Detoxing 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 routines.
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 the body.
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 body.
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.
Dandelion 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.
Milk 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.
Lymphatic 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 and gallbladder.
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.