Take healthy approach to emptying your 'bucket'
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
Spring is the time of year when the snow is melting and trees, gardens and humans begin to thrive in the warmer sun.
Our mood also seems to lift as the air gets warmer and we are able to spend more time outside. Fresh produce and local leafy greens make their appearance at our local markets, providing good ammunition for a cleanse.
But what is a detoxification (detox) or cleanse? Is there a right way to do a cleanse? For whom can it be beneficial? Can it actually be a pleasant experience? Can it have long-term benefits?
Detox is commonly known as the excretion of accumulated toxic substances (toxins) from the body. There is, however, a broader and more clinically useful definition of detox. Let's think of our body as a bucket (click here to view diagram).
Generally we're born in a state of health -- our bucket is empty. As we go through life, a number of factors can interfere with our health. Perhaps it's a lack of exercise, a stressful job or poor dietary choices that can contribute to increasing the level in our bucket.
We are also exposed to a great number of toxins during the course of our lifetime. Exposure can be from food, medications, water and air. Our body is naturally equipped with organ systems that can safely remove most toxins on a daily basis, but sometimes these detox mechanisms become inefficient or overwhelmed.
Eventually, our bucket can overfill leading to symptoms such as fatigue, skin reactions, muscle aches and pains, unexplained weight gain, insomnia and changes in our mood.
In addition, mucous membranes (cells that line our bladder, digestive tract, reproductive organs and respiratory system in our body) become irritated. This can lead to symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, inability to hold urine, increased urinary frequency, runny noses, coughs or changes in menstrual flow. To properly diagnose such symptoms, a medical evaluation should be conducted. Other causes should be ruled out such as infections, cancerous growths, and other systemic diseases. Most often the causes of disease are multi-factorial, a full bucket being part of the picture.
What can one do to address an overfilled bucket? We don't want to put a lid on the bucket by suppressing symptoms. Such quick fixes or band-aid solutions rarely work for the long-term and do not enhance overall health status. Instead, let's address the cause by improving our nutrition, exercise, and sleep, while reducing our exposure to toxins.
We can further improve our body's natural ability to detoxify by optimizing the function of the kidneys, lungs, digestive tract and liver. These organ systems can efficiently drain our bucket thereby providing symptom relief without unpleasant side effects.
Avoiding or minimizing side effects is an important consideration. Some of us have heard about someone's horrible detox stories: such as "I had diarrhea and abdominal cramps for the whole week," or "my skin broke out in hives," or "after eating only apples for three days, I haven't been able to eat apples since -- and that was five years ago!"
Whether it's doing a detox or simply making lifestyle changes for health improvements, getting healthy shouldn't be painful!
Detox programs are tailored to each individual and can include some or all of the following:
- Take time off work, or lighten your workweek. This may be the single most important part of the program. In a state of stress, our body cannot repair itself.
- Eat differently. An individualized eating plan is most helpful.
- Daily at home 'saunas.' To stimulate sweating get into a hot Epson salt bath and drink three cups of hot herbal tea.
- Get outside daily for a dose of fresh air and sunshine.
- Stimulate the lymphatic system with castor oil packs, dry skin brushing, and light exercise. Daily walks and/or yoga practices are very rejuvenating.
- Individualized naturopathic medicines to improve detox systems with special focus on the system that require the most help. For example, for someone with a tendency towards constipation, moving your bowels will be the primary treatment strategy. It should be emphasized that certain herbs can cause side-effects and can interact with your medications and therefore should be prescribed correctly. For example, irritating laxative herbs such as senna, rhubarb and cascara are often found in generic detox kits, but should only be used if indicated.
- Play. Do something fun every day. Laughter is essential for stress management.
Consult your Naturopathic Doctor or MD before starting any detox program. A medical history, physical exam as well as a review of your diagnostic laboratories and imaging studies should be conducted on all patients with underlying health conditions. For example, patients who are diabetic, hypoglycemic and nutritionally deficient are at greater risk of blood sugar imbalances and fainting.
Most importantly, life shouldn't be a cleanse. Rather choose specific times during the year for detox programs. Emptying our 'bucket' can renew energy levels, reduce unpleasant symptoms by addressing the cause and can actually be fun.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Wednesday April 1st, 2009 in Times & Transcript.
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