This subject is so important that understanding it and taking it to heart can lead to a complete transformation of your health and well-being. Many health care providers use the term “detoxification” for a number of methods and practices that range from fasting to using healing herbs to improve the body’s internal ability to remove waste. Natural medicine practitioners usually focus on improving the function of the bowel and of the liver, which is the other important organ for internal cleansing. In this approach I use the term “cleanse” because I encourage a gentle approach. The term “cleanse” is used to describe a middle road of gradual, but long term internal cleansing by means of a process of enjoying healthy foods, simple teas and tonics, powerful nutrients and stress relief practices
Detoxification can mean many things to different people, like withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, fasting therapy, colonic therapy and other methods. I believe in the benefit of starting out slowly. I prefer to expand the focus from just “cleanse,” meaning elimination of toxic waste, to cleanse and “renew.” This is the other side of the coin where we nourish the system and encourage regeneration as well as eliminate toxic congestion of the internal organs. The answer to creating health often is found in taking stock of what we are doing instead of adding in something new.
Modern culture encourages us to add in something new to increase energy or to relieve aches and pain. Taking a vacation from some specific food or eating pattern gives our body an opportunity to recharge itself. The body is able restore balance without any outside help. We think of a vacation as a way to renew ourselves. We are able to create a fresh start and a new outlook on life in a pleasing environment with a schedule free of stress. We can get our creative juices flowing again and get back in touch with the real priorities in life.
Most of us understand what is meant by self-renewal, but many of us think of cleansing as something that is done only to the surface of the body. Cleansing internally can also be used to refresh our body and mind with long-term benefits for total health. One traditional way of internal cleansing is too fast. Should we start a fast? Well, not so fast!
I have noticed that when people fast, they often have headaches, body aches, fatigue and sometimes depression. These symptoms are similar to a “hangover.” A hangover is when the body’s detoxifying organs break down and eliminate the by-products from excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages. We wouldn’t really say that we are ill if we have a hangover, just that the body needs to catch up in ridding the system of toxic chemicals and then perhaps “sleep it off.” Even without excess alcohol consumption, the body can accumulate a backlog of waste. When we allow organs like the liver to catch up and even take a rest, we experience a renewal that is physical, psychological and emotional.
The purpose of cleansing is to prevent illness and maintain optimum function in all aspects of our lives. The “cleanse and renew” process is also a way to deal with certain types of health problems such as food and seasonal allergies, joint pain and stiffness, digestive problems and unpleasant symptoms of menopause and PMS. And these are only a few of the health conditions that can be addressed with specific yet simple dietary and lifestyle changes. It is a solid foundation for using other methods of treatment for health challenges. I find that most people benefit from a program that does not disrupt the daily routine by causing us to feel sick or by causing the system to shut down. If we try to cleanse too quickly we will get the “hangover phenomenon.”
If we continue to eat as we cleanse, then the bowel will continue to move and the metabolism will continue as usual. We may feel a little sluggish, but most of us can do this and still maintain most of our normal activities. There is often greater benefit in this approach, especially at the first stage of transformation. If you choose to take a more aggressive approach later, you will get a better result by beginning the cleansing process slowly in this way.
“All I’m asking is for five days at a time”.
CHANGING LIFESTYLE AND DIET PATTERNS
As we cleanse we renew by giving the body nutrients that it has been missing if we have been careless in our eating habits for too long. Changing lifestyle and diet patterns for 5 days creates the opportunity to take a fresh look at everything. In the cleanse and renew process, for 5 days the digestive system has a chance to restore itself because it is not overworked. As we strengthen digestive function and allow cleansing to take place we begin to feel more vibrant. The whole body begins to rest, heal and rejuvenate with healthy foods, moderate exercise and stress relief techniques. Then our body and emotional life become more efficient and balanced.
The way to do this is for five days, give the liver a break. That means just have lightly cooked vegetables, salads in season and freshly juiced vegetable juices. For the five days there is no animal protein or oil, except perhaps a small quantity of olive oil. What can we accomplish with this? We certainly won’t change our health condition in five days. What we can do is not only give the digestive organs, especially the liver a rest, but we can also get our health compass back.
After five days of this very simple diet, you will become sensitized. And if you repeat it twice a month for three months, you will become very clear on what works for you and what doesn’t. Most people do not experience any kind of healing crisis reaction. If you are dealing with a chronic illness, five days twice a month for several months can lead to a new self awareness about your condition. You should change it to suit your needs as you get used to it and learn more about what your body is telling you.
What is it telling you now? For many people it’s telling them that it’s time for a cup of coffee or perhaps a candy bar. Maybe it’s telling them that it’s been a rough day and it’s time to have a drink. If this is you, don’t worry about it. I’m not asking you to give up anything. In fact, I think that it’s very unhealthy to tell yourself that you can’t have the things you love and that they might be damaging to you. All I’m asking is for five days at a time.
THE PROCESS OF CLEANSING IN HISTORY
If we examine our traditions and the traditions of other cultures we can see how this process of cleansing and renewal has been a part of the fabric of human life throughout history. Traditionally many cultures have chosen ways to cleanse and renew. Over time, some of these have even been absorbed into traditional religious practices. For thousands of years people have fasted not only to cleanse the body, but to regain a sense of perspective and direction in life.
From ancient times, people, especially seers, medicine men/women have fasted or eaten small quantities of food to gain spiritual insight. It has been a sacred practice throughout the ages in many cultures. Though eating fewer calories over a short period of time has its benefits, it is important to eat high quality real food to establish moderation, to understand our emotional connection to food and above all to create a long-term program full of variety.
People have fasted for centuries, but they also had feasts and times of great celebration and abandoned the ordinary cares of life. But in today’s world we feast often without regard for the need to enjoy the pleasure of the lightness of cleansing and refining our sensitivity to stimulation. In the traditional medicine of East Asia, the natural cycle of internal cleansing was considered to be in spring.
According to the ancient tradition of Chinese medicine, spring is the season associated with the liver, which is the primary detoxifying organ of the body. Herbs and lifestyle practices to support the liver function were recommended by health care practitioners during this season in order to prevent health problems in the following seasons. A spring cleanse has been shown to lessen early seasonal allergy symptoms.
CREATING A HEALTHY METABOLISM
To cleanse and renew is as normal and natural as your next breath and just as necessary. There is a normal life cycle for all of the cells of the body. There is a normal rate of turnover in this process by which old cells die out and new cells are produced in every tissue of the body. A red blood cell has a life span of about 100 days, but the longevity of a bone cell is about 7 years. Our cells all produce energy and perform specific tasks essential to the functioning of the whole body. This is the process called metabolism.
A normal, healthy metabolism maintains a balance between the production and breakdown of cells. Weight gain is a common result of malfunctioning of the metabolism. The body accumulates cells and tissue or creates a state of congestion. In this case the metabolism is too slow.
In fact many problems of aging are the result of not paying attention to this need to “cleanse.” Modern people eat excessively without a break in the routine unless they get sick. Modern people also are sedentary and frequently don’t get enough exercise. This has the effect of causing a sluggish metabolism. The accumulation of waste in the tissues, a slower cell turnover and congestion perpetuates the cycle of sluggishness.
The ongoing process of life can be thought of as the constant cleansing of old cells from the tissues and renewing them with the production of new cells. This cleanse and renew process is at the core of the balance of life. There are a number of ways we directly participate in this process through our lifestyle and diet habits.
Daniel Kenner Ph.D., L.Ac. is expert in integrative health and wellness with 30 years of clinical experience in both Oriental and Naturopathic Medicine. He graduated in 1979 the Meiji College of Oriental Medicine in Japan, passed the national licensing examination and then trained in internships at Osaka Medical University Pain Clinic and Kinki University Medical Teaching Hospital. He was one of the first foreigners ever to be licensed by the Japanese government. Dan also has a Ph.D. in Naturopathic Medical Science from First National University of Naturopathic Medical Sciences and a well respected member of the Board of Governors of the National Health Federation. Since 1983 he has endeavored to integrate the naturopathic medical traditions of North America and Europe with the traditional medicine of East Asia.
In addition to authoring numerous articles, Dan is author of The Whole-Body Workbook for Cancer (New Harbinger, 2009), The Science of AHCC, Basic Health Publications, 2009, Acupuncture Core Therapy (Paradigm, 2008), AHCC – The Japanese Medicinal Mushroom Immune Enhancer (Woodland, 2001) and Botanical Medicine: A European Professional Perspective (Paradigm, 1996).