Spring is here and one of the most common questions that pops up is “What can I do to detox?”. Detoxification is a great way to shake off that sleepy-winter-hibernation-sludgy feeling, but there are a couple crucial steps people commonly miss when they consider embarking on a cleanse.
Most people contemplating a cleanse want to target their liver. The liver is a large gland that builds proteins, stores glucose, produces bile, and neutralizes many harmful byproducts of metabolism or environmental chemicals and irritants that are absorbed or digested. If the liver gets overwhelmed, it can’t do it’s job as efficiently and symptoms like PMS, fatigue, mental fogginess, and a general bleck feeling creep in. Supporting the liver in its day to day duties is important, but it is not the first step in a successful detoxification plan.
Cleanses should begin with opening the body’s elimination routes: sweating, breathing, urination, and bowel movements. All of these things need to occur on a regular basis in order to properly detoxify your system. The keywords are “regular basis”, as we perform all of these functions to survive, but in modern society they generally do not happen often enough to create health.
You can think of these elimination routes like a major highway, and the waste products and chemicals you want to move out of your body like the cars. If there are more lanes open, the cars can move faster. If lanes are closed, this significantly slows traffic and causes a back up. For the traffic to move the most efficiently, all lanes need to be open.
Popping back to physiology for a minute: if you stimulate the liver with a cleanse before you’ve opened up these routes of elimination, you’ve freed up a myriad of irritants that have nowhere to go. In the traffic analogy, trying to detoxify the liver before opening organs of elimination is like when a football game ends and the entire crowd jumps into their cars and onto the highway that has 2 lanes closed. More cars on the road and less lanes open means slower traffic and a back up. Gridlock tends to provoke a variety of reactions in people such as anxiety, depression, anger, headaches, and fatigue, and these reactions are remarkably similar to what happens when the liver is stimulated and its byproducts have no exit route.
The organs of elimination, or your lungs, kidneys, skin, and large intestine, must be supported first. Here are a few easy suggestions:
1) Drink more water! Most people are chronically dehydrated, and water can help all of your organs of elimination work more effectively. About 1/3 of your water loss throughout the day is evaporated off of your skin and lungs. Keeping them moist is essential, as water plays a major role in the breathing process and metabolic reactions in the skin. Hydration keeps cells in your lungs and skin healthy.
Drinking more water is the best way to support your kidneys. Every minute, the kidneys filter ¼ of the blood your heart pumps out and eliminate waste products. If more water is present, the filtration process becomes easier and more waste products are eliminated. Without enough water, waste products back up into your body and put a heavier burden on your kidney’s filtration process.
Drinking more water assists the large intestine by helping to relieve constipation. Hydrating the stool adds bulk and eases movement through the large intestine. If you are constipated, waste products, like hormones, drugs, and other metabolites get reabsorbed into the bloodstream and are taken to the liver for processing. Regular bowel movements support the liver and the rest of the body with timely elimination of toxic substances.
2) Exercise! Exercise also helps your entire body function better, especially the organs of elimination. Exercising until you are sweating is very important, as sweating is the safest way to move harmful substances out of the body. If substances are eliminated through the skin, they bypass the kidneys and liver, monopolizing less of that organ’s resources and avoiding the potential of damaging said organ.
Exercising helps your lungs function more efficiently and eliminate waste products. Oftentimes during or after exercise, your parasympathetic nervous system (often termed “rest and digest”, as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system that is your “fight or flight” system) kicks in. The relaxed state it induces is necessary for proper digestive function, including bowel movements. Just remember to drink more water after you sweat!
Once you are sweating, urinating, and having regular bowel movements (fortunately we breathe on our own) for a few weeks or a month, then you may want to take a look at your liver. Depending on any pre-existing conditions, a cleanse might not indicated at all.
The best way to cleanse is to be supervised by a naturopath. They can tailor a regimen specifically to your needs and help troubleshoot an issues or detox reactions that frequently occur. Every person is different, and care should be individualized, not come out of a box at a health food or supplement store.