The word "detox" often conjures images of people doing extreme things to purge their bodies of toxins, but in reality the body is in a state of detoxification most of the time. In Western medicine, the liver is the main organ in charge of detoxifying potential hazards, but the skin, lungs (carbon dioxide is toxic), kidneys, and large intestine also play big parts in keeping the body safe. Waste products are generated through natural processes that your cells perform constantly, and for the most part the body does a terrific job of making sure the waste is detoxified - basically rendered harmless - and eliminated. HOWEVER, increased exposure to toxins through food, personal care products, air pollution, etc. means the liver and associated organs need to work even harder to maintain balance...and that's where detoxes come in.
A detox is more or less an attempt to remove extra stresses from the body for a period of time so that it can catch up on its detoxification and elimination processes. It can also go a step farther to add in substances like herbs, essential oils, supplements, and specific foods to pull toxins from various tissues and/or increase the productivity of organs like the liver or kidneys. Most of the time this is done with a modified diet but it can also involve performing certain exercises, working on breathing, and more.
Most of us know what we should be eating to keep our bodies happy and healthy - limit sugar, avoid processed foods, consume plenty of fruits and vegetables, etc. - and the simplest detox is to just follow these rules, choosing whole foods and drinking plenty of water. By avoiding junk for a period of time, your body will catch a break from dealing with the preservatives, artificial sweeteners, pesticide residues, and other chemicals found in processed foods. If you want to do even more, you can cut out common allergens like dairy, wheat, soy, eggs, and peanuts in what's called an elimination diet. Following a strict elimination diet - such as the candida diet - gives your body a vacation from foods that may be producing inflammation within it, and if you have an overgrowth of unwanted critters like candida, this diet will deprive them of the substances they love and cause them to die off. Supplements and even prescription medications can also be used to kill parasites and/or aid in the detoxification process.
Going beyond simple diets, to give your body even more of a break, you can only eat "living foods" for a period of time to provide your body with tons of nutrients with less potential of poor food combining. (Different types of food are digested at different rates in the body, so advocates of food combining suggest timing out the consumption of each type of food so as not to bottle neck digestion. Western medicine doesn't love this idea - or the idea of detoxification in general - but some of our patients see great success with it.) Traditional Chinese Medicine doesn't believe in eating raw vegetables, but doing so for a few days shouldn't deplete your Spleen too much, unless you already tend to suffer from extreme fatigue and coldness and have severe digestive issues. In that case, lightly cooking vegetables - even raw food followers believe veggies can be cooked up to 92 to 118 degrees - would be a better choice.
Digestion takes a lot of energy, and some detoxes recommend completely relieving your body of the need to digest so that it can work on healing in other areas, kind of like taking something off its to-do list. Blending vegetables in soups or smoothies retains the fiber of produce while also making its nutrients easy to absorb, and juicing removes the fiber for pure, liquid nutrition. The most basic detox is a fast in which you consume nothing but water, but it's our opinion that an extended fast should be monitored by a physician or someone familiar with the process. In any level of cleanse, you might experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and more in what's called a Herxheimer reaction, which means toxins are being pulled out and parasites are dying off more quickly than your body can eliminate them. (This is completely normal, but if it's ever too much then you should back off the cleanse and then ease into it more slowly.) Again, consulting with a healthcare professional before detoxing ensures that you'll be doing so as safely as possible.
Of course, there are plenty of other detoxes out there that do not relate to food. You can perform a technology detox by avoiding your phone and other devices for a day, a weekend, or longer, and you can detox from toxic relationships by setting boundaries, limiting contact with negative people, etc. The spirit of detoxification is to give your body a break from external stressors so that it can reset itself back to a healthy state. It's up to you to mindfully choose what will help your body the most, and always consult with your healthcare practitioners for advice before starting any new wellness regimen.
Kathleen Ellerie is a Licensed Acupuncturist and the owner of Beachside Community Acupuncture. She loves providing affordable acupuncture to the residents of Addison, Dallas, and Farmers Branch, Texas, and educating the general public on how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat everything from pain to infertility to stress and beyond. Click "Book Now" at the top of this page to book an appointment or feel free to contact her at (214) 417-2260.