Spring Cleaning the Body
Simple Ways to Detox Naturally
by April Thompson
As we shake off the sluggishness of winter, many of us feel an urge to “spring clean” our bodies with a detox or cleanse. Yet health experts say such programs should help jumpstart new healthy habits and not necessarily be seen as a short-term fix.
“The air we breathe, the water we drink, the cosmetics we use, the materials we build with and most notably, the food that we eat, are loaded with chemicals that are toxic to our metabolism,” says Alejandro Junger, a Los Angeles cardiologist, author and founder of CleanProgram.com. “The systems in the body designed to clear toxicity are overwhelmed, and this leads to the imbalances and damage that is at the root of most diseases today.”
Detoxification functions are performed by many different organs and tissues, including intestinal flora, the immune system, the nervous system and the liver, so its imbalances can manifest in diverse ways, according to Junger. “Symptoms of detox imbalance include sleep and mood disorders, anxiety, rashes, lack of energy and libido, autoimmune disorders, inflammation and cancer.”
While some health professionals say that detoxes are unnecessary because the body is capable of cleansing itself, others make a compelling case for the need to help it along, given our heightened exposure to manmade toxic elements. Information of varying repute swirls around the internet, offering approaches ranging from juice cleanses to total fasts.
Everyday Toxin Cleaners
Simple dietary strategies can help sweep out toxins, explains Robin Foroutan, an integrative dietitian and nutritionist in New York City. She points to cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, collards and kale, which promote cytochromes P450, a family of enzymes critical in helping toxins clear the body. She also recommends foods high in fiber that can bind to toxins and bile, and transport them out of the body through the stool. Berries, green tea and turmeric are also helpful for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties; even water facilitates the excretion process, supports the lymphatic system and replenishes fluids lost through sweat. Using a water filter and eating organic foods when possible also reduces incoming toxins, she says.
Healthy smoothies are a great way to get water, fiber and easily digestible nutrients into our body at the same time, according to Junger. “When using a good, clean, protein powder in addition to fruits and leafy greens, healthy fats such as nuts, and coconut or cashew milk, a smoothie can provide us the nutrients needed to support our energy for hours,” he says. Adding herbs like mint or holy basil (tulsi) and spices like turmeric and cinnamon elevate both flavor and healing. Liquids such as celery juice provide highly concentrated nutrients and hydration, but lack the fiber of a blended drink. Both juices and smoothies give overtaxed digestive systems a needed break.
Fasting (occasionally for a prolonged period, such as three days without food) and intermittent fasting (abstaining from food for a shorter period, such as 16 hours per day on a regular basis) are great tools for deeper detoxification, says Junger. “Digestion takes energy and resources from the detox functions, so eating less, eating less often and allowing time for digestion to stop so that detox can intensify is crucial.”
For a comprehensive detox, experts recommend working with a health practitioner to assess toxic burdens and develop a personalized plan. Russell Jaffe, a physician in Ashburn, Virginia, crafts a detox program based on four self-assessments, including digestive transit time, urine pH, hydration levels and vitamin C levels.
Jaffe claims our bodies are burdened by excess acid, rendering them less resilient to stress and resulting in fatigue, illness and infection risks. “When we enjoy a diet rich in greens, fruits, vegetables, minerals and antioxidants, our cells become more alkaline and more resistant to everyday stress,” he states.
Experts emphasize that a short-term program must be part of a longer-lasting lifestyle and diet shift. “It is not enough to do periodic detoxes if you go back to old habits. I offer these programs as a jumpstart in hopes that participants feel so much better that they never want to go back to what they were doing and eating before,” says Junger.
Connect with Washington, D.C., freelance writer April Thompson at AprilWrites.com.