Spring is a popular time to consider “doing a detox”. While this is a very common term to hear in the alternative medicine world, this can mean many different things. I frequently get asked for supplements and protocols for detoxification, but often when I ask clarifying questions, people are unsure what their goals are beyond a nebulous idea of cleaning up.
Spring Cleaning Inside and Out:
When the weather begins to shift away from the cold and dark of Winter, our energy starts to increase. This often can be seen in the flurry of people heading outside on the first warm and sunny day in weeks, the sound and sight of lawnmowers coming out of their slumber, and flowers brightening their surroundings with the colors we have missed during the grey months.
During this time many of us will open our windows and give our homes a deep clean refreshing our spaces. Our diets can change as spring vegetables and flowers head to our tables. Many of us find it easier to get out of bed in the morning when greeted by sunshine and birdsong. There is an overall desire to shift our energy and attention during this time.
In addition to the changes in our surroundings, we can make some changes in our internal environment as well. We can open our “windows”, clear out the “cobwebs”, and “redecorate”. This will help us have the energy and enthusiasm to welcome the change in energy around us.
Our internal Spring Cleaning is detoxification. This is not something we need to force our body to do, it’s doing this every moment of every day. Each breath is a form of detoxification as we eliminate Carbon Dioxide that is created when we turn our food into the energy that runs our body in the form of a chemical known as ATP that is created in our mitochondria. What other ways does our body naturally detoxify?
- Breath – we exhale carbon dioxide and other volatile chemicals (the things that make our breath smell such as garlic).
- Urine – our kidneys filter our blood constantly removing water-soluble substances that our body doesn’t need to hold onto. This is also how our body eliminates excess nitrogen by producing urea which gives our urine that characteristic odor.
- Poop – everyone does it, and it’s a good thing too. This is how we eliminate the leftover substances from digestion that our body doesn’t need or couldn’t absorb, fat-soluble waste products, excess hormones, metabolic byproducts form medication metabolism, excess bacteria, and many other substances.
- Sweat – When examined our sweat has a similar composition to our urine and is a way our tissues can eliminate – hence the odor.
- Emotions – this is an often overlooked area of detoxification. When we feel overly stressed we often have outbursts releasing excess energy (positive or negative). This can come in the form of laughter, crying, yelling, singing, dancing, fighting, or general irritability.
When these pathways are open and flowing freely, we feel so much better! When an area is slowed down or not being used we often see our body finding new ways to eliminate or the overuse of a pathway that is working more efficiently – e.g. – anxiety, diarrhea, skin rashes, etc.
How to Support Our Natural Detox Pathways:
Reviewing the list above, I’m sure you have come up with some ideas of how you can support these pathways. Here are a few more suggestions:
Mindful breathing practices.
There are many, many different breathwork practices. One of my favorites is to do counted breathing. If this makes you a little lightheaded, reduce the number you are counting to and slowly increase – the dizziness is a sign that this is a good area to focus on as it needs some work. The additional benefit here is your ability to balance your nervous system between it’s relaxed and stimulated states. To do this, try taking a deep breath in and allowing your belly and ribcage to expand and fill like a balloon that will burst. You can count to a number from 3-10 while doing this. Pause for a count of 1-3 at the maximum inhalation and then slowly breath out through your nose (if possible for you) to the same count as your inhale. For some, a visual to focus on can be very helpful.
The amount is debatable from 8 glasses (64oz) up to 1/2 your body weight in ounces. To do this calculation, take your body weight in pounds and divide by 2 this will be the target number of ounces to drink. So, a 150-pound person would aim for 75oz. The real goal is to ensure that you are drinking steadily through the day and avoiding dehydration. If you are thirsty, this is your body signaling that the water content of your blood has fallen and it’s time to put more water into the system. Therefore, if you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
Some people tend to feel more thirsty when drinking water. To help with this, try water infused with fruit or herbs like mint or add a splash of juice to your water. Since our municipal water supply is treated, it tends to be lower in mineral content. This can hamper our ability to absorb our water and keep it in our bloodstream. Ideally, you will be urinating every 1-2 hours through the day and sleep through the night without needing to urinate. In the beginning, as you increase your water content, you will urinate more frequently. As your body adjusts to the increased volume, our body changes the balance of hormones so our kidneys know how much water to keep and how much to eliminate. This adjustment period takes an average of two weeks to complete.
Aim for 1-3 bowel movements per day.
For some, this may seem excessive, and for others, this may seem like a low number. Ideally, we have a bowel movement soon after each major meal as we make room for our intake. To ensure regular bowel movements there are a few simple areas to concentrate on. For more details, you can read this post about treating constipation.
Exercise or using a sauna
These are both great ways to work up a sweat. If you would like to use the infrared sauna at the clinic, you can schedule here.
Mindfulness and mental detoxification:
Journaling, creativity through arts and crafts, laughter, friendship, community, and counseling are all fantastic ways to regularly manage stress and prevent the buildup and “release of steam” that we often encounter.
I would be remiss in leaving out these fantastic helpers. When we use herbs nutritionally as part of our daily diet, this is where they work best in supporting detoxification. Look around and see what is starting to grow naturally – many of these herbs are fantastic in supporting our detoxification. My favorites are dandelion greens and blossoms, nettle leaves, burdock, milk thistle seeds, chickweed, cleavers, and plantain. You may notice these are all plants that grow in abundance and are considered “weeds”. These plants can be harvested without a worry for negatively impacting our environment. They are abundant and free, and they have an amazing ability to nourish us. Think about the tenacity of a weed, they have the ability to grow and thrive almost anywhere – isn’t this a quality you would like to emulate? Remember, you are what you eat.