This post is part of an ongoing series on Wellness, which looks at the importance of health and healing in living a Simple, Good, and Tasty lifestyle. Also check out the previous Wellness posts on massage as preventative care and the controversies around calcium.
Last spring I wrote an article about cleansing and here I am, again, back on the topic. What is it about this time of year that brings it up for me? Truthfully, I feel like I am simply responding to the seasonal shift in my body.
We each have a natural cycle with our bodies and our environments. This cyclic phenomenon is described well by The Five Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which delineates five seasons (spring, summer, late summer, autumn, and winter) that correspond to our five major organ systems (liver/gallbladder, heart/small intestine, spleen/stomach/pancreas, lungs/large intestine, and kidney/bladder).
Spring is the season of Wood, or the Liver, which represents everything that grows. The liver has more than 500 functions in the body, but detoxification may be the most important. Every day, the liver cleans up the blood, processing what we eat, environmental toxins like pesticides and heavy metals that we encounter in our food and environment, and most anything else we put in our body (alcohol, pharmaceuticals, etc.). Ideally, the liver can do this processing and pass those contaminants over to the large intestine to eliminate so by the dawn of a new day we are squeaky clean and ready to meet those same assaults all over again.
However, in a modern world, this daily cleansing is an enormous task. Pollutants and contaminants have infiltrated every aspect of our lives: they are in the air, the water, and the soil; in our food and its packaging; in the products we use to keep our bodies and homes clean; in our furniture and home electronics…nearly everything we encounter in daily life has something in it that the liver has to deal with.
Oi…and then there’s the emotional stress. Our emotions and experiences have physiological characteristic too. That’s a whole other can of worms.
So, I could go on painting this doomsday picture about the burden that our modern world presents to the liver, but suffice it to say that the cards are stacked against this extremely hard-working organ. What does this mean for our health long-term? Well, with the liver’s 500+ roles and responsibilities in our bodies, imagine what a malfunctioning liver could mean for whole body health – it has tentacles that penetrate nearly every aspect of body function and can therefore compromise our health in many ways. These malfunctions include allergies, weight gain, nutrient malabsorption, and a host of chronic illnesses.
But the good news is the liver is incredibly resilient and can recover fully even after 70% of the organ has been damage. Let’s help it along, shall we?
Doing a simple, gentle cleanse in the spring months when the liver is actively cleaning up the excess storage from winter can benefit your body immensely. Cleansing may help clear up allergies, acne, digestive issues, chronic headaches and migraines, and other health concerns. Think of it as hitting the “reset” button.
Here are a few suggestions for a simple, gentle cleanse you can do this spring to support your detoxification process and nurture your liver. Following this plan for just five days can have benefit for your health.
- Drink lemon water and lots of it. Limonene, a compound found in the oil of lemons, oranges, and grapefruits stimulates the levels of liver enzymes involved in detoxifying. Squeeze fresh lemon or add few drops of a high quality lemon, orange, or grapefruit essential oil – I recommend the local essential oil company, Veriditas Botanicals – to a glass of water. (If you reach for the essential oils, limit yourself to 10 drops per day.)
- Stay hydrated. Being well-hydrated is also a crucial component to flushing out toxins and metabolites, so aim for drinking half your body weight in ounces every day.
- Supplement with psyllium husks for a few days. As your liver detoxifies, it dumps waste material into the large intestine, so if your bowels are not toned and ready for the task, the toxins will sit there and be reabsorbed. Psyllium husk is a water-soluble fiber that really gets things moving, if you know what I mean. (If you have a heart condition, gastrointestinal condition, or other health condition, please check in with your health care professional before taking any supplements.)
- Replace sugar, refined foods, meat, and dairy with vegetables. These foods require more energy from the liver to break down, whereas vegetables, especially leafy greens, help purify the blood and are naturally detoxifying. Eat as many vegetables as you can manage, at least five servings per day, and aim for a spectrum of color with every meal.
- Cut out coffee and alcohol. Both caffeine and alcohol, as well as all other drugs, get broken down in the liver and overburden it with consistent, prolonged use.
- Get at least eight hours of sleep. We detoxify while we sleep, and our livers are most active in the wee hours of the morning. This process takes energy, so it is imperative to get enough rest.
Doing a detox can be super simple and does not need to be a time of deprivation. Start small and if you are interested in taking the detox to a deeper level there are several resources close to home. It is likely that you know someone who has done a detox like this, so ask your friends and neighbors for advice. Also, many yoga studios in the Twin Cities offer seasonal cleansing programs this time of year, including One Yoga Non-Profit Yoga Studio (full disclaimer, I am one of the instructors), Yoga Center of Minneapolis, and Spirit of the Lakes among others. Check them out and have fun with it!
Jesse Haas uses a combination of nutritional counseling, whole foods education, and bodywork to help her clients learn new ways of integrating self-care and good food into their lives to improve their health. To learn more about her wellness practice, visit her website, www.jessehaas.com. Her last article for SGT was Staying Healthy in the Holiday Hustle.