SPRING DETOXMichael Vertolli, RH March 1, 2003
Tissue Cleansing Relieves Toxic Overload & Revs Up Immunity
I predict that the major challenge of the 21st century is not going to be the economy or terrorism. Rather, it will become increasingly apparent that our greatest challenge will be how eight billion or more people can live on this planet without destroying our ecosystem and therefore ourselves. Political, social and economic issues are meaningless if our planet can no longer support our very existence. In order to meet this challenge, we are going to have to learn how to feed, shelter and entertain ourselves without creating a mountain of garbage and environmental toxicity in our wake.
The solution to this problem begins with the little decisions that we make each day. Every choice that we make has environmental consequences. When we buy a product, is the production of it toxic to the environment? Is it excessively packaged? Is the packaging reusable or recyclable? Is the manufacturer using environmentally friendly practices? When it comes to food products, how was the food grown, harvested and prepared? Are we supporting agricultural practices that destroy the soil and dump tons of toxic chemicals into the ecosystem?
In a capitalistic society, the major driving force for change is market demand. If the majority of us put more thought into our choices, the companies that manufacture, distribute and retail these products would have to change their practices in order to meet consumer demand.
Sometimes it’s hard to get our heads around issues like the global ecological crisis. However, one thing that everyone can relate to is their own health. Our body is like a mini ecosystem, a microcosm of the world in which we live. The same choices that negatively impact the world we live in have a more immediate effect on the health of our body.
One of the most important causes of the many health problems from which we suffer is tissue toxicity. Our body produces its own toxins in the form of metabolic waste products. Our long-term survival has required the evolution of physiological mechanisms that enable us to remove those waste products from our body before they build up to toxic levels. These same mechanisms are also responsible for removing any toxins that enter our body from the external environment.
In the past our capacity to remove waste products and toxins from our tissues was usually able to meet our needs. However, today we live in an increasingly more toxic environment. As a result, the amount of toxicity that we absorb typically exceeds our capacity to eliminate it. This results in a more or less constant increase in the level of toxicity in our body tissues throughout our lives. The consequences of this are reduced immune response and the full gamut of chronic conditions becoming more prevalent in our society: from allergies to heart disease to arthritis to cancer.
Much of the toxicity in our tissues comes from our immediate environment: the food we eat, the water we drink and bathe in, the kinds of cosmetics and cleaning products we use, furniture, building materials and other sources. The rest of it comes from the general environment. All of these sources are direct consequences of the choices that we make every day. By eating and using products that are in harmony with our body and the world we live in, we can reduce the toxic stress load on our both our tissues and our environment, and improve our health and well-being.
JUICE FASTING CLEARS TOXINS FROM TISSUES
Unfortunately, the level of toxicity in most of us is too high to expect to see an immediate change in our health simply by reducing our exposure. Usually our body needs some help.
Fasting is one of the best ways to help our body with this process. During a fast our liver is able to divert much of the energy that would have been used for digestion into breaking down toxins so that they may be more easily eliminated. There are many books available on how to fast, but for the purpose of detoxification I only recommend juice fasting. Water fasting is too extreme and can be dangerous. It is also important that we only use fresh, organic fruit and vegetable juices while fasting. We don’t want to be consuming lifeless commercial juices at a time when we are trying to eliminate toxins, as they contain none of the beneficial enzymes essential to blood cleansing.
A three to six day fast is ideal for most people in our society. Three is the minimum number of days necessary to get a good cleanse. It is best to fast once or twice per year. In the modern world, even those of us who eat well, exercise regularly and try to avoid using toxic products will still tend to accumulate some toxicity through the year. A regular fast or some other kind of cleanse will help to prevent this. The best times are mid spring (April/May) and early fall (September/October). If you have never fasted before and especially if you have any serious health problems, start off slow with a one or two day fast. In these cases it would be best if you sought the guidance of a qualified health professional before attempting to fast.
HERBAL FORMULAS FOR DETOXING
Fasting is very beneficial, but it is not the only way to cleanse our body of toxins. This can also be accomplished with the help of herbs. The key to any good detoxification program is an effective herbal detox formulation.
In order to understand how to create a herbal detox formulation, it is important to look at how our body eliminates toxins from our tissues. There are two organ systems responsible for removing toxins and waste products directly from tissues, and delivering them to other organs that will eliminate them from our body. These are the circulatory system and the lymphatic system. Blood circulation is supported by circulatory stimulants. These are warming herbs such as cayenne, ginger and cinnamon. They are used in very small quantities in a detox formulation, usually 1-5%, depending on how “hot” the herb is. If we include too much of this kind of herb, the formulation will be too stimulating and may cause digestive disturbances.
Lymphatic circulation is supported by herbs called lymphatics. These herbs also help to drain toxins and waste products out of our tissues. Good lymphatics include cleavers herb, horsetail herb, purple loosestrife herb, burdock root, yellow sweet clover herb, and many others.
The liver is the organ responsible for breaking down toxins into simpler substances that are less toxic or more easily eliminated from our body. This organ also eliminates substances that don’t easily dissolve in water by dumping them into the digestive tract dissolved in bile. If our bowel function is good, a significant percentage of these toxins will be eliminated in the feces. Liver function is primarily supported by bitter tasting herbs. These include dandelion root, burdock root, centaury herb, gentian root, yellow dock root, milk thistle seeds, and many others. It is very important that bitter herbs (and most herbs, in general) are taken in a form that allows us to taste their bitterness, otherwise they will not work very well. This is one of the reasons why the best way to take a herbal detox formulation is as a tincture or a tea, whereas capsules and tablets are significantly less effective. It is also important to hold the herbs in our mouth for 20-30 seconds before swallowing to enhance this effect.
The largest proportion of toxins and waste products in the body are water-soluble and eliminated in the urine by our kidneys. Some of these are also eliminated by the skin in our sweat, but this is primarily a back-up mechanism. Our skin can become a very important avenue of elimination (to the detriment of its health) if the body is very toxic or kidneys are not functioning efficiently. When this occurs, there is a higher likelihood that we may develop a chronic inflammatory skin condition like acne, eczema or psoriasis. Kidney function is supported primarily by herbal diuretics, however, all of the lymphatic herbs mentioned above will support our kidneys to some degree as well. Some of the better herbal diuretics include goldenrod herb, dandelion root, dandelion leaves, horsetail herb, and Queen Ann’s lace herb (also known as wild carrot). It is important to not use any of the harsher diuretics like bearberry (uva ursi), buchu or juniper. Unfortunately, these herbs are often found in commercial detox formulations.
The last major eliminatory channel for toxicity is the colon. Good bowel function is essential for clean tissues. This means that we should be having at least one to two bowel movements per day (without skipping days). In general, stimulating laxatives like cascara, buckthorn and senna are not recommended to support bowel function because they are too strong and tend to be dependency forming. Detox formulations that contain these herbs should be avoided. The best way to support bowel function is by using the same bitter herbs that support our liver function. These herbs increase the secretion of bile by our liver and this has a gentle laxative effect that is more natural and not dependency forming. For some people, bulking agents such as psyllium husks and whole flax seeds are also recommended.
In putting together a good herbal detoxification formulation, it’s important that it contain one or two members of all of the categories of herbs mentioned above. It should be taken three to four times per day on an empty stomach. The best times are 20-30 minutes before meals and before bed.
Detoxification will sometimes be accompanied by a temporary aggravation of some symptoms. If this occurs reduce the dosage of the formulation until symptoms disperse. Should any unusual symptoms persist, consult with a qualified herbalist or holistic practitioner. A detox is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, or young children. In addition, seniors, anyone with an inflammatory bowel condition, bowel obstruction, or diabetes, heart condition, or cancer should consult with a qualified practitioner before attempting a detoxification program.
For those who decide to include fasting as part of their detox regimen, the best results will be obtained if we also take a herbal detox formulation for a couple of weeks prior to, during and for another couple of weeks following a fast.
Traditionally, spring has been recognized as the most important time of year to cleanse. It is part of our natural yearly cycle. I recommend some kind of spring detox as a very important part of a healthy lifestyle.
Michael Vertolli is a Registered Herbalist practising in Vaughan (just north of Toronto). He is the Director of Living Earth School of Herbalism, which offers in-class and online general interest courses, certificate, and diploma programs. For more information: 905-303-8723, ext. 1. Visit his website: http://www.livingearthschool.ca/index.html Blog: http://michaelvertolli.blogspot.com/