Seasonal transitions are an important part of life, but we’ve now become largely disconnected from the natural world—that’s why a long walk in the woods, going to the beach, or simply looking at the stars can be so rewarding. Connecting with nature is a vital factor for mental, emotional, and physical health, and numerous studies substantiate these relationships. Eastern philosophies emphasize the vast interconnections between the natural world and daily life. In our modern society, we need this connection more than ever.
This is where a well-planned seasonal cleanse can make a difference. Scheduling a gentle detoxification program around the seasonal transitions offers us an opportunity to remove harmful toxins that sabotage health. A seasonal detox can also restore natural vitality by emphasizing a diet of whole, unprocessed foods straight from Mother Nature. It can help reset the rhythms of our digestive system, sleep patterns, and more. In essence, a seasonal cleanse helps harmonize us with the rhythms of the natural world for greater long-term wellness.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) associates each season with different organ systems, emotions, and other elements. Winter corresponds to kidneys, bones, and bladder. Spring, a time of renewed growth and vitality, is associated with the liver and gallbladder. Summer, a time when we’re more active with warmer weather and longer days, influences the cardiovascular system and heart health. Fall relates to the lungs and large intestines. During the fall we start to let go to conserve more energy during the winter.
Spring: a time for detox
Understanding these relationships can do a lot for health and well-being. Just as circadian rhythms—our internal clocks—influence the way the body functions, so do seasonal changes. Spring is a time for renewal and regeneration, but that’s not just a metaphor. Winter weather stresses adrenal and thyroid glands, acidifies the blood, generates inflammation, and hinders circulation—add in our holiday indulgences and inactivity during winter and you can see why spring becomes an ideal season for detoxification.
With the abundance of fresh green produce this time of year, spring and summer are the best seasons to clean out stagnancy, reduce inflammation, and prepare for more activity. If we don’t take the right steps to support these transitions, chronic inflammation will increase with warm weather, stifling our vital energy, spiking allergies, and hindering long-term health.
TCM associates summer with the heart, joy, and happiness, and I couldn’t agree more. But to take advantage of these warm months, we need to get rid of anything that’s holding us back. In other words, we need to detoxify.
The benefits of detoxification
There are many excellent reasons to engage in seasonal detox. By cleansing our bodies, we increase energy, enhance digestion, improve immunity, and take an important step toward preventing disease. Of course, the body has many systems to remove toxins—including the lungs, immune system, skin, kidneys, liver, and GI tract—but they can’t always keep up with the toxic load. In addition, many heavy metals and fat-soluble chemicals resist removal, accumulating in joints, organs, breast tissue, the nervous system, and other critical areas.
We feel this toxic buildup in a number of ways: allergies, digestive and immune problems, poor sleep, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, and more. It’s easy to ascribe these conditions to stress and overscheduled lives, and certainly they are factors, but that’s no reason to accept these symptoms.
The first rule of any detox program is to stop eating pro-inflammatory foods. Eliminate processed foods and any meals in a box or a can—in other words, anything that’s prepackaged and filled with ingredients that can’t be pronounced. Alcohol, caffeine, trans-fats, charred meats, and sugar are also inflammatory. Try to replace animal protein with high-quality plant proteins, such as sprouted legumes, grains, raw nuts, and seeds as these are much more detoxifying. Drink lots of water: Chronic dehydration makes us sluggish and constipated and impairs the body’s ability to flush out toxins.
Changing our habits may be the most difficult part of any health regimen. But that’s exactly what we have to do during a cleanse: Blaze a new path at the grocery store.
The detox diet
Spring and summer are great times for detoxification because we have better access to a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables. Incorporate brightly colored items as they are rich in phytonutrients that can reduce inflammation, promote detoxification, and support countless functions in the body. It’s important to buy organic produce to avoid pesticides and chemicals.
Green vegetables should top the list. Think celery, cucumber, cilantro, parsley, arugula, spinach, collards, chard, or the ubiquitous spring mix in the salad section. These help neutralize the acidity that contributes to inflammation. Their high chlorophyll and nutrient contents are also excellent for cleansing the liver and GI tract.
I also recommend cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and cabbage, which are rich in micronutrients. These staple superfoods support detox with sulfur compounds; they also reduce inflammation and balance hormones.
Many vegetables can provide organ-specific benefits. Onions and garlic help cleanse the lungs and intestines. Artichokes are good for the liver. Beets enhance blood flow and support the liver’s blood cleansing function. Lemons are good for digestive, lymph, liver, and gallbladder health.
Mushrooms are also excellent for removing toxins from stagnant areas of the body. They are rich in unique nutrients and antioxidants, but that’s not even their best trait. Mushrooms have an amazing impact on the immune system. They contain special carbohydrates called beta-glucans that essentially work to “train” immunity to better fight harmful invaders. Stock up on oyster, maitake, and shiitake, and look for an organically grown mushroom supplement.
Herbs and other detox foods
Many herbs and spices are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients that reduce inflammation, boost immunity, aid digestion, and support detoxification. Ginger, turmeric, thyme, fennel, oregano, mint, cinnamon, and rosemary are excellent choices.
We also need to support the digestive flora that help to keep our gastrointestinal system healthy, fight off infection, and support health in numerous ways that are only now being discovered.
Yogurt and kefir are great choices, as the fermentation process produces a kinder, gentler type of dairy. I also recommend fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchi.
One of my top recommendations for complete detoxification is the supplement PectaClear, which contains modified citrus pectin (MCP). The modification of citrus pectin reduces the size of the pectin molecules so they can enter the bloodstream and grab toxins. MCP is clinically proven to gently remove heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and mercury from the circulation without affecting essential minerals as many other chelation therapies do. PectaClear also contains alginates, which are derived from brown algae. Alginates—which are not absorbed into the circulation—are also shown in studies to remove heavy metals and radioactive isotopes from the digestive tract. This combination of ingredients supports the gentle removal of heavy metals and toxins from the circulation and digestive systems, preparing for more intense detoxification from organs and tissues without the dreaded “detox crisis.”
One of the most vital purposes of detoxification is to support the liver. One of the jobs of the liver is to remove toxins, but in today’s age, the liver often gets overloaded. Fortunately, there are a variety of herbs and nutrients that support liver function, such as fenugreek, milk thistle, and dandelion. I also recommend N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and alpha-lipoic acid, which help remove pesticides and heavy metals.
A formula called Detox Complete contains these and other natural detox ingredients to support not only the liver, but all the organs of elimination during a cleanse.
These ingredients offer safe, gentle, comprehensive detox support to clear toxins from the circulation and digestion, pull toxins from organs and tissues, prevent reabsorption, and provide nutritional support and protection during the process. In my practice, I find this gentle approach, combined with a nutrient-dense cleansing diet and exercise, allows for maximum detox benefits with minimal side effects.
Detox is about movement—we’re moving toxins out of the body. So naturally, one of the most important ingredients to a healthy detox is exercise; it boosts metabolism and immunity, helping the body’s natural detoxification processes. It also releases fat-soluble toxins, boosts circulation, lowers stress hormones, and increases overall vitality. Walking in nature is ideal.
Use of a sauna, dry brushing your skin, massage therapy, acupuncture, and practices such as mediation and qigong all support the process of letting go and releasing on all levels.
Take it slowly
There is no single recipe for detoxification. Rather, it’s an individualized journey we must adapt to our specific needs. For those attempting a detox for the first time, be gentle with yourself as it may be challenging at first. Most importantly, take it slowly. It took a long time for the body to accumulate toxins—we can’t expect to clean them out in a weekend. Going slowly allows the body time to gently remove toxins at a natural pace while still maintaining normal activities as opposed to a rapid cleanse program that often results in uncomfortable symptoms.
Each of us has to learn what works best for our unique system. Once we complete that discovery phase, detox can be an exciting, rewarding, and life-affirming process.
By Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc