Practice mindfulness. You can maximize the benefits of a cleanse by taking extra time to meditate and reflect, practice yoga, spend time in nature, and rest. Healthy stress management is an important and uplifting way to support your well-being on every level. In fact, mind-body practices such as mindfulness meditation can encourage a much deeper process of detoxification. Mindfulness meditation helps us begin to acknowledge and release excess mental, emotional, and physical “baggage” that may be obstructing our path to optimal wellness. The role of the mind-body connection in detoxification is an important topic that deserves its own article, but it’s definitely worth mentioning when discussing how to optimize your cleanse.
By adopting these simple practices, you can experience positive transformation on many levels, much the way winter’s coldness and inactivity gives way to new growth, warmth, and energy in the spring. A seasonal cleanse should be a gentle, life-supporting experience, so relax, enjoy, and renew!
For more practical holistic health information, visit www.dreliaz.org.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrates Western medicine with his extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese, Tibetan, ayurvedic, homeopathic, and complementary medical systems. With more than 25 years of clinical experience and research, Dr. Eliaz offers a unique holistic approach to the relationship between health and disease, immune enhancement, detoxification, and cancer prevention and treatment. For more information about his work, visit dreliaz.org.