12 Steps to a Spring Detox
The arrival of Spring marks the beginning of some of our favourite things; flowers blooming, longer days, and warmer weather. It may even be a fresh start to reattempt our new years resolutions (that we may have so easily forgotten). In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Spring and Fall are considered the most dynamic seasons, when things are moving and change is imminent.
During the cold, Winter months, most of us prefer to stay indoors, exercise less, and eat more, especially during the holidays. However, when Spring has arrived, we consider this the perfect time to declutter our homes and reorganize our lives. Some of us even use this time to cleanse our bodies of excess waste and toxic burden by doing a detox. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I get asked a lot of questions about detoxing and what it entails.
A detox is best understood by redefining and recognizing what it is NOT. Most people may identify “detox” as a consumer buzz word or a nifty sale pitch for products and cleanses purporting to help you lose weight. A detox is not an extreme diet. Nor is it a fad or tool for weight loss. Detoxification is the natural process by which the body eliminates toxins and unnecessary waste through organs such as the skin, liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph, and colon. When toxins accumulate faster than they can be eliminated, the body becomes overwhelmed and requires support to help the process along. The goal of a healthy detox protocol then, is to support our natural elimination systems. It is a way of cleansing and resetting our bodies, thereby getting things that were once stagnant, moving and back on track.
What are the benefits of a detox? Just as every individual’s constitution is different, the effects of a detox can vary from one person to another. Some of the commonly reported benefits of a detox include decreased brain fog, less sugar cravings, increased energy levels, clearer skin, and improved digestion. The additional weight loss benefit of a detox occurs from eliminating the processed foods and common allergens as discussed below.
So what is the most basic way to begin a Spring detox? Here are 12 simple steps:
- Increase water intake. During the Winter months, most of us tend to be less conscious of water intake since we are not basking in the hot sun, or thirsty and dehydrated as we are during the warm Summer months. Drinking more water ensures that the kidneys are frequently eliminating waste in the urine. I like to add lemon in my water to kickstart metabolism and help with digestion, as well as for the added vitamin C benefits.
- Eliminate processed food. This is the perfect time to cut out sugar, caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, gluten, dairy, eggs, and any other known food allergens that affect us and burden the organs of elimination. Eating food that is organic and avoiding pesticide and chemically laden food can greatly reduce the buildup of harmful toxins.
- Eat more greens. Food such as kale, broccoli, celery, spinach, arugula have loads of fiber which help improve digestion and eliminate excess waste by promoting colon detox. Leafy greens also contain glutathione, a naturally occurring antioxidant which assists with detoxification in the liver. A good thing to note is that greens such as cilantro, watercress, or parsley can act as chelators, which are agents that bind to and help detox heavy metals from the body, particularly when eaten with fish or seafood known to contain mercury or other heavy metals.
- Fast intermittently. Intermittent fasting has been quickly gaining popularity as it has more to do with when you eat, than what you eat. It involves a smaller eating window (or fed state) and longer fasting period (non-fed state). Fasting every now and then is a great way to give the body an extra push in eliminating waste by giving the digestive system (and colon) a break. Intermittent fasting does not have to be done daily, but can be done 1-2 times per week. Additionally, it can be combined with certain herbal teas discussed below to support the process of detoxification. An obvious added benefit of fasting is weight loss. When food is not consumed for a period of time, the body turns to its fat reserves for energy and burns fat. It is important to note that fasting is not for everyone and should only be done after a careful assessment by a healthcare professional.
- Drink herbal tea. The benefits of replacing herbal teas for caffeinated teas can be twofold; you reduce the burden of toxins such as caffeine, and promote detoxification with herbs that support the organs of elimination such as dandelion, nettle, burdock, or chicory. The diuretic effect of these teas also support the kidneys in flushing out waste and toxins through urine.
- Tonify the liver. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the liver is the organ that is predominant in the Spring. Therefore, supporting the function of the liver in eliminating toxins by avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and drugs that burden the liver is important. Supplements that contain ingredients such as Milk thistle, Dandelion, Globe Artichoke (to name a few), can also be taken in addition, to support the liver in the detoxification process. Foods that support liver detoxification include cabbage, broccoli, garlic, beets, and lemons.
- Exercise regularly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), individuals between the ages of 18-64 years are recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. This not only promotes circulation and helps the heart pump more efficiently, it also gets things moving and releases toxins through perspiration.
- Step into a sauna. Like exercise, Infrared saunas help our bodies to release toxins by increasing circulation in response to heat, thereby allowing toxins that have accumulated over time to be released through sweat or perspiration.
- Take an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt baths are great particularly after a good workout, to help absorb magnesium for the muscles. They are also helpful in flushing toxins and heavy metals from cells. Even an Epsom salt foot bath can work wonders!
- Dry Skin Brush. The lymphatic system, like blood circulation, removes products of infection such as bacteria and other pathogens from the circulation. Use a small handheld body brush to brush your skin in an upwards direction towards the heart. This not only increases circulation and improves lymphatic flow, but also sloughs off dead skin cells.
- Practice Deep Breathing. Deep breathing not only promotes lung efficiency and helps expel toxins, but also activates the diaphragm and “massages” your liver, another vital organ of elimination.
- Avoid eating past 7pm. We’ve all heard how late night snacking or eating can lead to a sluggish digestive system and weight gain. Eating all of your meals for the day before 7pm not only allows your body to digest food more efficiently, but also allows the system to reset.
Deciding to do a detox can be overwhelming, with all of the various detox programs and products on the market, as well as the conflicting opinions and views on what constitutes a proper detox. As mentioned previously, detoxification is a natural process that our bodies undertake to help relieve toxins and excess waste. Occasionally, when toxic burden is too much or our organs of elimination are overburdened, we can adapt various lifestyle habits to facilitate detoxification and get things moving. Following the steps outlined above can help you on your way to starting a proper detox protocol. It is important to note that a detox protocol is not for everyone, particularly for children, pregnant women, and the elderly. Therefore, always consult with a primary healthcare provider prior to beginning a detox.
The supplements and herbs discussed in this blog are intended to provide general information for detoxification. Talk to your naturopathic doctor prior to any use of the above mentioned herbs or supplements, to find out what is right for you.
Breyer, Mellissa, 2017. Health Benefits of Epsom Salt Baths, retrieved on May 2, 2017 from http://www.care2.com/greenliving/health-benefits-of-epsom-salt-baths.html
Mindbodygreen; ALOHA, 2017. Redefining Detox: 5 Questions You Need to Ask Before Starting Your Next Cleanse, retrieved on May 10, 2017 from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-27113/redefining-detox-5-questions-you-need-to-ask-before-starting-your-next-cleanse.html
WHO, 2017. Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health, retrieved on May 2, 2017 from http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/