Are you Summer ready? Over the last month or so, my inbox has filled up with newsletters and promotional emails that I really should unsubscribe from telling me that it’s time to Detox, and get my body Summer ready. Of course, in this day and age where the importance of appearance takes precedence over anything else of substance in our wellbeing, ‘detox’ for most people is all about losing those excess kilos and sloughing off the the remnant vestiges of winter hibernation, and winter comfort foods. And there’s nothing essentially wrong with this (apart from it all being mostly about appearance rather than health). Traditionally, in Western Herbal Medicine we see the use of Spring tonic herbs here. Herbs that moved the lymph, cleansed the blood, nourished the organs of elimination and allowed our bodies to function effectively again for the demands of the activities of the warmer months.
The term ‘Detox’, however, means different things to different people. To the medical community, it is often referred to in the context of drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes. To the post-modern crowd, it’s a trend that one participates in for a period of 3-7 days to either lose a couple of kgs quickly as mentioned above, or ether have a short break from alcohol or coffee (usually after the binge-fest of the silly season), or for the more impressionable crowd- because some celebrity does it. For most of the old-school Herbalists, Naturopaths, Chiropractors, and Holistic Physicians, ‘detox’ – or true detoxification, is the basis for healing.
Genuine, long-lasting healing.
This is also what it means for me in my practice. In it’s truest sense, as a tool for healing, health and wellbeing, Detoxification is about eliminating from our lives the root causes of and contributing factors to dis-ease development, and supporting the systems that eliminate these factors from the body. It is also about replacing them with the support and nourishment of our most basic needs. It encompasses the physical, as well as the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of our existence.
It becomes an ever-dynamic lifestyle practice that continually strives to take us onward and upward to optimum wellness on all levels of our being.
In other words, ‘Detox isn’t just for Summer, Detox is for Life.’
Let’s get back to basics for a minute, and break down what detoxification actually means in the context of our body. Metabolic detoxification is the process that occurs via our liver that is responsible for taking endogenous chemicals (eg: made by our body, such as hormones, etc), making them water-soluble, binding them and then eliminating them via the kidneys and the bowels. In the liver, there are two phases of the detoxification process which performs these functions of making the toxins water-soluble and then binding them so they are no longer active. Transport of these deactivated toxins to be eliminated from the body makes the third stage. This process also occurs with exogenous (produced outside the body. e.g.; environmental toxins, food toxins) chemicals.
Liver Detox pathways
- Phase I (Cytochrome P450 enzymes render the chemicals water-soluble) >>>> this creates intermediate metabolites which can actually be more active and therefore more damaging to tissue >>> Phase II involves conjugation pathways that bind the active metabolites rendering them inactive, and thus more water soluble>>>>> Phase III involves transportation of the conjugated inactive metabolites to the kidneys and bowels for elimination.
The liver uses a tremendous amount of anti-oxidants (both produced by the body -eg: SOD or SuperOxideDismutase and glutathione, – and taken from the diet) during these phases in order to protect the tissues, and to bind the metabolites and make them less toxic.
The liver does not function alone however, and there is a support system of detoxification that involves the lymphatic system, the kidneys, the colon, and the skin. (and the lungs, in terms of eliminating carbon dioxide)
In it’s most simplistic description, each cell in your body possesses the same metabolic needs as your body as a whole. That is: digestion -> assimilation -> utilisation-> and elimination. All of these stages must function effectively in order for the organism to be wholly well. More often than not, ensuring that our elimination on both a cellular and a systemic level is functioning optimally ensures that our ability to digest our food and assimilate and utilise the nutritional value of it is also optimally effective. And the fruits of this will be how efficiently we recover, repair, and regenerate.
In other words, detoxification is both a macro and micro process. By reducing or eliminating our exposure to environmental toxins, to toxic and junk food items, to synthetic hormones and pharmaceuticals, and to the endogenous chemicals produced by toxic long-term stress, it relieves the pressure on the metabolic process outlined above. While our lymphatic system stores and helps process environmental toxins (including heavy metals, and synthetic hormones), each cell also eliminates it’s waste into the interstitial fluid (the fluid between the cells) that then drains into the lymphatic fluid. The volume of our lymphatic fluid is three times greater than that of our blood.
The liver in itself possesses a comprehensive network of lymphatic vessels, and although most toxins that come through the digestive system are absorbed into the portal vein and processed directly by the liver, the majority of cellular waste product, as well as microbial waste is carried, stored, and processed by the lymphatic system. The lymph therefore has a significant role in our immunological, as well as our inherent detoxification system. The gut (small and large intestines) has a very dense network of lymphatic vessels and nodes associated with it. While this has much to do with our absorption of fatty acids (which are taken into the lymph- and either utilised or stored), if this lymphatic network is congested in any way, not only will it impede elimination via the bowels, it will also impede the absorption of essential nutrients. Unfortunately, lymphatic stagnation is a common occurrence in most Western nations, and largely contributes to the obesity epidemic. As we have moved toward a more sedentary lifestyle with the use of televisions, video games, and computers, and coupled with an unnatural fibre-less diet, we have severely crippled our ability to eliminate effectively. The lymphatic system largely relies on the action of skeletal muscles to move lymph through it’s vessels. And it’s a one way street. This means that moving our body is critical to the regulation of our metabolism. Rebounding (bouncing on a mini trampoline), as well as dry skin brushing and lymphatic drainage massage are useful practices to help move this lymph along. In old school and traditional herbal medicine, we had a class of herbs based on their action of what was termed ‘blood cleansers’ or depuratives. This is now known as an ‘alterative’. It refers to the ability of these herbs to regulate our metabolism (how well our body functions to digest, absorb, assimilate, utilise, and eliminate), via this action of promoting lymphatic flow and the subsequent ability to filter either via the kidneys, the colon, or the skin. The liver is also often supported by these herbs. This category includes such herbs as nettles, cleavers, burdock, dandelion, violets, blue flag, and red clover.
Therefore supporting these systems during a detoxification protocol is vital, not only as a means to prevent disease development, but also particularly if the detox protocol is used to bring about healing for specific disease. Oftentimes we find that when this basic process of metabolism is cleansed, supported, and nourished, other systems such as the nervous, the cardiovascular, and the endocrine system also come into alignment. The body is continually seeking a state of harmony, it continually strives toward life. Everything is connected, and so when we seek optimum wellbeing we must approach it with a holistic mindset. And this doesn’t just mean supporting the liver, lymph, kidneys, colon, and skin.
As I mentioned before, Detoxification becomes a lifestyle. Otherwise for many people who simply return to eating, drinking, and living how they did before their ‘detox’, it can become akin to yo-yo dieting. And we all know that that is dangerous.
Let’s face it, we now live in a chaotic, dangerous world. Our food, water, and air have all been polluted or corrupted to some extent. And our hearts and minds have also been polluted, to some extent. It behoves us then, for the sake of personal and planetary wellbeing, to become aware of this toxicity we live in. And that’s the first step: Awareness. As you sit reading this, no doubt you are aware of how you feel in your own skin right now. Are you comfortable? Is your gut happy? Or do you feel bloated? Is your movement fluid, or is it pained? Do you breathe deeply, freely? Or is it difficult? Do you see the joy in your life? Or do you only see darkness?
How do you feel?
For many people who have decided to take responsibility for their own wellbeing, the awareness of how they feel, or how they are living, is enough motivation to begin to make changes, to begin to detoxify their lives and their bodies of those things that don’t really work for their best interest. For some it’s the awareness that they’re taking 12 different medications to try and negate the side effects of the first medication.
No matter where you are at in your life, there is something you can do to begin to free yourself and rise to your optimum potential. And this will have a ripple on effect throughout your life, and that of those around you. The following are eight of the most basic needs for our optimal wellbeing. These apply to everyone of every age, no matter what stage of health they’re at, or what level of detoxification they’re doing;
- fresh, clean air
- fresh, clean water
- fresh, clean whole foods.
- movement (physical activity)
- positive human contact
- time in the natural environment
- a relationship with God
The last three speak of becoming aware of a need to commune with something greater than ourselves. And yes, it is something we ALL need.
Whether your detoxification adventure is just beginning and you are removing processed, refined, and genetically modified foods from your diet, or you’re further along the track and about to embark on a deeper level of healing through fasting or juice feasting, meeting all of these eight basic needs will provide a strong foundation. With each level that you engage in, you should ideally increase in awareness of how your environment effects you, and how certain foods effect you. As a result of this, you may also then suddenly becoming more aware of thought and behavioural patterns that you may have. This is why learning the art and science of an effective detoxification lifestyle is not just a crazy, fad yo-yo diet, or eating disorder. It becomes a lifestyle that begins to awaken and engage our awareness of our physical, as well as emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. On a higher level, a spiritual detox involves being aware of what we feed our mind – what media do we ‘feast’ on, what are the moral or ethical codes of the people we associate with, and how our own thoughts and things we dwell on determine our actions and behaviours. Oftentimes, fasting (either water or dry) will make the way clear for this awareness to arise.
Detoxification as a tool for healing, or for preventing disease and switching off genetic pre-disposition, is something that becomes foundational.
In clinical practice it will help facilitate the effectiveness of healing adjuncts such as herbal protocols. For example, if one suffers from asthma or eczema, a herbal protocol specific to enhancing the immune response, dealing with inflammation, and actions specific to these conditions, will only be effective in the long term if known allergens and inflammatory foods, and other causative factors are removed. In the case of a cold or ‘flu, treatment will only be truly effective if a fast is also undertaken. Hippocrates once said, “ Everyone has a doctor within him; we just have to help him in his work. The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food. But to eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness.”
The following is my vision of what this detoxification lifestyle looks like in practice. This Ministry of Radicle Wellness. Seen here as a flower, once all inflammatory foods and substances are removed, including processed, refined, junk, genetically modified food high in sugar and denatured fats, we can move anywhere around the petals to maintain or enhance a well life. The outer rings look at supportive measures such as a continuation of physical needs, as well as adjunct therapies and practices that help support and nourish our inherent systems of elimination outlined above. The outermost ring reflects the fruits that this lifestyle encourages, particularly as we move closer to a Sprit-infused lifestyle.
So, the question remains, are you readying your body for Life, or just for the Summer?