Spring Cleansing

Herbs Give a New Lift, a Fresh Start

| March/April 1998

  • Known to most as a pesky weed, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) flushes the system while providing potassium.
  • The flowers of elder (Sambucus nigra) encourage sweating.
    Herb photos by Steven Foster
  • Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) defends the liver.
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is one of many herbs that can help clean the lymphatic system.
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a diaphoretic, or an herb that encourages sweating.
  • Like yarrow and elder, boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) prompts the body to sweat out impurities.

One of the most common complaints I hear from my patients is that they “feel toxic.” You may have experienced this feeling yourself. Some describe it in vague terms, saying they feel a bit off-kilter or run down. Others show it with hotter-than-normal body temp­er­atures, frequent dull headaches, or an ­inability to concentrate, among other ­symptoms.

One in four Americans suffers from measurable heavy-metal toxicity, according to R. A. Passwater and E. N. Cranton in Trace Elements, Hair Analysis and Nutrition (New Canaan, Connecticut: Keats, 1983), and many Americans suffer from milder forms of toxicity—a health change for the worse caused by a substance produced by the body itself, such as an overproduction of estrogen, or by outside sources, such as heavy metals. Toxicity impairs health to various degrees, ranging from subtle decreases in vitality to serious illness.

Fortunately, natural healing methods can help correct a toxic state. Cleansing, also called detoxifying or fasting, can help you pamper your body’s cleansing organs while ejecting toxins that are causing discomfort. Many herbs provide the body with needed nutritional support and protection while acting as “housekeepers,” dusting and polishing the body’s cleansing systems so they can run efficiently and keep you healthy.

Internal and External Causes

Toxicity’s causes can be classified into two general categories. The body itself is one cause: When normal by-products of metabolism, such as lactic acid, are produced in excess, toxicity results. Even substances that are normally beneficial, such as estrogen, can cause problems in excessive amounts.

Toxicity can be caused by outside sources, too. Smoking, drinking, and drugs certainly contribute to it, as does exposure to industrial pollutants and commonly used products such as pesticides, herbicides, and food additives. A poor diet also contributes—not eating enough fiber, for example, slows digestion, so toxic substances may sit in the gastrointestinal tract longer, increasing their chances of being reabsorbed.

Disease, ranging from mild to severe, also can cause toxicity, both internally and externally; this toxicity results from your body’s increased production of substances to fight the disease, from residue left over from the disease itself, or from drugs used to treat the illness. I also believe that most of us suffer from a low-grade “sluggishness” of the liver, whose cleansing role has increased over the centuries as risk of exposure to toxins has increased. As a result, our livers may now be overtaxed.

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