Spring is finally here and that means it is time for a good spring clean! Have you ever noticed how good you feel after a thorough cleaning session? Spring cleaning our homes and getting rid of clutter and old stuff that no longer serve us has a profound effect on our mental and physical wellbeing.7Research studies have shown that a cluttered home environment can lead to a depressed mood and higher stress.7It is obvious when our homes are in dire need of a good clean-up, but what about our bodies? If ridding your home and workspace of clutter has a healing effect, imagine the benefits of decluttering your body. There is an expression saying, what we see around us is only a reflection of what is inside us. Learning to let go of “stuff” within us is just as important as letting go of stuff in our home that no longer serve us, and this process is known as detoxification.
So why is spring always emphasized as such an important time to cleanse our homes and our bodies? According to Traditional Chinese Medicine it is important to live in tune with the seasons to prevent disease and experience health and wellbeing. In Chinese Medicine, each season is associated with one of our main organ systems and spring is associated with the Liver, which happens to be our body’s main organ of detoxification.4
Based on Traditional Chinese Medicine principles, the liver becomes very active in the springtime, and for this reason, it is common for liver imbalances such as chronic headaches, neck tension, mood imbalances such as excess anger or sadness, foggy thinking, low energy, joint problems, and menstrual disorders to be aggravated this time of year.4 It is important to support the liver’s detoxification systems all year round since we are constantly exposed to toxins. However, based on these Traditional Chinese Medicine principles, it is especially important to cleanse the body and the liver in the springtime.4
Why is it Important to Cleanse the Body?
We are exposed to thousands of toxins on a daily basis. A toxin is any natural or synthetic chemical compound that has a detrimental effect on the body. Although some toxins are relatively harmless or cause minimal effects, others can lead to serious health problems, especially when they accumulate in the body over time.6
To prevent the accumulation of toxins, the body is constantly working hard to detoxify chemicals from both our external environment (air pollution, water, pesticides/herbicides/fungicides, persistent organic pollutants, plastics, prescription medications, heavy metals) and from our internal environment (waste products from cellular metabolism, free radicals, and bowel microbial toxins).6
Although the body is well equipped with mechanisms to process and eliminate toxins so that they don’t cause damage to our cells, it is often unable to keep up with the excessive demands. This is because the amount of chemicals that we are exposed to from our external environment and our modern diet far surmount what the body can properly handle.3
Cleansing is a way to help our organ systems eliminate toxins to enhance the healing processes of the body.5 The concept of internal cleansing and detoxifying have been around for a long time. However, it is even more crucial in these modern times as toxin exposures are now greater than ever.5
As many as 80,000 industrial chemicals are now used in the United States, and about 6.5 billion pounds of chemicals are released into the air each year. According to data from various epidemiological and toxicological studies, significant health implications are being demonstrated as a result of this ever-increasing chemical world.2 It is well known that environmental toxins pose a risk to our health, although, what is more concerning is that long-term implications of continuous, low-level exposure to multiple chemicals simultaneously is unknown.1
How the Body’s Detoxification System Works
In order to prevent over-exposure, and to support proper elimination of toxins, it is important to understand which organs are involved in the process of detoxification. The liver is an important organ as it is responsible for breaking down toxins and making them safer for the body to eliminate by the kidneys and the bowels. However, toxins are also eliminated through the skin and mucus membranes, as well as through the lungs.
When the body is clearing any irritating substance or pathogen (bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungal organisms), it will either produce mucus, create a cough or sneeze reflex, mount a fever, cause a skin reaction, or flush out wastes through the bowels and kidneys in order to protect itself from the damaging effects of toxins. These protective mechanisms are part of the body’s attempt to prevent illness.3
If exposure to toxins is too high, or if they can’t be properly eliminated, they get retained in our body, and over time, become irritating to our cells. This process is known as toxicosis and is a well-known contributor to many types of illnesses (Fuhrman, J., 1995). Toxicosis often affects the liver as this organ acts as the body’s main storehouse, filter system, and processing center.8 This is why so much emphasis is placed on liver support when it comes to detoxifying the body.
The Cleansing Approach
There are various methods and protocols for cleansing and many of them are focused on supporting the liver’s detoxification mechanisms, including filtration of the blood, formation of bile, and phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification reactions (liver’s pathways of neutralizing and excreting chemicals).5 Based on the literature balanced approach to supporting the body’s detoxification involves:
- Decreasing exposure to toxins.
- Eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet focused on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- Adopting a healthy lifestyle by managing stress, exercising regularly, adopting healthy sleeping habits and avoiding or limiting alcohol and other chemicals when possible.
- Using special nutritional and herbal supplements to protect the liver and enhance liver function, although it is advised to work with a licensed naturopathic physician or health care professional to determine which nutrients are appropriate and safe based on individual needs.
Cleansing can lead to profound changes to one’s health and wellbeing, although the process of detoxification can be challenging and unpleasant for some individuals as they can experience strong detox reactions such as headaches, lethargy, nausea, brain fog, digestive disturbance and fatigue. For this reason, working with a licensed naturopathic physician when beginning any type of cleanse is very important so they can provide a personalized cleansing protocol designed to best meet your body’s specific needs, as well as provide guidance on how to manage some of these unpleasant reactions if they occur.
Information can be empowering, but we all have unique health profiles and needs. The health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a licensed naturopathic doctor. The advice in this article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
- Cory-Slechta DA. (2005). Studying toxicants as single chemicals: does this strategy adequately identify neurotoxic risk? Neurotoxicology. Aug; 26(4):491-510.
- De Rosa CT, Hicks HE, Ashizawa AE, et al. (2006) A regional approach to assess the impact of living in a chemical world. Ann NY Acad Sci. Sep; 1076:829-38.
- Fuhrman, J. (1995). Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease. Joel Furhman, M.D. Pp: 59-64.
- Maciocia, G. (2005). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. 2 Ed. Elsevier Churchill Livingstone. Pp. 22-23, 30.
- Murray, M.T., and Pizzorno, J. (2012). The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. 3 Ed. Atria Paperback. New York, NY. Pp. 109-130.
- Pizzorno, J.E., Katzinger, J. (2012). Clinical Pathophysiology: A Functional Perspective. Mind Publishing. Coquitlam, BC. Pp: 3.1-3.21.
- Saxbe D.E., Repetti R. (2010).No place like home: home tours correlate with daily patterns of mood and cortisol. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. Jan;36(1):71-81. doi: 10.1177/0146167209352864. Epub 2009 Nov 23.
- Smedsrød, B., Pertoft, H., Gustafson, S., and Laurent, T.C. (1990). Scavenger functions of the liver endothelial cell. Biochem J.Mar 1; 266(2): 313–327.