According to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Spring and Fall seasons provide the best opportunities for deeply detoxifying and cleansing the body of harmful impurities that have collected in our organs and tissues over the past months and years. Fundamental philosophies in TCM state that the energies which manifest as seasonal changes in our external environment are also reflected in the body, and spring offers a unique transitional period of time when internal energies rise and expand, providing movement and growth to carry us away from the conservation and stagnancy characterizing the energies of cold winter months prior. This expansive energy helps to move things to the surface and expel some of the body's burden of toxins in preparation for the high activity of summer, and this energy of upward growth toward the sun means emotions and issues stored deep within the past also have an opportunity to be released. With a little preparation and mindfulness, the forces of renewal and rebirth that are so pervasive during the spring season can be harnessed and used to greatly benefit the body, mind and spirit during a spring cleanse.
In TCM, spring is related to the wood element and to the liver and gall bladder. As such, the liver is the focus of the spring cleanse. As we detoxify the liver, however, we also need to make sure that other parts of the body - especially those involved in secretion and detoxification – are well supported. Otherwise, we may experience toxic backups with symptoms such as constipation, digestive disturbances, respiratory congestion, headaches, and others. With both of these goals in mind, the process of detoxification necessarily includes drainage and elimination. Drainage is the discharge of toxins and waste products from the organs into the system – while elimination is the actual removal of these waste products through the urine, feces, sweat, skin, and respiratory tract.
A spring cleanse can be as short as 3 days, or as long as 21 days, but I find that 10-14 days is optimal for most individuals. You might choose to start with a preparation phase, followed by a middle segment that is more intense, and wind down your cleanse by repeating the preparation phase. But however you plan your detox, a fresh healthy diet with a focus on organic, seasonal vegetables, should always serve as the foundation. Aim to increase your intake of organic green vegetables – whether steamed or raw – while limiting high sugar fruits during this time. And of course, boost your liquid consumption. This can be in the form of water, herbal teas, or vegetable soups or broth.
Another excellent detoxification tool I use is a simple lemon and olive oil drink. This is a particularly good option for your spring cleanse, as the acidity helps to contract your liver, while the olive oil works on you gall bladder. It's easy to prepare: Simply cut one organic lemon into pieces (seeds removed) and mix with 1.25 cups spring water, along with a tablespoon of olive oil, in the blender. Then strain the contents, but not too much, as you still want some of the pulp to remain – and drink before bed on an empty stomach.
Not only will this support the gentle discharge of toxins from your liver, but many of my patients have found that it improves their sleep as well. (For those with liver issues or a high toxic burden, however, I always recommend that the lemon and olive oil drink be started at a reduced dosage of only 1/4 the general mix.)
Beyond diet, one of the best things that you can do to optimize your cleanse is to exercise. The beautiful spring weather provide us all with ample opportunity of outdoor activity – and a simple 30 minute walk each day can go a long way toward boosting your health, whatever time of year.
Cleanse food program
The goals of your cleansing food program are:
- Eliminate foods that have strong pro-inflammatory potential, such as processed foods, highly salted or sweetened foods, non organic foods, red meat, alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine.
- Rest your digestive system from the digestion of concentrated proteins, fats, and oil, and nutritionally depleted foods such as sugar, refined flour, fast foods, etc.
- Alkalinize your system promoting the oxygenation and release of waste and stored toxins
- Provide support for all your organs and systems of detoxification and elimination
- Provide nutrients to deeply vitalize at the cellular level
- Balance blood glucose levels
- Reseed the intestines with beneficial bacterial
- Improve digestion
- Improve bowel transit time
- Heal and minimize intestinal permeability
- Improve immune function
- Balance hormones
- Remove heavy metals, pesticides, chemical toxins and bacterial toxins
Foods to include
- Emphasize green leafy vegetables, especially bitter greens such as dandelion greens, endive, parsley, beet, kale, chard, mustard greens, spinach, endive, bok choy, arugula, and mixed salad greens.
- Cruciferous vegetables: kale broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens.
- Onion family: onions, shallots, garlic, leeks
- Artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes
- Other vegetables: beet roots, celery, asparagus, zucchini, cucumbers, beets, string beans, beet greens, naturally fermented sauerkraut, sea vegetables
Preparation: raw, juiced, or steamed, baked, lightly sautéed in small amount of olive oil.
Fresh juices with leafy green vegetables as a base are an ideal way to get a balance of cleansing and rebuilding supportive phytonutrients. Fresh vegetable juices are alkaline rich, mineral rich, and phytonutrient-rich. When tissues hold waste material and toxins, or they are damaged through excess free radial activity, they become acidic. Fatty tissues hold fat soluble chemicals, and toxins and heavy metals get stored in the lipid membranes of the cells (including the brain). Vegetable juices and broths provide an alkaline reserve that alters tissue pH and re-mineralizes the body, allowing the tissues to rid themselves of metabolic waste and toxins. Enzymes in the fresh vegetable juices also help to break down and remove toxins, and the high chlorophyll content of green leafy vegetables helps to cleanse and oxygenate the blood. Veggie juices should be taken 2-3 times per day if possible. Powdered juice concentrates are ideal for work or travel – just add water.
Fruits contain a high amount of natural sugars, and therefore should be used in moderation during a cleanse as one of the goals of the cleanse is to rebalance blood glucose levels. Apples, pears, peaches, blueberries and raspberries, and citrus eaten separately, are all appropriate choices during a cleanse. Avoid concentrated fruit juices and all other fruits during this time.
Herbal teas are a wonderful way to help hydrate and cleanse the body. All caffeinated teas need to be avoided as they interfere with the bodies cleansing and rebalancing processes. Herbal teas that support the various elimination processes are highly beneficial. These herbs are usually available in both commercial tea bags, as well as in bulk for your own brewing. Some of these herbs include the following: dandelion root, burdock root, astragalus root, ginger root, licorice root, nettle, cleavers, mint, horsetail, oat straw, fennel, cardamom, rooibos, and red clover blossom.
Simmer the following vegetables for 45 minutes. Strain and drink the broth throughout the day. The broth can be kept refrigerated for up to 3 days: Celery, green beans, zucchini, parsley, spinach. You can also puree the vegetables after cooking and eat as a soup.
Prepare the above alkalizing broth with the addition of any of the following: beets, kale, mustard or dandelion greens, seaweed, flax seed, astragalus, burdock root, turmeric root, garlic, onion.
Herbs and condiments
Ginger, cayenne, licorice root, burdock root, milk thistle seed, dandelion leaf and root, curry, turmeric, nutmeg, and cinnamon may be added to your dishes for variety and for their positive effects on digestion and detoxification.
During your cleanse I often advise using a rice-based protein powder several times per day as a way to help keep you blood sugar levels as stable as possible. Sprouted seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, flax) and sprouted beans, especially mung beans, can also be used. Your health care provider may suggest more protein sources for your individual needs.
Oils should be minimized during a cleanse, preferably no more than 2Tb per day. The best are olive oil and flax oils. Both should be used unheated.
Drink a minimum of eight, 8oz glasses of filtered water per day. Water in plastic bottles should be avoided as it often contains unsafe levels of toxins that have leeched into the water from the packaging. Add lemon to your filtered water for an extra detoxification effect.
You may need some assistance to eliminate while on a cleanse. The high fiber content of an increased vegetable intake may be adequate. If not, then it is vital that you add a good fiber source to your regimen, because a sluggish bowel will produce a toxic effect even if you are eating healthy, cleansing foods. Fresh ground flax seed, rice bran, or psyllium can be used. In addition, I recommend using a comprehensive digestive formula that can assist in regulation of the bowels as well as cleansing the GI tract of unhealthy bacteria and fungus. You should have bowel movements twice per day while doing a cleanse. Otherwise, toxins have a chance to get reabsorbed back into your body from your GI tract.
Foods to avoid
- Meat, fish, poultry, eggs
- Dairy products
- Gluten containing grains: wheat, rye, oats, barley
- Corn and all products containing corn
- Grains (small amounts of rice, quinoa, or amaranth may be used)
- Sugar, honey, molasses, artificial sweeteners
- Fruit juices
- Cold drinks
- Oils except for small amounts of olive, coconut, or flax (2 Tbs/day)
Supplements to include
During a cleanse, there are a number of supportive nutritional supplements that can help significantly with the elimination process. While a cleansing diet full of green leafy and cruciferous vegetables and cleansing liquids is the foundation of a thorough detox program, the support provided by specific nutraceuticals and herbs will help to make the cleanse deeper and more efficient, while minimizing some of the discomfort that may arise as your body discharges toxins from deep within.
Heavy metal removal always plays a part in any comprehensive seasonal cleanse. Aluminum, lead, mercury and other toxic metals surround us on a daily basis, and a continuing effort is necessary on our part in order to keep these harmful metals out of our bodies where they can slowly make us sick. In this respect, chelation is absolutely crucial to your detox – but it should always be accomplished in a gentle and gradual manner. In my experience, a modified citrus pectin (MCP)/modified alginate supplement – followed by a phase II detox formula containing a number of chelating herbs and nutraceuticals to ensure complete detoxification – is the safest and most effective way to achieve this. Case report studies show that the combination of these two unique formulas reduces overall heavy metal and environmental toxin levels within the body, safely and effectively. The MCP/alginate combination is intended for long term use, prior to and after your seasonal cleanse, while the phase II detox formula is to be used on a short term basis for 2-3 weeks during the phase of your actual cleanse.
I also highly recommend medicinal mushrooms for cleansing the liver and colon, and overall body of built up toxins and impurities. A USDA Certified Organic, comprehensive medicinal mushroom formula that contains a synergistic blend of 10 highly beneficial mushroom species is an optimal choice for removing toxins from stagnant areas of the body, as these mushrooms tend to have an affinity for deeper areas of toxicity within various organs and systems in the body.
Since one of the most critical purposes of your spring cleanse is to discharge and clear the liver, and since this organ can adversely affect colonic elimination, it goes without saying that intestinal support and healthy bowel movements are also essential to the detoxification process. In addition, bringing warmth and vitality to the digestive process through the use of herbs is essential any time of year, but especially during a cleanse. For this reason, I recommend using a comprehensive poly-herbal digestion formula to boost sluggish digestion, and to help with common symptoms like bloating, flatulence, and fluid retention.
A high quality probiotic supplement is also very important during a cleanse. One of the goals of cleansing and detoxifying is to rid the intestines of harmful bacteria, fungus and parasites. Replanting beneficial bacteria in the GI tract with probiotics significantly helps to reduce the presence of harmful invaders and improve the overall environment in your gut, leading to increased digestive capacity and overall vitality.
There are a number of supportive therapies that can enhance detoxification and provide support for the organs of elimination, including the liver, bowel, lymph, skin, lungs and kidneys. The following list of supportive therapeutic modalities can be utilized for health benefits any time of year, but when used strategically during a seasonal cleanse, they can help deepen and enhance the process of detoxification significantly.
- Infrared Sauna
- Lymphatic treatments
- IV nutritional therapies
- Enemas or colonics
These recommendations can be modified to create an individual cleanse protocol that is most appropriate for you, depending on health, lifestyle, work, etc. If you are under the care of a health practitioner for a serious condition, it is essential that you discuss such recommendations before starting any new program. However, these recommendations are safe for most people and with simple modifications such as increased protein intake or reduced cleansing time; they can be utilized by most everybody. If you find that you can't commit to a longer program, or you find it hard to maintain will power to complete your cleanse diet, just do the best that you can. The basic ingredients of a successful spring cleanse don't need to be complicated. On the contrary, by making a commitment, no matter how long, to simplify your diet and engage your heart, mind and body in the opportunity for transition and growth that this season provides – you'll set a foundation for optimal health and vibrancy that will stay with you all year long.
How to avoid a spring cleanse healing crisis: Follow the detox cycles
The season of growth and change
Spring is here, which means many of us will be embarking on a seasonal spring cleanse and detoxification program. A gentle yet thorough spring cleanse is an important part of integrative medicine, and by extension, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The goal of a spring cleanse is to clear away any stagnation left over from winter, lighten up our systems, and make ourselves more vibrant and focused in preparation for the high activity of summer. Seasonal cleansing and detox offers us the important chance to decide what we want to let go of in pursuit of greater health and wellbeing.
In TCM, spring relates to the wood element, and to the liver and gall bladder which govern the emotions of unresolved anger, frustration, and irritability. The liver is the main focus of our spring detox and there are some key cleansing practices that we can embrace in order to help support the health of this critical organ system.
Since spring is characterized by the strong energy of growth and change, it is important to align ourselves with this new energy and let it flow smoothly within and around us. Engaging in exercises and movement, being in nature, and practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, are all excellent ways to allow the new energy of spring to flow unobstructed. These profound balancing techniques can allow us to experience relief from congestive emotions and support the health of the liver (and consequently, the entire body) at the same time.
In addition to these energetic components of a successful spring cleanse, we can also follow some practical detoxification guidelines and protocols to ensure that we stay healthy throughout the process, and get the most out of this important opportunity for healing and growth.
The detox cycle
No matter how healthy we are, one of the consequences of living in this modern age is that health-robbing toxins and heavy metals eventually accumulate deep within our tissues and organs. But what happens when we try to cleanse and release these toxins all at once with methods such as fasting, herbal formulas and weight loss?
In TCM, there is a term called the Detox Cycle with two distinct phases, that is frequently overlooked. It depicts a more complex physical and energetic flow than often realized, and if we are not well prepared; there can be significant short and long-term side effects to detoxifying. One of our major goals, therefore, is to design an effective cleanse program without having to experience a "healing crisis."
What is a healing crisis?
A "healing crisis" is caused by the dumping of toxins from the organs and tissues into the circulatory system or a shift in the areas where the toxins are stored. While "healing crisis" is a valuable and valid term, it is often used as an excuse for an aggravation that could have been prevented. There are a number of different tools that can support a healthy, crises-free cleanse: sophisticated herbal formulas, trigger point injections, acupuncture, infrared saunas, nutritional IVs, and specific dietary supplements – all of which now provide opportunities for cancer and chronically-ill patients to detox with little or no side effects.
What I want to discuss here is the process of loosening toxins from the organs and tissues where they are stored. This is known as discharging and it is phase one of the detox cycles. But where are the toxins going after they are discharged and how can we remove them safely and efficiently?
Phase one detox: The circulation "stations"
When we look at what is happening in phase one detox, toxins are being dumped into the circulatory system from different tissues and organs, with the liver leading the process. This process is emphasized during the spring as it is the season that corresponds to increased liver activity.
The liver acts as a powerhouse of metabolic functions and works hard to filter and recycle the blood, so it has enormous capacity to hold toxins and excrete them. From the liver, blood flows to the right atrium of the heart (also where the lymph system empties), and with the contraction of the heart, into the lungs. Therefore, the first "station" in the detox cycle where toxins get stuck, is the lungs. Often times, the initial side effects presenting themselves in a detox program are excess phlegm, respiratory congestion, and symptoms of common colds and cough.
When the lungs do their job and eliminate, the blood then goes to the left heart, which is station two in the detox cycle. In TCM, the heart and mind are closely connected, a relationship that correlates to emotional release, insight, dreams, insomnia, as well as possible but infrequent heart symptoms such as palpitations – all of these are part of the heart stage.
After the heart, the blood circulates through the body. The third station is the digestive system, and if our digestive tract does not remove the toxins efficiently, they reabsorb back into the bloodstream. Symptoms in this stage of detox are constipation, bloating and flatulence, among others. The body then tries for the joints, the fourth station of the detox cycle, and a common area where toxins get stored. As blood continues to circulate in the body, it reaches the kidneys, (our filtration system), which are able to eliminate some of the burden through the urine. But the toxins that are not excreted here travel right back to the tissues and the liver.
What we have just described is one cycle of blood circulation. On one level, this can be a fast process, but on a larger level, the detox cycle can be quite slow. We can get stuck at each stage along the way, sometimes for months. Or we can get stuck for a long time at one stage, for example in the lungs, and experience chronic respiratory symptoms. Insomnia, which relates to the heart-mind connection, is another common issue with inappropriate detox, as discharged toxins and blockages (such as phlegm and inflammation) linger in the heart channel.
In fact, when assigning detox to a patient with chronic health issues, it is valuable to see which symptoms may start after a detox program. This will help us understand where the issues are coming from and, following this cycle, where they are progressing.
Cleansing the blood: Prepare for a deeper phase two detox
In the detox cycle, the distinctions between drainage (phase 1) and excretion (phase 2) are significant when planning a cleanse. Organs and tissues first discharge toxins into the circulatory system, which are eventually excreted by our sweat, breath, urine, and bowel movements, as well as with emotional/psychological and spiritual release.
If the burden of discharged toxins into our circulation is manageable and our excretion channels are supported to function efficiently, we can successfully cleanse with little or no side effects. One metaphor is that of the kitchen drawers. If we open one kitchen drawer and throw everything on the floor, we can clean it up easily. If we open all the drawers and throw everything onto the floor at once, we have a huge mess.
With any cleanse, it is important to move gently and gradually. So one of the most essential first steps is to have a system in place to begin cleansing the blood and digestion of circulating heavy metals and toxins and continue this process throughout both detox phases. It is important to cleanse the blood without causing the organs to discharge too much all at once. There are several good nutritional adjuncts which can support this process, including medicinal mushrooms. Medicinal mushrooms can act like sponges, traveling to hard to reach areas of the body to mop up toxins and pathogens. Another important supplement for cleansing the blood and digestion from heavy metals and toxins is a modified citrus pectin and modified alginate formula. This formula will gently and thoroughly bind to and remove heavy metals and toxins from the blood, tissues and digestive tract, without affecting essential minerals.
Phase two: Complete your cleanse
After the burden of toxins circulating in the blood stream is reduced with gentle blood cleansing supplements and a simplified cleansing diet, additional detox therapies and nutritional adjuncts can be incorporated. Specific functions of additional detox supplements are to further cleanse the blood, enhance the discharge and excretion phases by supporting detoxification within the organ systems, and protect organs and tissues from the stress of an increased burden of toxins and heavy metals. Additionally, supplements that support circulation and overall energy production are essential, as we cannot detoxify if we are depleted of vital energy.
Gently cleansing the blood circulation and digestive system first will prevent the discomfort many people experience when trying to cleanse successfully. Instead of a "healing crisis," we can create "healing spaces." By clearing out toxins in the blood and preventing re-absorption through the digestive system initially, we make room for the body’s natural process of cleansing and regeneration to occur, taking us into the deeper, more intense and more rewarding phase two of the cleanse. For now, just one question remains... How many layers -- of toxins, obstructions and unwanted emotions and life experiences do you want to peel off?
For more information and tips on heavy metal detoxification and seasonal cleansing, visit Dr. Isaac Eliaz web site.