By Dr. Shannon Sarrasin, ND
Following a spring cleanse or detoxification program is similar to the spring cleaning we do in our house and yard. It is about removing the “clutter” that is preventing our system from functioning optimally, and repairing any damage done by the wear and tear of daily life.
Detoxification is a natural process that our liver, intestines, kidneys, and other organs do for us on a daily basis. The organs work to cleanse the waste products of metabolism from our body.
Unfortunately our bodies are bombarded by stressful substances such as refined sugars, foods laden with additives/preservatives, alcohol, coffee, medication, and a huge number of chemicals that we come into contact with through our food, water, air, and skin. These substances can impair our body’s detoxification system, and wreak havoc in the body’s natural ability to heal.
We cleanse to rejuvenate our body’s natural cleansing ability and to rid our body of harmful substances to help us feel more clear, energized, and vital.
Who Should Detoxify?
The short answer is that we all need to detoxify! Ideally, we recommend people to cleanse twice a year, in the spring and fall. It is an essential element of health maintenance, and preventing the development of chronic diseases. Practically every health condition is linked in part to internal or environmental toxins as a risk factor.
More specific to women’s health, you should detoxify if you have: female hormone concerns (PMS, infertility, menopause), risks for breast cancer, thyroid disease, constipation/digestive problems, allergies, acne/skin concerns, headaches, gallstones, or are overweight.
One of the most important times to cleanse is prior to getting pregnant, to minimize the chemicals passed to baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The essence of a good cleanse is being conscious of what is going into your body, while supporting the organs that flush waste out of the body. It is not necessary to buy a fancy detoxification kit, the basics can be found at your grocery or natural foods store.
The basics include a clean diet, water, and you may decide to add supplementation support such as herbs or vitamins. A cleanse can last various lengths of time but a good place to start is 2 weeks.
A Clean Diet
Eating a clean diet starts with kicking those bad habits! Cut out the processed foods, sugar, coffee, and alcohol. If you drink a lot of coffee you may want to wean yourself off of it over the week leading up to your cleanse to avoid getting withdrawal headaches.
Your diet should include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (organic when possible), legumes, nuts and seeds, healthy fats and oils, whole grains, and lean protein such as chicken, turkey, and fish. We generally recommend removing common allergens such as gluten/wheat, dairy, eggs, and soy during this period as well.
Flushing with Fluids
It is essential during this period to stay well hydrated with a clean water source, herbal tea, green tea, or veggie/fruit juice. Fluids help to flush our kidneys, and promote circulation to the liver and other organs.
To roughly estimate your water needs take your weight in pounds, divide by 2, and this number equals the ounces of water that you need. For example, a 140lb woman requires 70oz of water (140/2 = 70).
In addition to a clean diet and adequate hydration, you may choose to support the organs of elimination. Here are some general recommendations…
The liver is the workhorse of our detoxification system. It can be supported with cleansing herbs such as milk thistle and dandelion.
It is important to have regular bowel movements during a cleanse. We support the intestines by incorporating fiber foods such as ground flax seeds or psyllium husks. This is a great time to incorporate a “friendly” probiotic supplement such as acidophilus which will support the overall health of the digestive system.
Other great adjunctive treatments include infrared sauna for cellular detoxification, dry skin brushing for lymphatic movement/skin cleansing, and daily deep breathing to support the lungs.
Talk with a Naturopathic Doctor
In terms of cleansing, one size does not necessarily fit all. Naturopathic Doctors customize detoxification programs to suit your needs. We create individual plans based on your health concerns, environmental exposure, lifestyle, and dietary needs.
You may require a customized plan if you have concerns about food sensitivities, yeast overgrowth, heavy metal/ radiation exposure, digestive issues, hormonal concerns, or are taking medication.
What to expect
Response to cleansing depends on the individual. It is not uncommon to go through a period of a few days to 1 week where you may feel tired or unwell. It is ideal to rest during this period if possible. Within a week, most people notice their natural energy levels return with a general sense of wellness and vitality. They also may notice improvements in their overall health.
On reintroduction of certain foods we get a clear picture of how these foods/substances affect our health. For example you may realize that dairy leaves you feeling bloated by the end of the day, that certain foods make your arthritis worse, or that an afternoon coffee sends you into a blood sugar crash affecting your energy and mood.
Through this experience you may be inspired to incorporate some of these changes into your lifestyle. I have had a number of patients that feel so good on their detoxification plan that they decide to continue the diet long term.
A Word of Caution
In general we are not advocates for fasting or caloric restriction during a detoxification. The liver requires energy/calories to operate, and the movement of food through the intestines supports detoxification by flushing waste out of the body. Fasting can result in dangerous acid-base imbalances in the body. If you are taking medication, talk with a health provider before taking herbs or supplements.
Contact us if you would like to try a 30 day challenge, or have a detoxification plan customized for you.