Stressed, fatigued, or saddled with winter weight?

It may be time for a Detox!

Why is it that so many people are drawn to the idea of detoxing?  What is it that we are looking for?  The fad of detoxification is probably linked to the growing awareness of the impact that our environment can have upon our health.  Perhaps it is also a way in which people feel that they can regain control of their physical being in the face of a seemingly unavoidable onslaught of chemicals in our food, water and homes.

The idea of body detoxification is not a new one, and is common to many societies across the globe.  Different approaches have been used:  fasting is a practice in many cultures and religions, and enemas and colonics are a feature of many health cures.  Some eastern mystics advocate drinking one’s own urine as a means of cleansing body tissues, and Himalayan yogis have been known to swallow lengths of cloth and pass them through their system.  Despite there being a resurgence of interest in the ancient practice of detoxification, you will be pleased to hear that the means do not need to be quit so dramatic!

Detoxification is the means by which the body rids itself of any unwanted chemicals.  These chemicals can be the waste products of your own body processes and of the bacteria and other foreign bodies, such as germs, that inhabit your intestines.  They can also enter your body from the air you breath, the food and water you consume, and substances that are absorbed through your skin.  In fact, in the industrialized world, it is virtually impossible to breathe or eat without taking in toxic chemicals.  Nearly every molecule the body deals with, including those that are naturally produced, needs to be disarmed and eliminated once it has served its purpose.  Typical examples of the process include dealing with the ammonia left over after proteins have been used, disarming hormones that have served their purpose, and getting rid of dead cells that have been removed by the immune system.  This process is an expensive one, physically speaking, using up a large part of the energy the body expends on metabolism.

The liver and kidneys are the main organs involved in eliminating toxins.  The skin and bowels are also major organs of elimination.  Keeping these in peak condition allows us to feel clear-headed and energetic.

The issue of toxins – and therefore detoxification – centers on two important themes:

  • The type and strength of toxins to which we are exposed. Extreme examples of this occur when workers in particular jobs, such as agriculture, chemical plants or dry cleaners, are adversely affected, sometimes seriously, by their work environment – the victims of Gulf War syndrome are still trying to prove their case.  More mundane examples of exposure to strong toxins are people who drink or smoke heavily and who pay the price with their health.
  • The individual’s ability to deal with those toxins. We all have differing capacities for detoxification.  The detoxification capabilities between different people may vary by as much as five fold, because of their genetic make-up.  Two people in the same car may be exposed to the same rush hour smog, one may feel fine while the other may develop itchy eyes, an irritated throat, runny nose and headache.
  • It is likely that the person who exhibits signs of excess toxicity, such as a sluggish metabolism, a feeling of permanent tiredness, adverse food reactions, or multiple chemical sensitivities, is not as capable of handling the load as the next person.  There are a number of reasons why this may be so, and we will look at these later.

In 1927 Johanna Brandt wrote a book called The Grape Cure that detailed her return to health after following a mono-food fast using grapes.  In the book she talks about the “Seven Doctors of Nature,” which she lists in the following order: Fasting, Air, Water, Sunlight, Exercise, Food and Mind.  Her ideas have stood the test of time and remain as relevant today as when she devised them.  Let’s look briefly at each of these “Doctors of Nature,” but in an order that I prefer, and with an up-to-date view point of each.

  • Without air we are not alive – breathing air is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do on this earth.  Learning to breathe deeply to fill the lower part of our lungs allows proper circulation of oxygen to the tissues.  Air quality is important, and while there is little that we can do to avoid the pollution of, say, inner cities, there is much that we can do to improve our body’s resistance to the pollution, and to improve the air quality in our homes.
  • After air, water is the second most vital nutrient, without which we cannot live. Looking after the quality of your water, and drinking plenty of it, is one of the most important health-giving steps you can take.
  • Along with both other animals and the plant kingdom, we respond to sunlight.  Although we have managed to punch a hole in the ozone layer, and it is obvious that extended exposure to intense sunlight can lead to skin damage, regular exposure to gentle sunlight, sufficient to manufacture vitamin D in our skins, is a vital element of a health program.  Getting outdoors daily, however, especially in the winter months, is something many people no longer do, as we live and work cloistered in buildings.
  • An important part of any detox program is to balance our mental energies and to focus on our goals.  In addition to detoxing our bodies, we can also get rid of our mental clutter.  This usually involves creating a calm environment with a minimum of distractions, which enables us to channel our energies and resolve whatever is giving us cause for worry.  When you achieve this, then you can truly say that you have been detoxed!  Destructive emotions, such as hate, fear, self-pity and resentment create their own toxicity by affecting hormone balance, digestion and blood flow.
  • We are made to move.  To remain static, behind a desk or in front of the TV, for hours and even days on end, only serves to seize up our joints and weaken our muscles.  Moving does not necessarily mean a strenuous workout; it can be an invigorating walk, getting on with physical tasks that you have been putting off, or merely enjoying life – just make sure you move around regularly.  Massage is another way of getting the body “moving”, and while it is not a substitute for exercise, it is a potent tool for encouraging the                body to get rid of toxins.
  • The quality of the food we eat is the main focus.  You wouldn’t put substandard fuel in your brand-new Rolls Royce and expect it to perform, so why put substandard or the wrong food for your body chemistry into your mouth?  In addition to food, there are a number of herbs that have been shown over the millennia to be effective at encouraging restoration of health by supporting the major organs of detoxification.  Concentrated nutrients can also provide this support.  We will look at these later.
  • A modified fast (in which certain foods are allowed, rather than just a water fast) is one of the quickest ways of allowing your body to repair itself.  Even if you do not manage to fast as often as you would like, you can still fast from particular substances.  If you have never gone for a month without coffee, then now is your opportunity to do so, and to see how you reap the benefits.  Fasting is something that your body understands, you just need to make your mind understand it as well.