Spring is here, how about a Detox ?
is a concept we are constantly bombarded with especially this time of year,
detox your relationship, your wardrobe your mind and last but not least your
body. So what does this really mean, who should do it, and why is it good for
us? Detoxing is not some radical
event that is going to change your life it is simply a sensible way of
supporting the natural physiological functioning of your body. It is not a
weight management technique; it is a process to enhance wellbeing by eating
well and ingesting the minimum of harmful substances. A detox should not be so
austere as to have you running for that box of roses the minute its over! It
should inspire you to take some elements of it and implement them in your daily
The concept of detoxing is basically to
do with elimination from the body; the body thankfully has many routes through
which to do this, the skin, liver, colon, lungs, kidneys and lymphatic system.
Some herbs will have an affinity for a particular system like Dandelion for the
kidneys or Milk thistle for the liver. Of course our body is equipped with a
very efficient eliminatory system, however in times of over-indulgence, stress
or inactivity these systems may be performing under par.
The source of toxins may be external;
plastics, drugs, bacteria, viruses, pollution, fast food or they can be
specific to the individual e.g. Allergens like diary, wheat and gluten. Some
toxins may be generated internally for example via a sluggish bowel; it will
reabsorb toxins excreted by the liver and pull toxic waste products back into
Who needs to detox? Well if you suffer
regularly with headaches, constipation, skin eruptions, insomnia, bad breath,
nausea, PMT, joint pain, thick greasy coating on the tongue, morning lethargy,
irritability or sudden anger, mucus, irregular bowel, congestion, erratic
periods then you may benefit.
An important point worth mentioning in
relation to detoxing is that it should not be done by the debilitated or weak,
you can only detox a system which is strong enough to cope with it. The
strength of the detox is in many ways proportional to the vitality of the
individual. If a system is extremely debilitated after a long illness for
example it can often be better to ‘build up’ using nourishing foods, moderate
exercise and plenty of fluids before thinking about doing a detox.
You can carry out a detox over two to
seven days; again you will need to weigh this up against how ‘well’ you are
feeling and what stresses you have going on in your life, doing a detox when
you are stressed is not a good idea. In terms of dietary restrictions it is
considered useful to cut out all stimulants and to eat foods which are easily
assimilated and digested. This would mean cutting out the following: tea,
coffee, fizzy drinks, alcohol, red meat and processed foods. A more austere
detox may include cutting out all wheat, dairy, eggs, meat, nuts and legumes.
Foods to include; fresh vegetables, wholegrains and fruit, eating only fruit
can sometimes be a bit too cleansing and laxative, so it is best to combine it
with vegetables, vegetable juices. It is important to drink plenty of fluids
either in the form of water or herbal teas in order to flush out toxins which
are released at a cellular level.
Here I will outline useful herbs for
dealing with cleansing through the various eliminatory organs.
For the skin: Nettle leaf is an excellent blood purifier and has been used
traditionally in this country for cleansing the blood, it has an abundance of
vitamins and particularly minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium, silica, zinc). It
is also useful for preventing a build up of uric acid in the body which can
often happen in arthritic conditions.
The Liver is one of our primary and hard working detoxifying organs.
It stores vitamins and minerals and
excess sugars, food which has been digested and absorbed is passed on to the
liver where it is either stored or processed for use somewhere else in the
It makes bile out of cholesterol and
old red blood cells, bile is used to help the body prepare fats for digestions
and acts as a laxative.
It takes toxins from the blood and
makes them safe for passage through the kidneys.
It balances the metabolism of fat,
protein and carbohydrate metabolism in the body ensuring excesses and deficiencies
are dealt with. With all this hard work going on, a helping hand with herbs can
nurture and sustain this vital organ.
root: This can be picked, washed, sliced
and dried, then taken as a decoction, or you can buy roasted dandelion root and
use it as a coffee substitute. It will improve bile flow and provides a
nourishing cleanser. Many herbalists will combine it with the leaf as the leaf
is a diuretic cleansing via the kidneys. The leaf can be eaten in salads or
taken as a tea or tincture.
thistle: Clinical studies have shown that milk
thistle can protect the liver against drug induced tissue damage. It also has
proven use in treating fatty liver and cirrhosis which can occur in alcoholics.
It also stimulates protein synthesis in the liver helping the formation of new
healthy liver cells.
congestion can be treated with Marigold
or Calendula this pretty orange
flower is easy to grow and has a long flowering season. I favour the dried
petals made as a tea for lymphatic congestion, if you pick it you will notice
that it has a resinous residue, this has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic
properties. These resins are excellent for wound healing and this is why a
marigold poultice is often applied to cuts, abrasions or eruptive skin
conditions. Taken as a tea it has a slightly bitter taste which will also
stimulate secretion of digestive enzymes and promote the actions of the liver
Congestion in the colon should be treated primarily with a fibre rich diet plenty of
fluid and appropriate exercise. A very safe bulking laxative to use is Psyllium husks these are widely
available and can be prepared by soaking in water and taking with plenty of
fluid. The husks will become mucilaginous after soaking and pull water into the
bowel as they pass through easing the passage of stool; transit time is 6-12
hours. Another gentle laxative herb is Yellow
Dock the root of this plant has a long history of use as a gentle cleanser.
It promotes the flow of bile and has a historic use in the treatment of skin
complaints as well as gently promoting colon function.
O’ Meara is a medical herbalist practicing full time in North Kildare. If you
are interested in a consultation please see www.herbalist.ie or call 087 2440301.