Celebrate Spring with a Seasonal Cleanse
By Laurel Sterling Prisco, MA, RD, CN
"In 1999-2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested approximately 2,500 people for 116 chemicals. Every person in the study, regardless of age, location, or lifestyle, tested positive for environmental toxins."
Ah, spring! 'Tis the season we thrust open our windows, de-clutter closets, wash grimy windows, and sweep cobwebs. This "house cleaning" is a necessity for our bodies too. Heavy winter food and excesses likely prompt a need to cleanse our systems.
Why do we need to cleanse? The liver, lungs, kidneys, lymph, blood, GI tract, and skin work together to eliminate toxins. In a pristine and perfect world, they would function effortlessly, making detoxification unnecessary. The sheer volume and variety of toxins that bombard us daily, however, easily overwhelm these organs.
Signs of Toxic Overload
Signs of toxin overload include fatigue, headaches, poor concentration, depression, muscle and joint pain, skin irritation, poor complexion, sluggish immune function, even weight gain. Other signs may include allergies, autoimmune conditions, and reproductive disorders. Those with toxin overload also may note marked sensitivity to environmental chemicals, odors, and medications.
How Toxins Invade our Bodies
A toxin is defined as any substance that has a detrimental effect on the function or structure of your body. Unfortunately, they are everywhere—in our food, air, and water.
Most toxins fall within one of four categories: heavy metals, liver, microbial, and metabolic. Heavy metals include lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel, and aluminum, which enter the body as a result of industrial contamination. Other sources include: lead from pesticide sprays and cooking utensils; cadmium and lead from cigarette smoke; mercury from dental fillings, contaminated fish, and cosmetics; and aluminum from antacids and cookware.
Liver toxins are compounds that must be neutralized by the liver. They include alcohol, chemicals, drugs, solvents, formaldehyde, pesticides, herbicides, and food additives. Just to give you an idea of scope, there are 85,000 different chemicals produced in the U.S., with at least 3,000 new chemicals introduced each year (EPA Report, 1998). In 1999-2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested approximately 2,500 people for 116 chemicals. Every person in the study, regardless of age, location, or lifestyle, tested positive for environmental toxins. Even chemicals, such a PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), that have not been produced for over 30 years are still ubiquitous in the environment!
Microbial toxins are produced by bacteria and yeast in the gut and are absorbed into the bloodstream. Metabolic toxins include compounds such as ammonia that result from the body's breakdown of proteins.
Detoxification involves metabolic pathways where cells transform toxic substances into relatively harmless metabolites, which are then excreted through the urine or bile. Most toxic substances are fat-soluble and must be converted to a water-soluble form before they can be excreted. This is done in a two-step process that largely takes place in the liver, called phase I and phase II reactions. Phase I essentially preps the chemicals to be processed by phase II, but if toxins are left in their phase I state, they become even more toxic. Because of this, it is critical to make sure that the phase II pathway is not sluggish. Phase II involves conjugation of the metabolites which converts them to water-soluble molecules. Ultimately, the metabolites are excreted from the body through the kidneys or bowels; therefore, drink plenty of water during your cleanse to prevent constipation.
Three Steps to a Successful Cleanse
A good three-pronged plan for your cleansing program is to focus on supporting the liver, prevent reabsorption of toxins, and optimize elimination. There are a multitude of nutrients and herbs that support the liver, making it difficult to choose the best options. An easy way to start is with a formula that contains a wide variety of necessary ingredients. Hepa Trope II by American Biologics contains the ultimate phase II detox nutrients glutathione, N-acetyl cysteine, glutamine, glycine, and alpha-lipoic acid to convert metabolites to water-soluble compounds. Milk thistle supports phase I activities as well as protects the liver and promotes healing in liver cells.
Fiber or charcoal help bind toxins that have been metabolized to prevent reabsorption into the circulatory system and may help with elimination. But if there is constipation, it is critical to use nutrients that will help move the bowels. I find magnesium, the active ingredient in H2Go, to be an effective and nonhabit forming laxative.
If you have never cleansed before, I highly recommend you begin slowly. Prep work for an effective cleanse includes a healthy diet with gradual decreased consumption of foods like alcohol, saturated fats, sugar, and caffeine to lessen withdrawal symptoms. I suggest at least two cleanses a year, particularly at the beginning of Spring. If you have questions, call a NEEDS wellness educator for personalized guidance.