By Cora Rivard, N.D./Naturopathic Doctor. Seasons Natural Healthcare, LLC in Derry
“What is a cleanse, and do I need to do one?” If you asked your family medical doctor this question, she or he would probably take a deep breath and then try to explain to you that unless you are about to undergo a procedure that necessitates prior emptying of the bowels, there is never a reason to “cleanse” the inside of your body. The physiologies of your liver, kidneys, intestines, blood, lungs and skin already do this for you without your help; the roles of binding, detoxification and elimination all steadfastly go on without your conscious attention, thank you very much.
This is my opinion as well. However, things can still get bound up, backed up, overburdened, and just plain exhausted in your body at times- even when they are usually running smoothly. Diet, lifestyle and medications can overload the cytochrome P450 system which determines the rate of certain types of detoxification that happen in your liver. People can feel tired and worn out; they can get constipated from dehydration, being sedentary, changes in diet, food sensitivities and many other reasons (see my previous post for more information here, “Get Your Poop On…”). Skin can sometimes get inflamed when irritants hang around from metabolic waste. Those with tendencies for bronchial spasms and irritations can become more reactive when the burden of irritants on and within the body becomes too high.
So in my experience, people can feel great after a “cleanse.” But I see this as more of a “kick off” to a commitment to better eating and living habits. This is when it is time to hit the reset button, get to bed at regular times, and get outside more regularly for exposure to nature and the natural rhythms of life. A “cleanse” is a ritual that helps you to prioritize your health and wellness by backing off from the things that are unnecessary- the burdens of bad habits of mindless excess. It doesn’t require buying fancy kits and supplements. You don’t even have to plunk down $10,000 to join Dr. Oz at a posh health spa- it doesn’t have to cost you anything! But it has to be done carefully, and some “cleanses” can actually be quite dangerous. First, don’t do the following:
1. Don’t stop eating suddenly for extended times. Unless you have been culturally initiated to times of fasting, for many people, this kind of abrupt change can present some risky challenges. Your blood sugar could get dangerously low for your brain and you could pass out, or you could experience electrolyte imbalances that can cause a heart arrhythmia. Abrupt start and stop fasting methods can also precipitate gallbladder stones, and can cause harm to your metabolism. These are usually scammy yo-yo diets and they almost always lead to rebound weight gain. (Watch out for all those tabloids in the check out line with headlines like, “Drop 10 pounds in 10 days!!!”)
2. Please, please don’t do any cleanse that involves swallowing tablespoonfuls of oil. This can actually cause your gallbladder to spasm and expel stones, which can then become lodged in your biliary system and wreak havoc. It is just not worth it.
3. Avoid colon hydrotherapy/irrigation. Is there a fire in your bowels? No? Then don’t do this! Your bowels do not need to be “washed,” unless you have a specific medical need to do so. The ecology of the intestines is delicate, and can be upset by forcing water through them at high pressure. Plus, this type of procedure puts one at risk for perforations, infections, and other unintended consequences.
4. You do not need to use vaginal douches. The vagina is supposed to have its own ecosystem which can be damaged with douching. It has a pH and natural secretions to help protect itself and maintain health. If you are suffering from yeast infections or other problems with smell or discomfort, speak to your doctor about it.
5. Avoid juicing diets. You don’t need all the sugar- think of this as similar to drinking soda all day. And, you are throwing away much of the great nutrition of the foods in the form of fiber and other important nutrients.
Now that you know what not to do, what can you do? At it’s core, doing a cleanse lessens the burden on your body so that it can better do its job to bind up, detoxify, and eliminate. A good rule of thumb is going for a month, but even 2 weeks, 1 week, Here are the most important points for doing a cleanse for your chosen period of time:
1. Avoid eating all junky foods. This includes foods with added sugars, fried foods, heavily processed foods that contain “non-food” ingredients, chemically processed foods. Warning: for the first week after giving up added sugars- you will CRAVE sugar like crazy. But after that, smooth sailing. In fact, your taste buds will adjust, and the old foods you enjoyed will actually taste too sweet to you.
2. Avoid eating lots of rich and meaty foods. These foods can settle heavily, and can take more resources to process in your body. It is good to lighten the load occasionally. You might give up all red meats for a month, or commit to eating just fish or poultry a few times a week, and then vegetarian the other days. Or even just practicing “Meatless Mondays.” The more adventurous could go totally vegetarian, but this takes some planning.
3. Get plenty of rest and quality sleep at night. This is essential to body repairs and optimal function.
4. Avoid alcohol, and if you can handle it- caffeine. Both of these things put a burden on your liver’s detoxification system, give it a break for a while. I also find that caffeine and alcohol use can frequently interfere with restorative sleep. Warning: sudden caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches, exhaustion, and irritability. Even a reduction to one or 1/2 cup in the mornings if you are a multi-cup coffee drinker can be a big benefit.
5. Eat smaller meals, especially at night. Avoid excess.
6. Drink plenty of filtered water to stay hydrated.
7. Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage. These are particularly great at assisting the liver to do its work. But, always go slowly when adding more fiber to your diet, you might get gassy, constipated, or even inflame your colon from mechanical irritation if you change your diet too rapidly. Check with your doctor first if you are taking blood thinners, or if you have inflammatory bowel disease. Go for steamed veggies, in small servings, once or even up to twice a day to start if you are not used to these foods.
8. Unlike longer fasting regimens, some people like to practice, “intermittent fasting.” This is where you mindfully fast from food and beverages (water is allowed and encouraged during this time) for certain regular intervals. A great way to do this is stay simple- one can try fasting for 12 or so hours a day (say, 7pm-7am.) By not eating or drinking (things other than water) within several hours of bedtime, you also reap the benefits of more restorative sleep.
9. For extra credit- go for the fermented foods. Be adventurous and throw some kimchi on your eggs, or serve a side of sauerkraut on the side of you chicken sausage. Try some unsweetened vanilla coconut yogurt with some fresh blueberries or cut strawberries. Try some kefir, or live culture plain yogurt. Adding in a regular source of fermented foods can help make your intestines function better, keep you better protected from colds, flu, and stomach bugs, and can make you feel happier as well!
And that is it! It is just that simple. Trendy cleanses and diets of the moment tend to avoid the most common food sensitivities and allergens. While there are inconsistencies and problems with many of these plans, people often feel great on them and lose weight in the short term because they cut out the junk food, many of the sweets, the alcohol, in addition to the most frequently reactive foods for people, such as gluten and dairy, coffee, soy and eggs. That is most of the magic right there. There is nothing wrong with these foods, except if you happen to be sensitive to them. If you’ve got questions about how you might be reacting to certain foods, best to consult with an N.D. or nutritionist to help you find the best fit nutritional plan for you, for your needs in the long term.
For those who are motivated and can afford it, I often recommend adding in massage, which is a great way to stimulate circulation of blood and lymph. Also try daily walks outside, regardless of the weather, meditation and mindfulness practice, and deep slow breath practice. And turning off the news, and social media, especially in the evenings.
I have become a fan of the recipe for Magic Mineral Broth 2.0 by Rebecca Katz. While she originally developed this veggie-rich recipe for use as a nourishing broth for those undergoing cancer treatment, she has updated it with more pizazz for her new book, : The Longevity Kitchen: Satisfying, Big-Flavor Recipes Featuring the Top 16 Age-Busting Power Foods [120 Recipes for Vitality and Optimal Health]. This has some great, nutritious recipes to use during your cleanse and well beyond for enhanced health and longevity.This broth can be a tasty, nutritious powerhouse for supporting your organs of elimination. (Enjoy it anytime!)
If you are looking for an interesting and tasty kale blend recipe, here is a fantastic one for Kale and Brussel Sprout salad. You can just leave out the sheep cheese if you are avoiding cheese. Really, even people who tell me that they don’t like kale and brussel sprouts, they like this one. If you are interested, I have a great article with some high protein smoothie recipes here. Go for one of these daily during your cleanse- they can serve as a meal replacement in a pinch. Instead of coffee in the mornings- enjoy some hot water with a fresh twist of lemon. Or, perhaps some ginger or green tea (caffeine levels are pretty low in green tea.)
Doing a cleanse can be a great way to help prevent and reduce seasonal allergy reactions, especially when started before the allergy season begins. For more information about how to prevent and limit allergy symptoms- read my previous blog article, “Nip Allergies in the Bud: 8 Tips for Relief.”
*This article is not to be taken as medical advice. Please talk to your doctor about any health concerns*
by Cora Rivard, N.D. www.seasonsnatural.com