Why we need to detox
Just as we regularly take showers, wash our hair, brush our teeth and tend to the outside of our bodies, the internal systems of our body – most importantly our digestive system – benefit from regular cleansing and care.
Toxins are a product of our everyday lives and are related to our lifestyles, our diet and digestion, the health of our gut, our environment, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and our emotional patterns and tendencies. They are substances that are potentially harmful to the body; they lower our defences and predispose us to ill health. Free radical damage occurs due to the accumulation of toxins in the body and research highlights the role of free radicals in the ageing process, the development of many degenerative diseases and immunological problems.
If you experience symptoms such as fatigue, sluggish elimination, skin problems, allergies, frequent infections, bags under the eyes, abdominal bloating, menstrual difficulties, depression or foggy-mindedness, your body might be telling you it is ready for a detox! It may be time to change your eating habits, live a healthier lifestyle and cleanse your body of toxins so you can reap the benefits of being healthier with increased energy, vitality and enthusiasm for life.
Ayurveda gives us two levels of detoxification treatments: one that we can easily do at home and incorporate into our lives and one that requires deeper cleansing and the support of trained specialists.
Shamana involves enhancing digestion and elimination and is called ‘palliation therapy’. It is a slower and gentler method of detoxification, best suited to home treatment as it does not require the same amount of preparation or the stronger purification methods of panchakarma. It can be employed as part of a milder detox approach for those not needing or not being able to undergo deeper cleansing. Palliation therapy can be done at the junction of the seasons – such as winter into spring – and whenever needed, but not in cold weather. When done regularly can be as effective as panchakarma.
Shodana is the deep and thorough cleansing of the srotas known as ‘purification therapy’, or panchakarma, which necessitates residential care in special therapy centres. There are some existing panchakarma centres in Europe and in the United States but otherwise this is only available in India and Sri Lanka.
Why Detox in Spring?
In winter, the cold weather causes our bodies to contract, inhibiting the free flow of nutrients and wastes, and making it hard for the body to release toxins. It is a time for hibernation and storing our vital energy. It is best to do a detox only once the spring has melted the ice, the world around us has started to warm up and nature starts to burst into life again. Our bodies relax into the increasing warmth and our vital fluids start to flow more freely and by detoxing at this time we can be in tune with the seasons.
It is interesting how there is alignment between East and West regarding cleansing of toxins in spring. There are long standing traditions in Britain and Europe to do a spring detox using cleansing herbs like dandelion, nettles and cleavers, alongside eating a light diet with plenty of fresh greens. Spring is when the world wakes up – we can observe the rising of heat in the natural world, the flow of sap through the trees and the growth of plants all around us. In our bodies internal toxins, which have been accumulating through the winter, begin to surface too. If we eliminate them now we can lay a good foundation for health through the summer. Once cleansed of toxins, the body is able to operate its homeostatic mechanisms and maintain balance in body and mind unimpeded by toxic accumulations.
If your health is generally good you can do a fairly thorough home detox following simple guidelines. A short period of detoxification at least once a year is recommended, but not for pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and patients with chronic degenerative diseases, cancer or tuberculosis. If you suffer from chronic health problems you may have a more deep-seated state of toxicity, in which case it is better to consult a practitioner for their guidance on specific recommendations for your particular detox programme as it is possible that deeper cleansing therapy is needed.
- Enhancing good digestion
- Resting the organs through fasting;
- Stimulating the liver to clear toxins from the body;
- Promoting elimination through the bowels, kidneys and skin;
- Improving circulation of the blood and lymph using massage and exercise.
- This can then be followed by nourishing the body with healthy nutrients.
How Good is your Digestion?
Good digestion is vital for optimum health – incomplete or disordered digestion is where the first stages of disease begin. When our digestion is good, our food is digested and assimilated to nourish our tissues, and the waste products are passed out through regular bowel movements.
The waste products of incomplete digestion are the most common type of toxin. While agni is light, clear, hot and pure, ama is described as heavy, thick, cold, sticky and foul smelling. Incompletely digested food materials ferment and set up an internal environment that supports the growth of pathogenic bacteria, yeasts and parasites. Endotoxins irritate the gut lining causing small holes in the gut wall, (known as leaky gut syndrome), which allows molecules of undigested and partially digested food as well as toxins through the gut wall. These wreak havoc with our immune system and predispose us to food allergies and autoimmune disease.
Our ability to digest well is greatly influenced by our reactions to our external environment. The wrong diet and lifestyle, incompatible food combinations, the effect of the weather or season, repressed emotions and stress can all adversely affect our digestion. When food is not digested well, partially digested or undigested foods remain in the gut, then ferment and produce toxins which enter the blood stream and circulate throughout the body. Toxins in the gut are increased by eating too much or too little, eating when stressed or before the previous meal is properly digested, by eating late or going to sleep on a full stomach, or by eating foods that are left over, processed, old or fermented. Gut toxicity blocks the assimilation of beneficial nutrients, meaning that the right nutrients and remedies cannot be properly utilised by the body.
The great news is that your digestive system can clear toxicity from the body if you just support it a little through dietary changes;
- Take good quality probiotic supplements to help balance the bacterial population of your gut (we like Wise Owl E505)
- Make sure 70% of your diet are vegetables to provide enough fibre for regular bowel movements and to support a healthy gut flora
- Include detoxifying foods such as beetroot, radishes, artichokes, cabbage, broccoli, spirulina and chlorella, and drink at least 2 litres of water a day
- Relax! It is not enough to eat well if you are tense, stressed, over worked and you don’t allow enough time for rest, relaxation and sleep. Burning the candle at both ends is a debt which will inevitably be repaid!
- Fast: the length and type of fast depends on your dosha and how you are feeling at the time. Fasting for vata and pitta could be a day of light nourishing food such as kitcheri, whereas kapha may prefer a day of only herbal teas or light broths. The aim is to free up energy for cleansing and healing, so long or very severe fasts that deplete the body are not recommended.
Taking time to de-stress is of paramount importance. Stress – pressure from external demands or internal expectation – is one of the biggest issues in many peoples’ lives and it triggers your body to release stress-hormones into the bloodstream. While these can provide the energy and motivation to work hard or meet a deadline, in large amounts they create toxins and slow down detoxification enzymes in the liver. It’s a good idea while you are physically detoxing to think about emotionally detoxing as well. Take stock of your life with a view to minimising stress, finding new ways of coping with it or increasing your resilience to it.
Yoga and meditation are simple and effective ways to relax and help transform your attitude to life and its inevitable stresses. We all have a wealth of experience, much of it challenging, which may remain unprocessed and unresolved and allowing time for processing may be easier than you think. One of the simplest ways to do this is by having regular quiet-times or practicing meditation so that we let emotions come to the surface. There are many free yoga and meditation tutorials online, you can try this 20 minute beginners guided meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn for instance. In the same way that some physical detoxes require the support of trained practitioners, some emotional detoxes also require external support to process and clear the emotional toxins.
You can cleanse and protect your liver by taking herbs such as dandelion root, burdock and milk thistle, adding turmeric to your diet and drinking green tea. Taking a supplement of vitamin C helps the body produce glutathione, a liver compound that also helps break down toxins.
Yoga, Qi Gong, T’ai chi and pilates are all great exercise that are accessible for most people. However, simply walking in the fresh air is also excellent – and free! One hour every day is ideal – but even ten or twenty minutes is great if you are busy. Practicing breathing deeply will also allow more oxygen to circulate through your system and enhance your body’s ability to repair itself.
There are several herbs that could prove very useful in clearing toxins from the gut:
- Cat’s claw, garlic, myrrh, andrographis, olive leaf and reishi mushroom are all excellent for combating ‘unfriendly’ gut micro-organisms.
- Oregon grape, elecampane, dill, burdock, bearberry, calendula, Echinacea, fennel and kelp act similarly.
- Aloe vera juice, (25 mls twice daily) is soothing, immune enhancing and combats dysbiosis.
However effective a detox is, prevention is the key to health, so the best plan is to prevent a build-up of toxins through a healthy lifestyle:
- Exercise every day to improve your digestion and elimination
- Eat a healthy diet which as much organic food as possible
- Do a daily oil massage to flush out toxins through the skin
- Drink herbal teas regularly to improve digestion
- Practice relaxation or meditation every day to help reduce stress. Enjoy yourself!
- Avoid smoking, the use of recreational drugs, coffee, alcohol and white sugar and over-work.
Let us know if these tips help you live a more balanced life.
Next month I will be talking about rasayana – replenishing our energy after the spring detox.
See you then!
It is recommended that we should detox at least once a year and a short detoxifying programme is generally safe, but is not recommended for pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and patients with chronic degenerative diseases, cancer or tuberculosis.