detoxifying herbs used in Chinese medicine

Try a Simple Detox

Braddock Ray
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Not only are you apt to feel better after such a program, you might also lose some weight in the process. Before you begin, learn why a cleanse may be essential and how to detoxify effectively—and safely.

A Toxic World

“Toxicity has become a great concern in our modern world,” says integrative physician Elson M. Haas, MD. “We ingest new chemicals, use more drugs, eat more sugary and refined foods, and abuse ourselves daily with stimulants and/or sedatives,” he explains.

“Today, more than ever before, our bodies are bombarded by chemicals, environmental pollutants, nasty bacteria, and parasites,” adds nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS.

As part of the Human Toxome Project, the Environmental Working Group found 171 industrial compounds and pollutants—including chemicals linked to birth defects and developmental problems, immune system toxicity, and cancer—in nine adults from across the United States.

Some experts believe that our bodies contain up to 700 distinct chemicals at one time. “Toxicity is a major problem today, and you don’t see the symptoms until it’s too late,” says Gaetano Morello, ND.

The Body Toxic

Fats—especially oxidized fat and cholesterol—and free radicals act as internal toxins. “The underlying cause of chronic disease comes from the increased production of a natural fatty acid called arachidonic acid (AA), which can be incredibly toxic at high enough concentrations,” says Barry Sears, PhD. “Oddly enough, accumulation of excess body fat is initially your body’s attempt to protect you by encapsulating or trapping this toxic fat in your fat cells so it doesn’t attack your other organs,” he explains.

Trouble is, toxins won’t stay trapped forever and are not only linked to obesity but also to chronic disease. Left unchecked, the flow of this kind of toxic fat into the bloodstream leads to a long list of chronic conditions: allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases (arthritis and lupus), cancer, heart disease, inflammatory conditions (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), neurological disorders (Alzheimer’s disease, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and Type 2 diabetes.

Research also links a toxic body to chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and Parkinson’s disease.

Love Your Liver

“Keeping your metabolic engines running and your body toxin free is a 24/7 job for your liver,” says Brenda Watson, CNC. “A properly functioning liver is able to clear 99 percent of toxins from the blood before that blood is generated to the rest of the body.”

But this organ is “more than a washing machine for blood; it carries on many important metabolic activities” breaking down protein and affecting carb and fat metabolism. “Furthermore, the liver acts as a huge storage unit,” she adds. “In addition to removing toxic substances from the blood, it can also store them.”

The liver needs specific nutrients—amino acids, glutathione, and sulfur—to function properly. “If there is any mishap or missing nutrient in the assembly line as toxic substances get converted to less toxic substances for removal, your liver and subsequently your entire body may suffer,” Watson explains.

With adequate nutrients, fat-soluble toxins (those that dissolve only in fat and are commonly stored in fatty tissues and cell membranes) are converted into a more easily excreted water-soluble form, which then goes on to the kidneys and bowels for excretion.

How Detox Works

“Think of detoxification as a way of giving your body the equipment it needs to effectively act as its own shield against these incoming toxins,” says Watson. A detox program helps the body clear toxins by neutralizing and transforming these hazardous wastes while better balancing internal pH and ridding excess congestion and mucus. “Detoxification helps fuel the engines that will literally clean up your body at a cellular level and support its natural operations,” she explains.

“Almost everyone needs to detox and rest their body from time to time,” says Dr. Haas, who considers internal cleansing just one part of a trilogy of nutritional action (along with building or toning and balancing or maintaining health). “Detoxification involves dietary and lifestyle changes that reduce the intake of toxins while improving elimination,” he adds.

Start by drinking purified water and adding more soluble fiber to your diet. A more rigorous cleansing plan calls for consuming only fresh fruits and veggies plus whole grains, raw and sprouted seeds, as well as legumes.

Dr. Haas recommends trying a weeklong soup cleanse (based on healthy oils and veggies). Or try a macrobiotic plan: Eat brown rice three or four times daily, along with green or herbal teas and miso or vegetable soups.

For anyone cleansing, “I recommend eliminating the big five: alcohol, caffeine, dairy, sugar, and wheat,” he adds.

Added Support

No matter what type of detox plan you choose, conscious breathing, meditation, and visualization can be useful. Treat yourself to a massage during your detox regimen. And writing in your journal is a great way to set healthy goals for the future while describing your feelings during this cleansing process.

Watson notes that key supplements support detox and your overall wellness plan. These include a high-quality multivitamin/mineral, omega 3s, calcium and magnesium for women and magnesium alone for men, probiotics, and fiber supplements.

Green formulas (in juice, powder, or supplement form) consist of algae such as chlorella, barley grass, or wheat grass and offer detoxifying amino acids, minerals, and antioxidants. These alkalizing formulas also encourage a healthy pH balance in the body. Look for a variety of cleansing products and kits at the store that gives you remedies. Seek well-studied ingredients in a kit, advises Dr. Gaetoano Morello, and avoid products with too many components. (Six to ten may be ideal.) He adds that products should clearly list each ingredient and the amount contained in a serving.

Because everyone’s metabolism and reasons for detox are different, pay attention to your body and stop using any products that cause discomfort or concern. Don’t overlook herbal support. “All cultures have traditionally used eliminative herbs that have laxative, diuretic (increasing urine flow), diaphoretic (sweat inducing), and blood-purifying properties to remove toxins from the body,” says Watson. “While drugs add to the toxic burden of the body, specific herbs can actually assist the body’s natural detoxification process.”