Naturopathic Health: Cleanse and Detox 101

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Dr. Jaclyn Chasse, N.D. is a licensed naturopathic doctor and the Medical Educator for Emerson Ecologics, a distributor of dietary supplements to medical professionals. Dr. Chasse’s clinical practice, Northeast Center for Holistic Medicine (, focuses on women’s health, pediatrics and infertility, with an emphasis on botanical medicine. Dr. Chasse is also a master gardener and spends her free time cooking, playing in the woods with her family and taming her small yard into an urban permaculture oasis.

You clean your home, you clean your car, you clean your kids’ faces. You clean your hair, you clean behind your ears and you clean your teeth. But, have you thought to clean your insides?

Last weekend, at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, I presented on the importance (and simplicity) of detox and cleanse programs. Here’s a summary of what you missed!

It was recently reported that in 24 major cities,
the water supply was contaminated with pharmaceutical medications.
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik/Courtesy 

More than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the United States. Those chemicals get into our bodies through our food, air and water. We are aware of heavy metals in fish, paints, and building products and carcinogenic chemicals in cleaning products, beauty products and plastics. Last year, it was even reported that in 24 major cities, the water supply was contaminated with measurable levels of pharmaceutical medications! For some of these toxins, we know there are harmful effects, such as with mercury in fish. With others, we can use our common sense to make assumptions that these unnatural chemicals may have detrimental effects in our bodies when they build up to high levels. So, do we need to think about cleaning our bodies and eliminating toxins?  Absolutely!

Our body was designed to be able to identify, break down and eliminate compounds that may be harmful. Even our own metabolic processes create products that, when built up, can cause us harm.  Some examples are carbon dioxide (the air that we breathe out), lactic acid, hormones, and cholesterol. Thankfully, we are born with the innate ability to detoxify. Our liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and digestive tract are constantly detoxifying and eliminating these toxins that we create and are exposed to.

I recommend that people assist their bodies in the detoxification process by doing a cleanse program at least once per year. After reading this article, you should be able to identify or even create your own safe and effective cleanse program. 

To put it simply, the purpose of a cleanse program is to assist your body in it’s own natural detoxification by decreasing the toxins you take in and increasing the toxins you process out.

To help decrease the toxins you take in, eat organic whenever possible.
Photo by JourneyVerse/Courtesy

Decreasing Toxins In

When you are completing a cleanse program, every effort should be taken to ensure that you are exposing your body to the least amount of toxic compounds as possible. This is a great time to investigate natural cleaning products, natural beauty products, and looking into having your air and water tested for purity.

When it comes to your diet, which people focus most on during a cleanse, you also want to limit your exposure to chemicals.   

Eat organic whenever possible. It may be most obvious to choose organic produce, but you should especially focus on switching your dairy, eggs and meats to organic. They are higher on the food chain and thus carry a heavier load of environmental toxins. In addition, non-organic meats and dairy usually come from animals that were given antibiotics and hormones throughout their lifetimes.

Do not eat processed foods. When you are shopping in the grocery store, you should be walking around the perimeter of the store, focusing on foods that are fresh. Avoid foods that contain artificial coloring, preservatives, additives, chemicals or artificial sweeteners. When you read the ingredients in a food, there should be as few as possible. If you don’t recognize an ingredient as a food or you can’t pronounce it, it is likely a processed food.

Avoid sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Alcohol and caffeine are compounds that your liver has to break down, and remember that we want to decrease your liver’s burden during this time. Sugar is just not good for you, and while you’re doing so much to clean up your diet it is best to remove this as well.

Avoid food allergens. If you know that you are allergic to a food, avoid that food while cleansing. Many people who are unsure of whether they have a food allergy choose to avoid dairy and gluten while on a cleanse because these are the two most common food allergens.

To help increase the toxins you put out, get some rest.
Inhale lavender for its natural sedative effects.
Photo by SilvaAzniv/Courtesy

Increasing Toxins Out

As mentioned before, your body has eloquent systems in place to detoxify. The essential organs include your liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and digestive tract. Your liver breaks down chemicals, hormones, medications, and toxins and dumps what needs to be eliminated into your digestive tract. The water soluble metabolites of toxins are excreted through your kidneys. You actually breathe out some toxins through your lungs, such as carbon dioxide, a gas produced naturally when you breathe. Lastly, your skin is an important organ of elimination which does its job mostly when you sweat.

To increase the amount of toxins you process and excrete, here are a few simple suggestions:

Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Try for 8 to 10 servings per day (a serving is 1/2 cup). Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants to help your body detoxify and fiber to pull toxins out of your body through your digestive tract.

Each day, consume at least one serving of foods that stimulate liver function and bile flow, including lemon, lime, beet, carrot, artichoke, turmeric. Also increase your intake of onion and garlic, which are both potent natural detoxifiers.

Sweat, at least 30 minutes daily. This can be accomplished through exercise or through the use of saunas. Both are effective and very important to include on a cleanse program. 

Rest and sleep. You should be getting additional rest and sleep throughout the cleanse process. Stress decreases your ability to detoxify. Sleep and rest promote healing and regeneration. Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night while on a cleanse.

Drink, drink, drink! Increase your intake of fluids to at least 64 ounces daily. Preferred beverages include filtered water, herbal teas, and fresh vegetable and fruit juices. These fluids are vital to help remove water-soluble toxins from your body. While you are doing a cleanse program (and under normal circumstances as well), your urine should be very pale yellow or almost clear. 

Many people want to use additional supplements to promote detoxification. These may include fiber, healthy oils, probiotics (to promote proper elimination), and liver-supportive herbs such as milk thistle, turmeric, artichoke, etc. These products are all useful adjuncts to the lifestyle suggestions mentioned above.

Make sure that before you cleanse, you consult with a medical professional to ensure that it is safe for you to do so. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not undergo a formal cleanse. If you are on medications, cleansing (especially with supplementation) may increase the rate at which your body eliminates the medications from your body, making them less effective. Make sure you talk with your doctor or consult a licensed naturopathic doctor before undergoing a cleanse program.

Resources This website of the Environmental Working Group publishes the “Dirty Dozen” each year, which are the 12 fruits and vegetables highest in pesticide residue. It is essential to avoid these while on a cleanse, and a good idea to avoid them altogether!! Another site put out by the Environmental Working Group, this site allows you to look up your cosmetic and beauty products to see how they rack up in the health of the ingredients.  Very interesting! The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California puts out the “Seafood Watch”, a guide to consuming safe seafood. They publish pocket guides that you can print out, and even have information on safe sushi! Naturopathic doctors are our country’s experts in natural medicine, including safe and effective detoxification. Any naturopathic doctor should be able to design a cleanse program that is right for you. The New Hampshire Association of Naturopathic Doctors’ website is a great resource to find a licensed naturopathic doctor in your area.

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