By Aimee Hughes, Naturopathic Doctor
Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a pollution-free environment, where we drank only the purest of water and ate naturally untainted foods? Where the homes we lived in were free of chemicals and the air we breathed, water in which we swam, and even the clothes hugging our skin were clean of any artificial substances?
Of course, this idealistic notion has probably never been the case, and is especially impractical today. That is why the next best thing we can do for our health is to cleanse our bodies of these toxins from time to time through various methods of detoxification.
Detoxification refers to the elimination of poisons or toxins. Due to the huge amounts of today’s environmental contaminants, our bodies are in serious need of regular cleansing to reduce damage to our immune systems and metabolism. Detoxification is vital to maximize the body’s energy and to prevent chronic illness. It is also a time-honoured way to keep digestive elimination regular, circulation under control, and stress to a minimum. Detoxification both maintains good health and promotes healing from illnesses.
Common methods of detoxification influenced by cultures around the world are described here. Some are physical approaches that speed toxin removal from tissues so they can be excreted. Others are plant or food based, which treat the body to loads of immune-boosting substances that inactivate toxins and enhance their elimination.
Massage, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, is an excellent method to improve lymph movement and blood flow. That, in turn, aids in getting cellular waste products and accumulated toxins out of tissues, into the bloodstream, and to the kidneys where they are eliminated in urine.
Melinda Pizzano, L.M.T., matches specific massage techniques to a client’s constitution. One of her favorites is a salt massage or salt glow. “I use this method to stimulate the large lymph glands and exfoliate the skin, as the skin is the largest organ of elimination.” She uses a blend of salt, oil, and an assortment of herbs and sugars during the massage, then rubs it off with hot towels. Melinda adds, “Swedish massage, which is a more vigorous rubbing technique that really stimulates the lymph and circulatory systems, might be better for someone else, while the lymphatic drainage technique might suit another individual.”
Aromatic essential oils such as lemon and grapefruit enhance the detoxification process, as does regularity of treatments. Ms. Pizzano suggests massage be enjoyed on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis to ensure the treatments reach the body’s deepest layers, where unwanted substances build up over time.
Hyperthermia techniques, which elevate body temperature slightly to remove toxins, have been used throughout history, such as by ancient Greek physicians, in the ornate bath complexes of the Romans, in sweat lodges of the Native Americans, and in the steam baths of the Scandinavians. These techniques are still very popular today. Steam baths, hot tubs, and saunas in particular are favourite ways to get your heart beating and your blood circulating, which improves toxin transfer from tissues to the bloodstream, then to the liver, which chemically alters many harmful substances into harmless ones.
Further, according to authors Patricia J. Benjamin and Francis M. Tappan in Tappan’s Handbook of Healing Massage Techniques, “Steam rooms help clear the sinuses and relieve respiratory congestion. Steam also raises the body temperature and causes sweating.” A cold shower following a steam bath washes off toxins released in sweat and brings body temperature down to normal.
Be sure to drink adequate amounts of water before, during, and after heat treatments. The powerful detoxification process takes place when the body reaches 101 to 103 degrees F. Note that one’s pulse rate should not exceed 130 or 140. Check with your physician to see if this technique is right for you.
Dry skin brushing is another European technique that has been used for centuries. Not only does it remove toxins accumulated in dead skin cells, it enhances circulation. Dr. Bernard Jensen (author of Dr. Jensen’s Guide To Better Bowel Care) recommends in his book, “your daily regime should begin with skin brushing for a period of three to five minutes. I believe skin brushing is one of the finest of all ‘baths.’ No soap can wash the skin as clean as the new skin that you have under the old. You make a new top layer of skin every twenty-four hours. Skin brushing removes the old layer and lets this clean new layer come to the surface.” He recommends, “the whole body (except the face) should be brushed one-half hour after rising and prior to the morning bath or shower. You may wish to skin brush again before retiring for the night.”
Use an all-natural vegetable fibre brush with a long handle to reach out-of-the-way places. Brush from the outermost points—the feet and hands—toward the centre of your body; brush bottoms of the feet, as nerve endings here effect the entire body. Brush across your upper back and down the front and back of your torso. Use lighter strokes over breasts and do not brush the nipples. Wash your brush every few weeks in water and let it dry. Feel the sensation of newly invigorated skin!
Foods and beverages
Certain foods and beverages aid in inactivating toxins or in removing them. These include fruits and fruit juices, fresh vegetable juices, chlorophyll-rich foods, herbal teas, and sea plants. For optimal results, these foods should be organically grown and consumed fresh.
Blend or juice your favourite fruits in the morning for a detoxifying breakfast. Fruit juices speed up metabolism to release waste quickly and have an alkalising effect (acid-neutralising) on the blood; citrus fruits and their juices in particular are rich in alkaline salts, mainly potassium. High-fiber fruits aid digestive regularity and stabilise insulin levels. Together, these properties of fruits reduce fat storage, speed metabolism, and minimise sugar cravings. Fruits should be eaten by themselves, without protein or complex carbohydrates, and before noon for best energy conversion and cleansing benefits.
Fresh vegetable juices provide the body with necessary vitamins, minerals, and enzymes to power the natural detoxifying activities of cells. For example, a combination of three carrots, three celery stalks, ½ bunch spinach, and ½ bunch parsley is high in potassium and is one of the most effective juices for cleansing blood and tissues, neutralising acids, and rebuilding cells.
Leafy green vegetables have chlorophyll, a detoxifying agent that helps clear the skin, cleanse the kidneys, and cleanse and build the blood. Eating any chlorophyll-rich food will help to boost immunity, treat illness, and rid the body of unwanted substances. Spirulina (blue-green algae) and chlorella (green algae) have become popular supplements due to their extremely high chlorophyll content. Powdered concentrates of these green ‘superfoods’ may be purchased at your local health food store and added to fruit and vegetable juices.
Sea plants (‘sea vegetables’) aid in detoxification by transforming toxic metals into salts that the body can eliminate. They also are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, and proteins. Seaweed, dulse, kelp, nori, and wakame are examples. Two tablespoons of dry minced sea vegetables added daily to a bowl of miso soup is a wonderfully therapeutic dose.
China introduced us to the miraculous green tea, which is high in antioxidant content and combats free radical damage to protect against degenerative diseases. It also boosts enzyme production in the body. It has antibiotic, antiviral, and antibacterial properties, and is highly valued as a cancer preventative.
Milk thistle, one of the best liver cleansing tonics, used with honey by the Romans, is also rich in nutrients and antioxidants to prevent free radical damage. Burdock, known as the plant of longevity, is one of the best blood purifiers of the herbal world and its use dates back to ancient Greece. The leaves make a delightful medicinal addition to soups and salads, or chop it into vinegar to drizzle over green salads.
When taking these herbs in tea form, drink over a long time period as opposed to all at once. This allows the tissues to absorb as much of the medicinal value as possible. Drink two to three cups daily for optimal medicinal effects.
One of the most important detoxification methods is regular exercise. Exercise accelerates the removal of toxins through our largest organ of elimination, the skin, when we sweat. It also stimulates lymph flow, which depends solely on muscular movement (or massage). Lymph function is critical to our body’s ability to cleanse itself. Exercise also enhances metabolism and circulation. Almost any kind of exercise, from riding a bicycle to planting flowers in the garden, increases the circulatory system’s transportation of oxygen and nutrients to our cells, while carrying away toxins and wastes from tissues to the organs of elimination. Further, exercise counteracts the greater risk for some diseases, such as heart disease, that correlates with a sedentary lifestyle.
Yoga is a wonderful form of exercise because it sends blood flowing to particular places in a tactical way. A shoulder stand, for example, gets blood flowing the opposite way from its usual course. Yoga poses, or asanas, help soothe the muscles and soften blocks of stress that have accumulated over time. Yoga also incorporates conscious breathing and meditation; just 20 minutes each day can do wonders not just for the body, but also the spirit.
India’s Ayurvedic system of health utilises breathing techniques, or pranayama, to settle, balance, and detoxify the body. In the Ayurvedic tradition, prana refers to the vital life force, and pranayama is the process by which this vital force is increased.
Certain breathing techniques enhance your body’s ability to eliminate toxins because detoxification is directly related to the delivery of oxygen to cells and removal of carbon dioxide.
Try ‘calm belly breathing’ (breathing into the gravitational centre of the body to ease stress and anxiety). Start by lying down in relaxation pose: on your back with arms relaxed to the side and palms up, feet naturally splayed open, and eyes closed. (If you need to modify this pose due to pain in the lower back, simply bend the knees, leaning them against one another, or if the legs are extended, place a towel underneath the head and/or knees.) Now exhale without force while observing the navel fall. Breathe in and out through the nose for five minutes; meditate or mentally focus on the navel rising and falling during this period.
Thomas A. Edison once said, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause of disease.”
May you take these words to heart, and let the detoxifying health techniques mentioned above enrich your own life, foster prevention, and inspire a future of less stress, less disease, and longer days!
Aimee Christine Hughes, ND, writes for a variety of magazines on topics of natural health.