In my 25 plus years in Natural Healing at FACT, I have seen the notion of “detoxification” go from a hush-hush, no-go, not-in-polite-company type subject to “in,” get-with-it-everybody’s-doin’-it-cool thing to do! In many ways this is progress. However, I am concerned that, as detox has become more mainstream, the original concept has become diluted, and the consequences can be counterproductive and dangerous.
The confusion lies in the difference between a low-toxicity diet and detoxification. Many people nowadays are packing in high quality nutrition foods along with lots of raw vegetable juices, especially greens, and thinking, “This is detox.” That would be wrong!
Our bodies are designed to be constantly getting rid of gunk, i.e., detoxifying. The liver, main organ of detoxification, works to filter out foreign material so as to keep the bloodstream clean. Wastes are flushing out in various ways: via the colon, kidneys, the skin, the lungs, lymph, etc. We cough, we sneeze and blow our noses. This job goes on without much conscious direction from us, but is all the more rigorous, if the immune system is strong.
When we get rundown, stressed out, eat or sleep poorly, our elimination systems don’t work as well. We feel achy, grouchy, constipated. Toxic build-up results because more is coming in then going out. You might wake-up with a cold, flu, bronchitis, etc., the symptoms of which are a lot of excess stuff trying to get out – mucus, cough, diarrhea, rash, etc. If you listen to the pharmaceutical industry, you’ll think you should take some kind of medicine to stop the sneezy, wheezy, lousy feeling. If you do, the symptoms may stop, but where does the gung that was trying to get out go? It gets shoved back in, adding to the toxic load, enabling you to return to “normalcy,” i.e., your poor lifestyle habits.
But you can also get toxic overload when you improve your diet.
In Natural Healing we understand that the body has 2 basic modes of operation: one is the “Building Phase” (anabolic). This is the gradual transition to the daily eating of a balanced diet of whole fresh foods, raw and cooked, acid/alkaline, as the way to provide materials to build strong cells, repair tissue, supply energy to the body and energize immune function. This is a “low-toxicity” diet and should be done gradually and with great care because whole foods, especially raw, are extremely powerful and stimulating to the body.
The bloodstream nourishes all cells, so the body’s job first and foremost is to keep it as clean as possible. When toxins enter the system, the intention is to eliminate these forthwith through the usual channels. But because we all have varying degrees of vitality (host resistance), there’s often a backup – especially given today’s chemical-laden environment and our too fast-paced ways of living. If elimination is sluggish, the body does the next best thing to avoid pollution of the bloodstream: it stores toxins in the cells of glands, organs and other tissues with the idea of clearing them out as soon as the energy is better. Over time, if these toxins are not flushed out, they accumulate, exhausting body functions. The result can be fatigue, suppressed immunity and, in time, serious chronic degenerative disease. If you are changing from years of a typical Western denatured diet to more healthy fare, it’s likely you have a large store of toxins in your cells. Proceed with caution!
Gradual change is the best policy. (That means not going crazy with a constant barrage of raw stuff, especially greens and juices!) As you improve your diet, your immune system becomes energized. In time, the body wisdom realizes this influx of quality material is an opportunity to dispose of a lot of old “baggage” and build a better “machine.” Cells start releasing stored wastes into the bloodstream. If these do not exit the body expediently, the bloodstream becomes polluted. If you continue eating the high powered foods, toxins from cells will keep pouring into the blood, while elimination channels can’t keep up with the overload (kind of like Whac-a-Mole!) Toxins recirculate and you feel crummy, exhausted. All body signals are saying, “Stop! Slow down, give me a break.” You may feel goopy, headachy, stuffed up, achy joints, rashes, itchy skin, fever, nausea, no appetite. This is an acute inflammation, what Hippocrates called the “flame that heals” – commonly labeled “infection” – a cold, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, etc. But this is not an illness; it’s an elimination, also known as a “healing crisis” and an opportunity that should not be missed. There is an internal imbalance that needs attention. Congratulations! Your body is saying, hey, so you’re serious about being healthy!
You are toxic. The low-toxicity diet has invigorated your immune system and brought you to a deeper level of elimination. This is the time to stop the super power foods – solid foods, raw juices, salads, etc. – and go into the body’s other phase: “Detoxification” (catabolic), otherwise known as housecleaning!
The low toxicity diet set off the release of toxins from the cells into the bloodstream; detoxification focuses on getting that toxic material out of the body. You need to channel as much energy as possible to elimination. If you ignore the signals and keep eating whole, very stimulative foods, too much energy will have to be diverted into breaking those down. The bloodstream will become more and more polluted as you become more and more wrung out. In very extreme cases, you run the risk of septicemia or toxic shock and you will be hijacking your goal of building a strong, healthy system!
(We had a patient who nearly died after going too gung ho on raw beet juice. One day she downed nearly a quart and passed out. Fortunately, family members were able to arrive in time to dilute her system and she recovered.)
This is the time to go into true “Detox”: mostly liquids, vegetable broths (or possibly a thin puréed soup), herbal teas, lemon juice and raw honey, lots of rest, perhaps an herbal laxative, etc. Avoid medications which stop the symptoms by blocking the cleansing process. Take a few days, if necessary. You’ll know when you’re ready to go back into “building mode” when your appetite and energy returns, your head feels clearer, you’re renewed, reset.
“To rely on what suits you.”
– troten (guiding principle of Tibetan Medicine)
Healing is about the subtle interplay of these 2 phases: the building and the cleansing. Periodically, your body needs a break to catch up, rebalance. All greens all the time, along with other nutritious, powerful foods – this overworks your liver, overloads the bloodstream. If you ignore the body messages – exhaustion, no appetite, that fuzzy-headed feeling, etc. – or think you’re detoxing by stepping up the super foods, as too many are doing, you will become weaker, not stronger. The more you become aware of what your body is telling you, the more you’ll recognize when you need a break.
Natural Healing is an art, not a one-size-fits-all regimen. Some days you may feel for a juicy (grass-fed) hamburger, other days you just crave fruits or vegetables or nothing much at all. You’ll find yourself in the supermarket looking at a cauliflower and hear your inner voice saying “gotta have it” and it will be the most delicious thing. The next day you may look at it and think “eh.” Don’t go on a juice fast or raw food binge (or force yourself to go vegan) just because some guilt-tripping guru claims this is the way to go if you’re really serious about good health. Don’t go on “automatic.” By all means learn about the nutritional power of foods, but ultimately, only you can know what you need at any given time. Get in touch with that.
Like a good athlete, you need to learn to play within yourself. The body has it’s natural rhythms, like everything in Nature – night and day, the changing seasons, the ebb and flow of tides… A time to build up, a time to ease off. Excess good stuff can deplete you just like excess bad stuff. As time goes on, you’ll have less dramatic “healing crises” because your body is more in balance; a lot of the stored toxins will have been removed; cells will be functioning less encumbered. You’ll sneeze or cough when necessary without feeling all played out. If you feel “goopy” coming on, you may need to do a full or modified detox. Take it a day at a time, but if hunger sets in, don’t fight it. Listen to your body. That is the quickest way to a long, healthy life!