Does your body need a spring cleaning? A small but growing number
of doctors believe that this may be a good idea. The internal cleansing program
- called detoxification, or detox, in natural medicine - is designed to rid
the body of harmful chemicals that may be causing fatigue, aches and pains,
digestive upset, or less-than-optimal health. Consumers, too, are embracing
detox. Stores are full of pills, powders, teas, and creams that claim to "cleanse
the skin and colon," "purify the blood," and "flush out toxins."
The concept sounds appealing. Detoxification, proponents claim, is like
an oil change for the body, eliminating harmful poisons and natural waste
products that can build up in the liver, skin, gut, and other areas. Cleansing
is achieved through various regimens, including modified fasting, saunas,
and a range of vitamins, herbs, and nutrients.
Avoid dairy, wheat, and other foods that may trigger allergies, for
example, and you give the colon a rejuvenating rest. Or take an herb such
as milk thistle to boost the liver - the body's main organ of detoxification,
which filters and cleans the blood - and you'll speed up the elimination of
all kinds of toxins. Cleanse, nourish, and rest your body - even for only
a day or two, the argument goes - and you'll enhance its natural restorative
powers, helping to fend off illness.
Detoxification is not a new idea. For centuries, different cultures have
promoted fasting and dietary restrictions for therapeutic and religious purposes.
And detoxifying spa treatments have long been offered in Europe under
medical supervision. But most doctors in the U.S. are not familiar with the
concept. And many of those who are remain skeptical, partly because of a dearth
of scientific data.
Although a handful of reports support the benefits of detoxification, rigorous
studies are lacking. One commonly cited report from the Eighties found that
fasting speeded recovery in people who had accidentally ingested cooking
oil laced with industrial poisons (American Journal of Industrial Medicine,
1984). Another found that dietary changes and saunas helped to reverse
memory and nerve problems in firemen who had inhaled toxic chemicals in
an electrical fire (Archives of Environmental Health, 1989). An NIH-sponsored
trial of detoxification for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer is currently
under way at Columbia University in New York. Should the results prove positive,
more doctors will take a closer look.
Seven-Day Detox Plan
Still, many physicians schooled in natural medicine
advise routine detoxification for their patients. All
the smog, pesticides, heavy metals, and pollutants
now crowding our environment, they say, give the
recommendation current urgency. "We are the first
generation to be exposed to so many toxins; they
overload our natural detoxification system," says
Frank Lipman, M.D., a holistic practitioner in New
York City who recommends detox at least once or
twice a year for almost all his patients. Spring, a
season of renewal in the natural world, is an
excellent time to do it, he says.
"Virtually everyone feels better after a detoxification," reports the
Advisor's chief medical consultant, Dr. David Edelberg, although he believes
that some or much of the effect may be psychological. "A person who drinks
too much, or eats too much sugar and junk food, or smokes too much will definitely
feel better after a detox simply because it clears all that crud out of the
system." A good generic detox can last up to a week, he says, "usually about
as long as people can stand it."
Here's a simple seven-day detox plan that most
people in good health can follow. It's always a good
idea to do so under professional supervision.
1) On days one and two, stick with liquids. Drink only pure spring or filtered
water, water with lemon squeezed into it, herbal teas, and diluted fruit
juices (half water, half juice). It's a good idea to drink at least eight
glasses of water or other fluids daily during this period-and all the time.
Avoid fasting if you are taking prescription drugs; if you have hypoglycemia,
diabetes, or another medical condition; or if you feel dizzy, nauseated, or
2) On days three through seven, add brown rice, fruits, and vegetables.
Try to stick with organic produce. Cruciferous vegetables - such as bok choy,
broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, rutabagas, and turnips - are
particularly effective at activating those enzymes in the liver that promote
the natural detoxification process.
3) Consider herbs and supplements in addition to your standard multivitamin.
Chlorophyll-rich "green" products - for example, those containing wheat
grass, barley grass, or various types of algae - are a source of beta-carotene
and other vitamins and minerals. Although studies are lacking, many people
claim these green drinks and powders provide an energy boost. Your
doctor may also recommend such products as Ultraclear (a low-allergy,
nutrient-rich powder sold in doctors' offices) or herbal detox formulas (e.g.,
Nature's Pure Body Cleanse, sold in health-food stores). Avoid "purging"
detox products that contain harsh laxatives, such as cascara sagrada or aloe;
they can lead to dehydration.
4) Detox your mind as well. For example, avoid television, stock tickers,
and upsetting news reports. At least an hour every day, try to practice a
relaxation technique, such as yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation.
5) Other important measures. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep
a night. If possible, Dr. Lipman also encourages people to work up a good
sweat during the detox with a daily sauna. Sweating, he explains, draws
toxins from the body and releases them through the skin. Finally, it's important
to use common sense: If you feel weak, dizzy, or unwell, stop the detox and
consult your doctor.
Caution: Detoxification is not recommended for anyone with a serious medical
condition, such as diabetes or heart disease. Children under 12 or pregnant
women are also advised against detox. Never stop taking prescription medications
without your doctor's consent.