You may have heard the word ‘detoxification’ or ‘detox’ in the context of alternative health. Simply put, detoxification is the process of removing a toxic substance or substances from the body. In healthy individuals, the digestive system and urinary system function optimally to process and eliminate harmful metabolites and environmental toxins. However, these systems can become overwhelmed if the individual becomes ill, or if there is exposure to toxic substances that goes beyond the system’s ability to handle in the form of pathogens.
Detoxification has a long history: in ancient times, detoxification of the body was associated with spiritual purification, a mind-body cleanse that served as a sort of reset button for the moral center. Fasting, which was part of the detoxification process in cultures all over the world, is still used as a means of spiritual purification in many traditions. In addition, ancient cultures used dry-brushing or the process of brushing the skin with a dry brush to unclog skin pores. Other cultures would use saunas or heated tents; herbal anti-infective, laxatives, and diuretics; and water, exercise, and meditation as part of the detoxification process. Sometimes, body-work was involved in the form of acupuncture, acupressure, or massage. Even bloodletting, the process of draining blood away to remove ‘impurities’, or consuming a purgative to induce vomiting were common processes to encourage the elimination of toxins. Some of the most ancient methods of detoxification are still in use today, including colonic irrigation, foot pads, bodywork, laxatives, detoxifying foods, and anti-infective remedies. More recently, modern medicine and nutrition have led to detoxification processes that are safer and more effective than ancient methods of detoxification, including the use of anti-infective agents and combination remedies.
A low-fiber diet, slow-moving bowels, or long-term infection can mean a buildup of pathogens or waste material in the colon. As far back as ancient Egypt, water enemas were used for detoxification. Coffee enemas are used as well, due to the fact that they may help stimulate the liver.
However, an enema runs the risk of worsening infection or upsetting the delicate balance of the healthy or mostly-healthy microbiome of the gut. The gut contains bacteria that help regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and help us digest our food. If an enema strips the inside of the colon of the useful bacteria that help us digest our food and guard our gut, poor digestion and illness can be the result. Additionally, the decrease in healthy bacteria can allow opportunistic pathogens to take their place.
Detoxifying Foot Pads
Wrapping the feet in a detoxifying paste of herbs, salts, and / or clays is another technique with a long history. Unfortunately, commercial foot pads are a good case for caveat emptor; some on the market today are a scam.
The idea is that one can attach pads to one’s feet that contain a patented blend that will then pull out toxins while the consumer sleeps. Herbs that are both anti-infective and circulatory stimulants, such as garlic and ginger, would shine here. However, many of these products simply contain a chemical that reacts with oxygen over time to eventually discolor, such as iron filings. The same discoloration would have occurred if the pad were spritzed with pure water and left sitting on the counter. Therefore, it’s very important to do one’s due diligence with these products and read ingredient lists carefully.
Detoxification pads that work will lighten as you use them more frequently, while sham treatments will always look the same.
Bodywork: Cupping, Brushing, and Massage
Cupping, brushing, and massage are three very different methods in practice, but their goals are the same: to increase circulation. Increasing circulation increases the rate of toxin clearance, and can increase blood flow to areas where circulation might be sluggish, carrying toxins away to be filtered out of the blood.
Cupping involves creating a tiny vacuum with a cup or glass, causing the skin to rise. This pull increases circulation to the area.
In brushing, light and even pressure is applied to the skin in a gentle scraping motion. This can be done with a specialized dry brush, and has the added benefit of removing dead skin cells. Though we don’t always consider the skin in this light, it is one of the most important organs for detoxification: we sweat through our skin, which is a very important method of elimination. Unblocking pores while increasing circulation can be very helpful for detoxification.
In massage, pressure is created to work out muscular knots and increase circulation, which in turn increases clearance of toxins.
For those with constipation, a laxative can be a boon. However, laxatives can also be over-used. In addition, it’s possible to become chemically dependent on herbs to the point that it becomes impossible to make the smooth muscle of the colon work well without using it. You should only use herbal laxatives rarely and in cases of need.
Bulking laxatives such as psyllium fiber are a much better bet for everyday detox; just be sure to drink a tall glass of water with any bulking laxative.
“Drink warm water with lemon first thing in the morning. It’s a good way to detox and alkalize your body.” Valentina Zelyaeva
Many swear by lemons, strawberries, beets, cucumbers, and other foods that would be classified as ‘cool’ and ‘damp’ for detoxification. Lemons increase gastric juices, which allows you to digest food more thoroughly. Most detoxification diets advise drinking copious amounts of water and consuming no added sugars.
Colloidal Silver and other anti-infective products
Anti-infectives such as grapefruit seed extract may be too strong to use long-term. Just like an antibiotic, if taken over too long a period of time, they may contribute to dysbiosis. A good, all-purpose anti-infective that is less overwhelming to the system might be goldenseal, Hydrastis Canadensis, which demonstrates anti-viral activity, anti-bacterial activity, and anti-fungal activity.
Research points to colloidal silver being a very potent antimicrobial detoxifying agent. Silver can work very well as a detoxifying agent for those who have systemic infection, or have had a systemic infection in the recent past. It can also be a helpful substance for those with depressed immune systems, such as individuals with immunoglobulin deficiencies or HIV.
However, the ‘more is better’ adage must be set aside to use intra-oral colloidal silver properly. Small doses of colloidal silver are effective; a few spritzes of a product like this one can be very powerful, killing nearly 100% of Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme), Candida albicans (yeast infection) and MRSA (resistant Staph) with which it comes in contact. The intra-oral method of administration is one of the simplest and easiest, and the product is absorbed very rapidly by the body through the oral cavity and into the bloodstream.
More and more, herbal and supplement manufacturers have created detoxification ‘systems’; for example, a cleansing product followed by a probiotic regimen. The Ultimate Body Detoxification System is an example of how modern manufacturers have created a series of supplements engineered to work together to detoxify the body. With each of the products working to support the other, you can achieve more energy, focus, and a lower infective load.
With detoxification products growing more and more popular — —the number of food products making detoxification claims was up 109% between 2007 and 2009, and the trend only continues— — you will want to ensure that the product and method you are using is safe and effective. Research the detoxification package you’re interested in and contact your integrative practitioner to discuss it further. High-quality products may require a prescription through a health practitioner.
Finally, ask yourself if a cleanse is right for you. If you are underweight and not immunocompromised, you may need more resources to feel energized, focused, and calm in the form of nourishing food and drink, rather than detoxification.