Ounce of Prevention: The Benefits of Total-Body Cleansing
Modern medicine prides itself on its expensive, high-technology treatments, claiming this drug or that therapy is the next “miracle” cure. But how often do doctors and scientists stop to wonder why people get sick in the first place? The answer is not very often.
When it comes to preventive medicine, conventional practice often mistakes results for causes, treating symptoms without focusing on the underlying problems. However, if you are in relatively good health and want to stay that way, a more reasonable approach to wellness includes keeping your body free of the number-one cause of disease: toxins.
Sanitation: Not Just for Big Cities
Ever visited a city garbage dump on a hot summer day? Just the smell can make you feel ill. Left on the sidewalk, that trash would decompose, providing a home for parasites, bacteria and other unsavory organisms. That’s why removing waste from urban streets is a necessity—it makes a metropolis inhabitable.
This same basic cleansing process takes place inside your body. Garbage (toxic waste) is constantly produced during normal functions such as digestion and cellular respiration. As a result, damaging chemicals and other pollutants need to be continually removed. If allowed to accumulate in tissues and organs, these toxins can have harmful effects on the body, much the same way a sanitation strike can make a city unlivable. This accumulation of toxins, researchers now believe, lies at the heart of disease.
In 1888 Berlin physician Ludwig Brieger coined the word ‘toxin’ to refer to poisons created within the body. Those poisons appear in your cells no matter how pure a life you lead. The very act of living makes their presence inevitable. “We are constantly taking in oxygen, water and food for metabolism, and that process creates latent byproducts that need to be dealt with,” observes renowned general, gastrointestinal and vascular surgeon Leonard Smith of Gainesville, Florida. “Even if we lived in a pristine world with no chemicals, no air pollution, pure water, and pure food, with the passage of time we would still experience cellular toxicity.”
Many parts of the body participate in the process of toxin cleansing. Dr. Smith recites a roster of organs that have to perform their jobs well for the body to effectively cleanse the body of toxins. “The lungs, the kidneys, the bladder, the small and large intestines, colon, liver and gall bladder—all of these organs work together to eliminate toxins. When they don’t do their job, toxins get stuck in the organs and cause trouble for the cells. Cells under stress tend to work less efficiently.”
In addition to coping with internal toxins produced by natural body processes, your body also has to deal with a constant bombardment of external toxins, mainly industrial waste products. Harmful pesticides, automobile exhaust and other environmental toxins can lead to polluted air, water and food. As toxins build up in the cells and organs, the body is left even more vulnerable to illness.
Toxic build-up is a dangerous process that often has debilitating results. If allowed to continue over a period of time, the results may even be life threatening. Stressed out cells can lead to inflammation, a defense mechanism employed by the body to facilitate healing. Diseases such Alzheimer’s and heart disease have been linked to excess inflammation, and recent clinical research has determined that even small amounts toxic exposure can lead to severe problems.
The large number of pollutants we encounter every day complicates the body’s detoxification efforts. “We’re living in a toxic soup of polluted air, water, food and electromagnetic toxins,” says Dr. Smith. “There’s no end to the toxicity to which our bodies are exposed. So the foundation of what you should do [to defend yourself] is drink filtered water, eat organic food, use air filters, and live around trees, which are essentially natural air filters.”
Dr. Smith further advises that water is a crucial cleansing tool. “Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water every day. If you don’t give your kidneys enough water, they will suck it out of the material in your bowels. Your kidneys need the water to hold toxins in solution and get them out. Urine can only be so concentrated. Without enough water, toxins are reabsorbed.”
A Natural Solution?
There are natural ways to support the removal of toxins from your body, including herbal cleansing formulas designed to support the body’s seven channels of elimination previously mentioned: the blood, bowel, kidneys, lymphatic system, lungs, liver and skin. Typically, a cleansing formula will include herbs that have been used historically to assist different parts of the body.
Daily detoxification and cleansing supplements are becoming increasingly popular throughout the United States and beyond. In fact, they have become a permanent element in the morning routine of many prevention-oriented supplement takers. This shift toward total-body cleansing products was prompted by the mainstream multivitamin consumer.
When asked to explain this, Shannon Hoffmann of Green Acres Natural Foods Market explained, “Consuming a multivitamin that nourishes your body reflects one aspect of good health. Helping your body eliminate toxins that can cause disease reflects another. Both of these supplements go hand in hand, and my multivitamin customers understand that. They are always looking for what’s new and credible that gives them a preventative advantage”.
Studies indeed indicate that daily cleansing formulas can lower your risk of toxin accumulation. According to nutritional consultant Lawrence Wilson MD, when your body is overloaded with toxins, “…the mechanisms that keep your body healthy don’t function well. It’s like a car with a gummed up fuel filter—it doesn’t run. In the body, poisons lodge in organs and tissues and weaken them. Plus, bacterial [and environmental] toxins can damage your liver, weaken your immune system, cause arthritis in your joints and slow the function of your pancreas, which can eventually lead to diabetes.”
The popularity of new daily cleansing formulas appears to reflect a growing concern over the effects of the toxicity in our environment. Major medical research organizations (including the U.S. federal government) have recently released studies that are nothing short of alarming. Two remarkable reports that stand out from the rest have put the general public on alert. In a recent study led by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, researchers at two major laboratories, in collaboration with the Environmental Working Group and Commonwealth, found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers. Interestingly, all of the members in the test group were selected because they considered themselves to be healthy and because they did not work with chemicals or live near an industrial facility.
Perhaps the most startling finding was that every person in the group tested positive for at least 77 toxic chemicals. Of the 167 total chemicals found in the members of the group, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development.
The second report comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In its National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, the CDC studied 116 environmental toxins that affect the human population either through pollution or consumer products. Exposure was measured through blood and urine samples, and the report found positive results for 89 chemicals, including PCBs, dioxins, phthalates, pesticides, herbicides and disinfectants.
Other reports are further raising health concerns. For example, rainwater along the California coastline contains mercury from emissions originating in Asian factories. Pollution from automobiles, buses and trucks is so serious that in some cities, scientists have found that asthma rates among children are highest in those who live on streets that see heavy bus traffic. One study found that industry in the United States releases more than 19 million pounds of chemicals into the air and water every day. Today more than 25 percent of our rivers and lakes contain potentially deadly levels of mercury, and even some supposedly pristine areas of the country have issued mercury warnings with regard to their river water.
This avalanche of information has motivated people to look for new solutions to an increasingly toxic living environment. Ironically, the “new” trend toward taking daily cleansing supplements is actually a preventive health measure far older than the use of multivitamins. Nearly every ancient culture practiced internal cleansing to improve and enhance overall well-being. From purification ceremonies involving sweat lodges to the use of purgative herbs, the practice of helping the body to eliminate toxins has been around for centuries.
Today, medical establishments worldwide have recognized that no matter how pure your diet and what vitamin supplements you may take, your body absorbs toxins that must be removed. At a recent national symposium sponsored by the Institute for Functional Medicine, Naturopathic Doctor D. C. Vasquez presented his research on the link between environmental toxicity and disease to a group of leading physicians and researchers. In his presentation, he discussed the possibility of a direct link between toxicity and autism, pre-term births, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), diabetes and cardiovascular disease. According to Dr. Vasquez, “Detoxification needs must be addressed daily since toxicant exposure occurs daily.”
Other leading natural health practitioners believe that health-conscious consumers are now clearly linking toxicity and disease in the same way that they understand the link between poor nutrition and disease. As Certified Nutritional Consultant Brenda Watson notes, “in the more than 15 years that I have been practicing, I’ve never seen such a surge in awareness among my clients that at some level, their poor health is caused by an imbalance between the toxins they ingest and the toxins they eliminate.” When asked how this growing understanding affects her clients’ habits she added, “They make detoxification a daily habit, a lifestyle. I have clients that drink a liver cleansing formula in the morning, take daily cleansing supplements, sit in the sauna 3 times a week, and put air filters in their home—simple things that reduce their toxic exposure and support their toxin elimination efforts.”
But just what is a daily cleansing supplement and how does it work? Basically, daily cleansing supplements combine nutrients designed to support the body’s natural cleansing physiology. This involves all seven channels of elimination. If any one of these channels of elimination is not functioning well, overall health may suffer. While multivitamins provide beneficial nutrients, total-body cleansing supplements specifically support the body’s detoxification processes.
Many natural health practitioners recommend a total-body cleanse at the beginning of each new season. Other daily cleansing support formulas include fiber, essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes and probiotics, all of which can help the body cope with its constant task of eradicating problematic toxins. Herbs such as triphala, red clover, dandelion, artichoke leaf, turmeric and milk thistle also aid in toxin removal.
Look for daily cleansing products with nutraceuticals that provide both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. These include L-glutamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), alpha lipoic acid, lycopene, resveratrol, lutein, zeaxanthin, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), L-glutathione, quercitin, and gamma oryzanol. Adding fiber and essential fatty acids will also help maximize the cleansing effects.
In addition, lifestyle habits such daily exercise and stress reduction may help the cleanse the body of toxins. Even in a clean environment, the simple act of living is a sloppy business. Like workers at a construction site, your cells are constantly tearing down and building up body parts. New tissue is formed and old ones disposed of. To feed this kind of activity, your cells absorb nutrients, produce energy, synthesize natural chemicals and throw off waste products. But just as such debris needs to be purged, the body, too, must rid itself of waste products and metabolic scraps. If you help your body relieve its toxic burden, you increase your chances of having a clean bill of health.
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