Colon cleansing is one of the most important steps in detoxification. The large intestine releases many toxins, and sluggish functioning of this organ can rapidly produce general toxicity. During any detox program, most people will incorporate some colon cleansing. Helpful products include herbal or pharmaceutical laxatives, fiber, and colon detox supplements such as psyllium seed husks alone or mixed with other agents (such as aloe vera powder, betonite clay, and acidophilus culture). Enemas using water, herbs, or even diluted coffee (the latter of which stimulates liver cleansing) may also be used.
A series of colonic water irrigations (best performed by a trained professional with filtered water and sterile, disposable equipment) can be the focal point of a detox program accompanied by a cleansing diet and fiber supplements.* Whatever the method, keeping the bowels moving is key to feeling well during detoxification.
Regular exercise is also very important as it stimulates sweating and encourages elimination through the skin. Exercise also improves our general metabolism and helps overall with detoxification. For this reason, regular aerobic exercise is key to maintaining a non-toxic body, especially when we indulge in various substances such as sugar or alcohol. Since exercise releases toxins in the body, it is important to incorporate adequate fluids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Regular bathing cleanses the skin of toxins that have been released and opens the pores for further elimination, and are particularly beneficial during detoxification. Saunas and sweats are commonly used to enhance skin elimination. Dry brushing the skin with an appropriate skin brush before bathing is also suggested to invigorate the skin and cleanse away old cells.
Massage therapy (especially lymphatic or deep massage) stimulates elimination and body functions and promotes relaxation. Clearing generalized tensions also makes for a more complete detoxification.
Resting, relaxation, and recharging are also important to this rejuvenation process. During the detox process, we may need more rest, quiet time, and sleep, although more commonly we have more energy and function better on less sleep than before. Relaxation exercises help our body rebalance itself as our mind and attitudes stop interfering with our natural homeostasis. The practice of yoga combines quiet yet powerful exercises with breath awareness and regulation, allowing increased flexibility and relaxation.
Certain supplements are appropriate for some detoxification programs. However, general supplementation may be less important in this detox program than with the specific detox plans for alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine when more nutrients can ease withdrawal symptoms. For straight juice cleansing or water fasts, I usually do not recommend very many supplements, however, I may suggest a couple of nutrients or herbs to stimulate the de-toxification process. Examples include potassium, extra fiber with olive oil to clear toxins from the colon, sodium alginate from seaweeds to bind heavy metals, and apple cider vinegar in water (1 tablespoon vinegar in 8 ounces hot water) to help reduce mucus. I have used blue-green algae, chlorella, and spirulina before, as I and other fasters often feel better and more energetic when we use these nutrient-rich foods.
For people who begin with transition diets, I usually suggest a specialized nutrient program to help neutralize toxins and support elimination. With weight loss (for detoxers who are overweight), toxins stored in the fat will need to be mobilized and cleared more water, fiber and antioxidant nutrients can help handle this.
The supplement program used for general detoxification includes a low-dosage multiple vitamin/mineral supplement to fulfill the basic nutritional requirements during the transitional diet. The B vitamins, particularly niacin, are also important, as are minerals such as zinc, calcium, magnesium and potassium. The antioxidant nutrients include beta-carotene, vitamin A, zinc, vitamin E, selenium, and especially vitamin C. Some authorities believe that higher amounts of vitamin A (10,000 IU), Beta-Carotine (25,000-50,000 IU), vitamin C (8-12 g), and vitamin E (1,000-1,200 IU) are helpful during detoxification to neutralize the free radicals.
The liver is our most important detoxification organ. Because of this, liver-supportive nutrients and liver glandulars are often suggested during general detoxification. The liver needs water and glycogen (stored glucose) as glucuronic acid for many of its detoxifying functions a higher starch or carbohydrate diet, if tolerated, with lower levels of protein and fats can supply this.
The B vitamins, especially B3 and B6, vitamins A and C, zinc, calcium, vitamin E and selenium, and L-cysteine are all also needed to support liver detoxification. Milk thistle herb (often sold as silymarin or Silybum marianum) has also been shown to aid liver detoxification and repair.
Several amino acids improve or support detoxification, particularly cysteine and methionine, which contain sulfur. L-cysteine supplies sulfhydryl groups which help prevent oxidation and bind heavy metals such as mercury; vitamin C and selenium aid this process. Cysteine is the precursor to glutathione - our most important detoxifier - which counters many chemicals and carcinogens. Glutathione is synthesized to form detoxification enzymes glutathione peroxidase and reductase, which work to prevent peroxidation of lipids and to decrease toxins such as smoke, radiation, auto exhaust, chemicals, drugs and other carcinogens.
Glycine is a secondary helper. An amino acid that supports glutathione synthesis, glycine decreases the toxicity of substances such as phenols or benzoic acid (a food preservative). Glutamine is also important in helping to heal the GI tract as well as reduce cravings for sugar and alcohol, should they occur. Other amino acids that may have mild detoxifying effects are methionine, tyrosine and taurine.**
As mentioned earlier, fiber also supports detoxification. Psyllium seed husks (often combined with other detox nutrients, such as pectin, aloe vera, alginates, and/or colon herbs) help cleanse mucus along the small intestine, create bulk in the colon, and pull toxins from the gastrointestinal tract. When fiber is combined with one or two tablespoons of olive oil, it helps bind toxins and reduce the absorption of fats and some basic minerals. Psyllium husks also reduce absorption of the olive oil itself, which is important in reducing calories and binding any fat-soluble chemicals that may have been released.
In Vitamin Power, Stephanie Rick and Rita Aero suggest taking 1-2 teaspoons each of psyllium and braN several times daily (with meals and at bedtime) along with one teaspoon of olive oil to help detoxify the colon. Acidophilus bacteria in the colon neutralizes some toxins, reduces the metabolism of other microbes, and lessens colon toxicity. Supplemental acidophilus is often added to a detox program.
*There are also entire programs for colon detoxification available, such as Dr. Robert Gray's Colon Cleansing program (which includes a book and special supplements) found mainly in health food stores. For a complete body and colon cleansing program, I really like Nature's Pure Body Program available at (800) 952-7873.
**For more information on amino acid metabolism and uses, I suggest a book by Dr. Eric R. Braverman and the late Dr. Carl C. Pfieffer, entitled The Healing Nutrients Within: Facts, Findings and New Research on Amino Acids (New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, Inc.), or see Chapter 3 in Staying Healthy with Nutrition.
Dr. Elson M. Haas is the Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin, an integrated health care facility in San Rafael, California. He is also the author of four popular health books, including the highly-acclaimed "Staying Healthy with Nutrition", and his latest book, "The Detox Diet". He can be reached at (415) 472-2343, FAX (415) 472-7636.
This excerpt from "The Detox Diet" by Elson M. Haas, M.D., has been reprinted with permission from Celestial Arts/Ten Speed Press. The book is available at your local bookstores and health food stores, or can be ordered directly from the publisher at (800) 841-BOOK.
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