September feels like one of those times of year for new beginnings – back to school, end of summer, new wardrobe, less patio / cottage / BBQ foods and so I’ve had lots of questions again about what makes a great detox.
I fully believe in tailoring a cleanse to the individual, but here are some of the top important features of a great cleanse:
1. Liver support
Most people are aware that a great cleanse requires liver support, and this can come in many ways. Foods that help the liver include: leafy green vegetables, lemons and limes, onion and garlic, the broccoli family of vegetables, turmeric, artichokes, carrots, fresh vegetables juices to name a few.
Typically a cleanse will also include some supplements for extra liver support. My favourites are in the form of protein powders, which contain the nutrients for liver support in a hypoallergenic protein base (ex. Thorne “Mediclear Plus” or Metagenics “UltraClear”). Other may be in capsules – for example products containing milk thistle, turmeric, n-acetyl cysteine, artichoke, green tea extract and vitamins. Finally, in those who are very sensitive to ‘detox reactions’, homeopathic support is also included, my favorites being Unda 1 and Unda 2 – they prevent some of the unpleasant detox symptoms such as skin breakouts, nausea and fatigue.
2. Bowel support
If you are pushing on the liver, you also need to support the bowels so that toxins can clear. In many cases this is simply a matter of ensuring that there is sufficient fibre: examples include ground flax or chia seeds, psyllium seed husks, and lots of vegetables and fruits.
A cleanse is also an opportunity to rebalance intestinal flora. This includes using supplements and herbs to remove bacteria / yeast / parasites (these are called anti-microbials) and also probiotics to replenish the healthy flora. Antimicrobial herbs can include: oil of oregano, berberine, olive leaf extract, caprylic acid, cat’s claw among others. And probiotics are various strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidus to improve the immune function in the gut.
3. Food (and especially protein)
My belief is that you need to eat in order to detox. Without food and especially protein, the liver will not function to break down toxins. This is one reason why I am not a big fan of prolonged juice cleanses or the lemonade “Master Cleanse”. These no-food cleanses are also very hard on blood sugar regulation if continued for more than 2-3 days.
An ideal cleanse diet is simplified, first to remove things that are toxic to the body: all caffeine, alcohol, fried foods, sugar; as well as foods that are inflammatory and potential intolerances: dairy, gluten, eggs, soy, corn, tomatoes and tropical fruits.
What we are left with is lots of vegetables; 2-3 fruits per day; gluten-free whole grains or starches from root vegetables; fats coming from olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds; and proteins from wild fish, lean organic poultry, beans and legumes.
4. Lymphatic support:
Your lymphatic system is part of your circulatory system that moves lymph through the body. It is a key component of the immune system. The difference with the lymphatic system is that it does not have a pump to circulate fluid, and instead relies on muscle contraction and motion to move lymphatic fluid. In a practical sense, this means that the more sedentary you are, the more lymphatic stagnation there is. One of the main signs of a sluggish lymphatic system is swelling.
During a cleanse, lymphatic support includes: regular mild to moderate exercise (including both upper and lower body), dry skin brushing (an effective technique to stimulate the lymphatic system), drinking sufficient water, and in cases with known sluggish lymphatic systems we may also include lymphatic massage with a trained massage therapist, or homeopathic support.
During a detox, it is essential that you give your body enough tie to rest. In most cases there are at least 2-3 days of fatigue, where you will need more sleep and down-time. Do not schedule your cleanse at a time when you are extremely busy and can’t take a break if needed. Many of the unpleasant detox symptoms such as nausea, achiness, mood swings can be eased if you simply rest.
6. Gentle exercise:
Exercising during a cleanse is highly recommended, even on days with fatigue. On those days, a gentle 30 minute walk is enough, and regular exercise will help your body to mobilize and clear toxins more efficiently. Do not however push too hard with high-intensity workouts unless your energy is there. Exercise not only mobilizes toxins, but it also stimulates the lymphatic system.
7. Lots of water:
Your body will need more than usual during a cleanse, with a general recommendation being 3-3.5 litres per day. This can also include herbal teas, or lemon water. Without enough water, you will experience more detox symptoms, especially headaches and fatigue. The best strategy is to carry a water bottle with you at all times, and sip on it regularly.
8. Enough time:
A good cleanse will last for at least 10 days to be effective. Shorter cleanses are certainly a great break for the body, but will not effectively mobilize toxins and begin a true detox. A 10-14 day cleanse is ideal for a liver-focused cleanse, and I like this time-line because it can be easily scheduled into your life.
However, if you have the time and especially if you are focusing on rebalancing digestive flora, a more gentle cleanse lasting for 21-28 days is ideal – in this case the supplements and detox can be slowed down for more of a gentle effect.
I hope this short article has answered some of your questions about what makes a great cleanse. If you have questions about a detox to revitalize your health, please ask at your next appointment – a specific plan tailored to your health can be discussed.