Everything seems possible in spring. It’s the season of hope, of fresh life and new beginnings. It’s also the perfect time to turn over a fresh leaf and embark on a detox plan!
Over the winter months, some of us may have overindulged in food and drink. Perhaps we let our exercise program slide, got cooped up in stuffy buildings, or got waylaid by a string of nasty colds. Whatever the reason, by early spring, relatively few of us are feeling our absolute best. Undertaking a detox now can change all that, and help put you in perfect form for the year ahead.
On an energetic and esoteric level, spring is the ideal time for cleansing. In the Chinese system, spring is linked with the element of Wood, which encourages us to try new things, to set a new course, to find new ways, to commit to action. It’s an open, energetic, enthusiastic feeling, so even if you’ve never detoxed before, this could be the perfect time, and the perfect way to start feeling better fast.
Keep in mind, however, that detoxing is not a permanent, one-time, quick fix. To maintain good health, you need to follow a sensible ongoing program of diet and exercise. You should also be prepared to take a good hard look at your whole lifestyle, environment, home – and, yes, your mind and emotions, too. I believe that one of the biggest toxins in our lives (one that ages us more than most anything) is stress.
The good news is that the latest research seems to indicate that effective detoxing need not involve draconian diets or endless fasting. Slow and gentle does the trick.
Some critics say that detoxing simply isn’t necessary, that our bodies are designed to detox all by themselves quite naturally. While that is undoubtedly true in an ideal world, sadly, we don’t live in that ideal world. In fact, our modern world is incredibly toxic. We’re regularly assaulted by pollution in the air, in our homes, in the foods we eat and the clothes we wear. Our livestock are treated with drugs; our crops are sprayed with powerful pesticides and fungicides, many of which have unpleasant side effects.
Once you start learning about toxins, it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed: Ack! Toxins, toxins, everywhere! No doubt, it is a troubling situation – but don’t panic. Recognize and accept that it is impossible and impractical to avoid every single toxin. Do what you can to avoid the worst and then focus on building up your body’s natural defenses: a strong, well-functioning immune system, good circulation and a powerful elimination system. These combined forces can deal aptly with the majority of nasties.
Beyond detoxing our bodies to clear these toxins from our own systems, those of us who are concerned about our health and the health of our children can also take larger, further-reaching actions. We can campaign for cleaner food and a cleaner environment. We can create a market for affordable organic food by asking for it and buying it whenever we can. (The more land dedicated to organic farming, the fewer chemicals poured into our soil, water and food supplies, and the fewer that end up in our bodies.) We can minimize our use of conventional paints, chemicals and cosmetics, and instead look into the increasingly wide range of nontoxic, eco- and people-friendly choices. (For more on choosing healthy personal care products, read “A Good Long Look.”) Above all, we can start understanding that we create the world we live in, and that its health dictates our own.
Most of the evidence for detoxing comes from naturopathy, a system of natural medicine practiced (with very good results) for more than a hundred years. Janine Leach of the British Naturopathic Association admits that more research on detoxing is “urgently needed” but asserts that there is already “more formal evidence than you might imagine” to support detoxing’s benefits. A recent study reported in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology found a “clinically significant beneficial long-term effect” for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Even if the clinical evidence for detoxing is still forthcoming, the list of well-known potential benefits is enormous. Depending on your previous level of toxicity, you might be surprised to find a whole array of health problems simply disappear.
“Cleansing the body helps with all sorts of health problems,” asserts naturopath Sarah Bowles Flannery. “Most people who detox experience a marked increase in energy. Often they see a clearer complexion and sparkling eyes. Concentration and mood are improved when you get rid of toxins that may have been affecting brain function and memory. Generally, you can count on feeling much more clear-headed.”
If you’re new to detoxing, it’s well worth going to a good spa or center specializing in detox programs. There is something comforting about being surrounded by a group of people going through the same process. Having food prepared for you (and not having to prepare it for anyone else) is a huge boon. Also, the staff in charge of the detox will be familiar with any short-term side effects and be able to offer suggestions for counteracting them.
If you have any chronic health problems, you should detox under supervision and with the approval of your physician. If you decide to detox on your own, then prepare carefully. Check first with your physician and/or natural-health practitioner and pick your program. Err on the side of caution. For example, fasting is distinctly not advised if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Some forms of detox would be dangerous if you were diabetic, or might be unsuitable if you suffer from high blood pressure or arthritis. Those with eating disorders should never approach detoxing without professional supervision.
Some other practical considerations: If possible, choose a time for detoxing when you have a lighter-than-average schedule and no pressing work or family commitments. You should always aim to detox your mind as well as your body, and in an ideal world you would spend your days meditating, reading, practicing yoga or being in nature rather than hanging on the phone or being hunched over a laptop. That said, it is possible to detox and still go about your daily business, so don’t put it off simply because you don’t see a big break in sight. Just do your best to minimize distractions and maximize your rest and recovery time. Your body will be doing some intensive healing and will appreciate all the support you can give it.
Visit any drugstore or health shop and you’ll be knee-deep in detox aids. Check into any spa and you’ll be offered an array of services aimed at soaking and squeezing out toxins. But do you really need all those pills and potions, wraps and kits? Well, some of them are certainly helpful and supportive, but frankly, no, they are not strictly necessary.
Detoxing is actually quite simple: It’s a natural, pre-programmed process that your body conducts on its own. So the non-commercial (and perhaps unpalatable) truth is that you really need to do the work yourself – with diet, exercise and will-power.
Given this, why the rush on all the detox-oriented products and services? Well, while you are detoxing, your body has to cope with a vastly increased amount of toxins being released from the cells, so free-radical quenchers and herbal liver supports can be enormously helpful in increasing your body’s own detoxing efficiency and protecting your tissues from extra stress. Many people like to include a detox tea as part of their program for this reason. However, herbs and supplements should ideally be individually tailored to your specific needs. Overdosing on them, or taking the wrong ones for your individual needs, can cause unpleasant side effects and even interfere with your body’s detox process.
For this reason, I would heartily recommend that you seek the advice of a professional nutritional therapist, herbalist or naturopath before you proceed with your detox plan. He or she can work out a precise prescription, given your medical history, diet, detox priorities and various lifestyle factors.
Various kinds of bodywork, such as massage and hydrotherapy, can also benefit detoxing because they promote circulation and encourage your body’s tissues to release toxins. Plus, bodywork feels great, and its deeply relaxing effect helps the body heal more efficiently. I often recommend a form of gentle massage known as Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD). Certain aromatherapy oils can also assist with the detox process. However, I can’t emphasize this enough: None of these things will do it on its own, so please think of massages, wraps, soaks, supplements and elixirs not as alternatives – but rather as adjuncts – to more primary diet and lifestyle adjustments. Your biggest aid in detoxing is clear intent and commitment.
There are many, many different ways to detox. In my book The Detox Plan for Body, Mind, and Spirit (Journey, 1998) I outline an introductory weekend detox and a more in-depth, month-long, deep-life cleanse. And there are dozens of other good detox books out there. But here I’m going to give you a special, simple springtime program based on the latest detox research. It is safe, sensible and supports all the main detox systems of the body. If you have any special health challenges or concerns, check with your health practitioner. Otherwise, aim to follow it for at least a week. In fact, the longer you stay on it, the better – it’s a blueprint for healthy living.
Want more support? Download our free e-book, “How to Detox With Real Foods.”
This article has been updated. It was originally published in the March/April 2003 issue of Experience Life.