As the first signs of spring's arrival begin to peer through the darkness of winter and the dull freeze begins to thaw, one's thoughts often turn to spring-cleaning. It's our way of mimicking the ritual of cleansing and renewal that takes place in nature as the seasons change. With the return of sunshine and longer days, the bloom of wildflowers dotting the landscape all around us, so comes the desire to start anew.
While cleaning house and getting rid of the clutter we've accumulated over the winter months seems almost second nature to most of us, how many of us routinely ponder the importance or necessity of a little internal spring-cleaning?
Our ancestors engaged in cleansing rituals at least twice a year –usually in the spring and in the fall. They probably weren't fully aware of their bodies' need to eliminate old cells and the toxins generated by their bodies' normal ongoing metabolic processes in order to build healthy new tissue. And yet instinctively, they would ingest the herbs and plant foods that provided them with the detoxification necessary to promote natural healing.
We've come a long way since those days and are now faced with an unfortunate fact of modern life -- routine exposure to a significant amount of additional toxins. Even if you don't work directly with chemicals or live near a chemical or industrial plant or an obvious source of pollution, you still have dozens of environmental toxins --pesticides, heavy metals, solvents, and byproducts from plastics –circulating in your bloodstream and stored up in your fat cells. In fact, research indicates that the average American is exposed to a staggering 100,000 chemicals, 25% of which are hazardous to human health.
With all that toxic exposure on top of the internal toxins generated through metabolic waste, it's not hard to see how over time, the organ systems of the body responsible for processing and eliminating toxins become overloaded and inefficient. When toxins start to accumulate and increase in your tissues, a variety of conditions can show up --from fatigue, allergies, and asthma, to digestive disturbances, skin problems, or painful joints. If you experience these symptoms, it's a good bet that inflammation is also present, and too much inflammation can lead to cellular damage, chronic disease, recurrent infections, and general immune system deficiencies.
Cleansing your body is sometimes compared to changing the oil in your car –it's something you need to do on a regular basis, whether you think you need to or not! And like a car whose oil hasn't been changed when needed, without proper cleansing, you too can become sluggish and unable to operate at your maximum capacity. This situation is often further compounded by other lifestyle factors like dehydration, lack of exercise, excess caffeine, stress, anxiety, lack of dietary fiber, constipation, and inadequate consumption of fresh vegetables and whole living foods.
So how does one cleanse? First, it's important to understand the difference between internal cleansing and detoxification. Cleansing the colon moves out harmful waste, restores a healthy digestive environment of beneficial bacteria, removes parasites and other damaging organisms, and restores the natural balance of things, while detoxification has to do with cleansing organs such as the kidneys or liver, and fluids such as blood and lymph. That's why when cleansing, you always start with the colon, followed by the liver, and then the kidneys, as needed.
Traditional cleanses tend to be short in duration and more intense – anywhere from a 1-day to a 1-week juice and/or water fast done in conjunction with herbal detoxifying supplements that often contain laxatives to speed up elimination, and enemas to literally "cleanse" the colon. Then there are more gradual and less extreme cleanses that are done over a longer period of time – anywhere from 10 days to 2 or 3 months — but are equally effective. These typically consist of diet modifications combined with low dose herbal products and in some cases, accompanied by colon hydrotherapy.
There are a dizzying array of cleansing products you can choose from, so before you run out to your local natural foods store or search the Internet, here are 7 tips to keep in mind:
If you cleanse too hard, as can happen during a fast, you often end up with a "healing crisis" –an acute condition brought on by the treatment. This is due to the rapid release of toxins into your system, which is faster than your organs can handle them. Symptoms range from headaches and nausea to fever and rashes, and while these usually only last for the first couple of days, it can be very unpleasant depending on how toxic you are.
While it's true that cleansing can jump start your weight loss efforts, be wary of products that are really weight loss products claiming to be detox and cleansing products too. These products may contain harsh ingredients and chemicals to jump-start a detox program that can also be harmful to the body. In many cases they are just liquid-type diets intended for rapid weight loss by reducing or controlling calories, and don't offer much by way of actual cleansing.
One of the simplest and most common ways to cleanse your system is to simply increase your intake of quality fiber. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and goes through the body undigested until it reaches the colon. Fiber also stimulates the liver to release toxins back into the digestive tract, so they can then be removed by the colon.
There are 2 types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber (like psyllium husks) absorbs toxins and is the more gentle of the two. Insoluble fiber (like oat bran) sweeps the colon and is harsher, but when combined with liquid bentonite, it's remarkably effective at pulling material off colon walls that's been there for years. Always remember, when eating more fiber, drink more water because fiber absorbs fluids.
You don't have to starve to cleanse. A good meal plan is the most significant part of a good cleansing program that's not based on fasting. For at least 2 weeks, eliminate bread or flour products of any type (including pasta, cakes, cookies, cereal or crackers), dairy products, tropical fruit, fermented foods, sweets, caffeine and alcohol. Other foods to avoid are nightshade foods (eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms), shellfish, peanuts, and grapes.
During this time, your diet should consist of 80% alkaline and neutral ash-forming foods like green vegetables, non-tropical fruit, potatoes, squash, alkaline grains like millet, coldwater fish, onions, garlic, green tea and almonds. Eat less than 20% acid-forming beans, lentils, eggs, and grains (oats, corn, and wheat). Depending what diet you follow, you can have up to 8 oz of lean animal protein (fish, turkey, chicken or beef) a day.
A final component to include in colon cleansing is daily essential fatty acids from good quality oils. EFAs such as fish oils, flax, and borage oil can lubricate and soothe the colon.
As part of your detoxification, support your blood and lymph systems with teas containing blood-purifying herbs like burdock root, red clover or dandelion. Help blood and lymph circulate more effectively with dry brushing, or massage, and encourage toxin elimination through the skin via sweat-inducing exercise, Epsom salt baths, or dry saunas.
Maintain a healthy internal environment by adding probiotics like plain yogurt or kefir and naturally fermented foods to your regular diet, to support the proliferation of healthy bacteria in your gut.
Whether your goal is to maintain longer-term health or simply to get back on track to better nutrition, a program of regular cleansing (i.e. at least twice a year, or ideally, once a quarter) can make all the difference in how you look and feel.
Copyright 2010 Dropwise Essentials
Donya Fahmy, is a green business owner and the creator of Dropwise Essentials' spa-quality aromatherapy body products that help you safely relieve stress, increase vitality, improve confidence, or simply manage your emotional state any time or place without popping a pill. For more free tips and valuable information visit www.dropwise.com and subscribe to the Dropwise Health & Beauty News Ezine or blog feed.