by Thais Harris, NC
Nutrition Education Program Manager, Ceres Community Project
Summer is one of the best times of year to embark on a cleanse or detoxification. Warm weather makes it easier for the body to let go of toxins, and sweating is a great vehicle for this. It also makes sense to eat light raw (and cooling) foods in the summer, as we crave them and they are available in abundance, such as beets, cucumbers, watermelons, tomatoes and apples. Helpful herbs such as cilantro, parsley, basil, and fennel, all of which can assist the liver in processing out toxins, are also widely available. You can also plan a cleanse for Spring and Autumn, but avoid cleansing during the Winter, because during these colder months, our bodies’ natural tendency is to hold on to everything in order to store up energy (we sweat less, and crave denser foods to keep us warm).
The practice of detoxifying the body to rid it of unhealthy toxins has been around for centuries. Hippocrates recommended fasting to improve health, and many religious groups have historically used fasting as a way of purifying the spirit.
In our modern world detoxifying has become even more important, as we are exposed to a number of toxins every day in our environment and through our food supply.
Our body is equipped to remove toxins, but it can get overwhelmed and not work as effectively if there is too much exposure or too many toxins have accumulated.
Our liver filters the blood, identifying nutrients and toxins and processes them accordingly via two phases of detoxification:
In the first phase it uses enzymes and nutrients to transform the toxins, used hormones, prescription drugs, etc., into smaller, “broken down” parts. At this point toxic reactivity increases and so we want to make sure the second phase is working properly.
In the second phase the liver makes these substances water-soluble so they can be removed from the body. Amino acids drive this stage, as they attach to the toxins to further neutralize and escort them out of the body.
After this phase the toxins are eliminated through the digestive tract via bile (produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder) and eventually the colon (in stool) or via the kidneys (in urine). It is important to understand this process so we can prioritize eating foods that are rich in amino acids and the many enzymes, vitamins and minerals that support the detoxification process.
The significant role the liver plays in this process also explains why it is so important to support the liver through nutrition and herbs. If the liver is overwhelmed with too many toxins and cannot properly break them apart nor transform them into water soluble substances for excretion, the toxins will be stored in tissue (fat cells, brain, nervous system), and/or circulate in blood, contributing to poor health.
If you are considering a detox now, here are some tips to do it safely and comfortably as well as a list of great fruits, vegetables and herbs to include in your cleanse.
1. Elimination diet
Remove food allergens and chemicals found in processed foods: gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts, sugar, corn.
2. Stimulate the liver to remove toxins from the body
Add broths and teas that support the GI as well as the liver; some juicing is great but not necessary.
3. Promote elimination through the kidneys, intestines, and skin
Hydration is key! Eliminate caffeine and alcohol. Sweat (exercise)!
4. Improve blood circulation (through exercise).
5. Fuel the body with healthy nutrients
Eat lots of greens, aim for 80% greens/vegetables, 20% protein and fats.
Artichoke contains antioxidant plant compounds called caffeoylquinic acids, which stimulate bile flow. Bile helps the body to digest fats, and efficient bile flow clears the system of potentially inflammatory substances contained in fatty foods.
Avocado provides heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and glutathione which blocks at least 30 different carcinogens while helping the liver detoxify synthetic chemicals AND is essential for liver pathway cleansing.
This fruit contains fiber, vitamins, minerals and many beneficial phytochemicals such as D-Glucarate, flavonoids and terpenoids. One flavonoid, Phlorizidin (phlorizin), is thought to help stimulate bile production. Apples are also a good source of the soluble fiber pectin, which can help detox metals and food additives from your body. *It's best to eat only organic apples.
Betalains promote cell structure, repair and regeneration, especially in the liver. Beets contain a unique mixture of natural plant chemicals (phytochemicals) and minerals that make them superb fighters of infection, blood purifiers, and liver cleansers. They also help boost the body’s cellular intake of oxygen, making beets excellent overall body cleansers.
Through the compound sulfurophane, broccoli works with the enzymes in your liver to turn toxins into something your body can eliminate easily. *Broccoli sprouts contain 20 times more sulfurophane than broccoli. Sulfurophane is the most potent enzyme inducer for phase 2 of detoxification.
In addition to cleansing your liver, cabbage will also aid in helping you go to the bathroom, which in turn helps you expel the toxins, getting them out of your system so you can start fresh. It contains sulfur, which is essential when it comes to breaking down chemicals and removing them from your body.
This herb helps mobilize mercury and other metals out of the tissue and allow it to be excreted from the body. It also contains an antibacterial compound called dodecanal.
Garlic boosts the immune system as well as helping out the liver.
Ginger spikes your metabolism, flushes out waste, is thought to help liver function, and has some astringent properties.
Ceres' favorite green contains powerful anti-cancer and antioxidant compounds that help cleanse the body of harmful substances. Helps neutralize compounds found in cigarette smoke and contains a substance that jump-starts the liver’s production of cleansing enzymes. It is also high in fiber, which helps cleanse the intestinal tract.
This fruit is a liver detoxifier, contains high amounts of vitamin C (which makes glutathione – helping ensure that phase 2 liver detoxification keeps pace with phase 1). Have a cup of warm water with the juice of half lemon first thing in the morning.
It is dense in a variety of vitamins and minerals, in particular vitamins C, E, and K and iron. Helps protect your kidneys and bladder and keep the body's plumbing running smoothly by causing it to produce more urine (diuretic).
This tropical delight contains bromelain, a digestive enzyme that helps cleanse your colon and improve digestion.
Curcumin (active ingredient) is used in Ayurvedic Medicine to treat liver and digestive disorders, and is a potent natural anti-inflammatory that works as well as many anti-inflammatory drugs without the side effects.
Watercress helps to release enzymes in the liver that clean it out and help rid it of toxic buildup.
This medicinal herb assists liver cells in removing toxins from healthy blood cells. (enjoy as a cup of tea)
As a liver tonic, this root is esteemed for just about any liver toxicity condition, including eczema, psoriasis, and boils. (add to soups, cook as you would carrots, can also be grated on salads)
Aloe increases enzyme activity which ensures detoxification of metabolic wastes. Aloe offers 20 minerals, plus enzymes, amino acids, and vitamins. Egyptians called it the “plant of immortality.” (try aloe juice or adding the aloe gel in smoothies)
• Get plenty of sleep to assist your liver in doing its job!
You can also feel tired during a cleanse because of the hard work your body is doing to get rid of toxins. Listen to it and rest.
• Cleanse from technology
Take a break from your phone, computer, tv, to help the mind integrate the detox and find balance.
• Clean up your kitchen equipment
Let go of Teflon/non-stick coating, use parchment paper with aluminum baking pans.
• Mind your cleaning products
You can make your own all-purpose cleaner with vinegar and citrus oil.
• Simplify your beauty protocol
Use natural products without phtalates, parabens, triclosan, Sulfates, Propylene Glycols, and fragrances.
You can spend a few days focusing on the foods mentioned above, getting enough water/teas/broth, sweating, sleeping adequate hours, and trust that your body will let go of unwanted toxins. You don’t have to starve or go on a juice cleanse for this to happen.
Beware of harsh cleanses such as the Master Cleanse (based on drinking lemon, cayenne and maple syrup water) or other cleanses that rely heavily on products. We don’t recommend anything that will cause deep stress in your body. Some “packaged” cleanses available for purchase are wonderful and well thought-out. Using one of these can take some of the guess work of what to eat and provide supportive herbs, but if you opt for one of them, please make sure the ingredients are from clean, trustworthy sources.