Spring — ain’t it grand? The warm weather, the flowers, the feeling that life is starting again after the long, sleepy winter? What a perfect time to turn over a new leaf, physically and spiritually.
Strengthen and Detoxify Your System
Many natural healing systems take account of the seasons and the effect that cold, light and weather have on the body. According to Ayurveda, naturopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine, for instance, body energy mirrors the seasons. Winter is the time to nourish the body and let it rest, to conserve and build the qi (vital energy).
Come spring, we feel the need to get up and exercise, not to mention cleanse and detoxify our systems with the young greens that are beginning to grow. Increasing physical activity, as well as the amount of natural fiber we eat, helps rid the body of all that waste accumulated over the winter.
Spring also is the time of year in which the liver’s energy is resurging and is seen as an excellent time to cleanse this most important of organs.
The body possesses an amazing ability to cleanse itself, through the urinary system, the gastrointestinal system, the respiratory system, the lymphatic system and the skin. But the liver does the yeoman’s work in running interference for any excess eating or drinking or medicating we might do, as it converts toxins into easily excretable substances and helps remove them from the body.
The liver also helps filter pollution and other unhealthy environmental toxins we may come in contact with. For all the work it does, we owe it to our liver to make sure it’s as healthy as possible.
The following herbs all have a cleansing effect on the liver:
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is the best-known plant in the treatment of liver disease. In Roman times, Pliny the Elder (A.D. 77) reported that milk thistle was “excellent for carrying off bile.” Culpeper (1650) wrote of its effectiveness in removing obstructions of the liver and spleen.
The active agent in milk thistle is found in the seeds of the plant and is composed of three isomer flavonolignans, which are collectively known as silymarin. Silymarin acts as an antioxidant by reducing the production of harmful free radicals. It also may act as a toxin blocker.
Another plant that helps the liver is licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra). The extract of the root has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Licorice should be used cautiously in patients with hypertension or a history of renal disease.
The beautiful globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) contains cynarin, a substance somewhat similar to silymarin. Like milk thistle, artichoke actually stimulates the regeneration of liver tissue.
Many holistic practitioners believe disease is caused by uneliminated wastes.
Eliminate the Problem
In the naturopathic view, disease is caused by uneliminated wastes. Many practitioners feel that we are all hard-pressed these days — what with junk food, coffee, alcohol, nicotine and chemicals to contend with — to be at our most healthy. They use the word “detox,” which originally applied to those who were trying to withdraw from drug use, to describe what we should do for optimum health: Avoid the things that make us ill.
The typical diet includes too much fat, salt, sugar, alcohol, chemicals, pollutants and food allergens. But “detox” implies cleansing and a fresh start, a fresh approach to diet and exercise. We can, once we give the body a break, rely on its inherent ability to cleanse itself. How? It’s easy: Initiate the process with a diet that avoids the intake of toxins, encourages elimination, and includes lots of water and exercise.
There are a lot of crazy diets out there, as well as people advocating fasting and colonics. “Forget detox diets,” says Andrew Weil, M.D. “The best thing you can do is to stop putting toxins into your system. Eat organic foods, drink water that is purified, don’t be around secondhand smoke — the obvious things.”
By the third day of my cleanse, I felt alert and energized.
I like Weil’s gentle approach to detox. Instead of fasting altogether, I am happy to give up a few things for a while. I really want to detox, but can I live without coffee, butter, chocolate, wine, milk, eggs, meat, food additives and preservatives — for a week?
Elson M. Haas, M.D. (www.ElsonHaas.com), author of The New Detox Diet (Celestial Arts, 2004), advocates fasting with the aid of a “master cleanser,” a tall drink of water with a pinch of cayenne, two tablespoons of lemon juice and a tablespoon of maple syrup. I am not one bit tempted to go there, because I’m really averse to the idea of giving up solid food. So I was interested to see that Haas also recommends a “detox diet” that actually includes eating.
Sometimes, we need a little help getting back on track — or in my case, a little help finding the track! I’d been feeling that I needed to jumpstart my New Year’s resolution to eat more vegetables, drink less wine and cut down on sweets. Haas’ mainly-vegetable diet (see Page 33) appealed to me.
My Detox Experience
I warned my husband that I was going to be caffeine-less for the next few days, bit the bullet and began my three-day detox. Upon arising, I followed Haas’ directives rigorously. Instead of my usual slug of coffee, I drank two glasses of water with half a lemon squeezed in. Half an hour later, just as Haas prescribed, I had cooked cereal. For lunch, I ate one to two medium bowls of steamed veggies. Ditto for dinner. There were absolutely no chocolate-chip macadamia nut cookies for snacks at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The menu said to drink a bowl of the water I’d steamed the veggies in instead. Following Haas’ strictures to the letter helped me to feel in control. The instructions, as you see above, were not complicated, a feature that I found quite welcome.
Herbal teas throughout the day were allowed, but I couldn’t help feeling deprived. Day One found me a bit ratty, missing my coffee and chocolate. By Day Two I was feeling virtuous, and a bit nun-like, but still moody. But by the third day, I felt alert and energized, as well as cleaned out, figuratively and literally.
In fact, I felt so well that I continued the diet for a week. A funny thing happened as the days wore on: I began to think not about what I was depriving myself of, but of what good I was doing my body. The food, which, let’s face it, was pretty plain-Jane, did not seem a bit boring. I began to attend to what I was eating like never before, and to feel grateful for it in a way I can’t really explain.
One of the reasons to detox is to stop a pattern of overindulging or to begin a new way of eating. My experience certainly made me feel better and more aware. On a practical note, I’ve become adept at steaming more vegetables than I need at one meal, so now I always have plenty on hand. Although I have eaten chocolate and drunk red wine since, I have not done so with my usual abandon. This is a good thing: My liver has told me so. And for the first time, I am listening.
Nancy Allison is a freelance writer living in Fort Worth, Texas. She is a frequent contributor to Herbs for Health.
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