Detox: an Internal Spring Cleaning
By Kelley Guiney
When Larry at The EcoVision Journal asked me to do an article on detoxification, he suggested that I do a two-day cleanse and then see several natural health care practitioners for a first-hand experience that would include a colonic, a functional health assessment, a detox acupuncture treatment and a lymphatic drainage treatment.
The timing of this offer was significant. I had just gotten out of a "less-than-rewarding" relationship. I had felt emotionally starved in the relationship so, I thought, why not allow my physical reality to match my emotional reality? Why not stop eating for two days and then, literally, get all the crap out of my system the way I'd just gotten rid of the emotional crap in my life?
I embarked on this new adventure with an open mind and a definitely overloaded digestive system. For the last two years I have experimented with healthy eating habits, and although I feel beyond wonderful when I'm on a health kick, I inevitably go off the program the minute a high-stress situation hits (my latest relapse took place on September 11th). My response to a high level of stress often involves a trip to the nearest QFC for a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, and then I backslide from there. An unfulfilling relationship had only aggravated this tendency.
So the thought of doing all kinds of detox appealed to me. Though, I was nervous about it. My worst fear was that cleansing and a colonic would make me sick. In retrospect I think my fear was more deep-seated. I think I knew that this experience would change my life and habits, perhaps forever, and that I would no longer be as comfortable using food as an emotional crutch and ignoring the impact of that on my internal organs.
Never one to walk into a new situation uninformed, I did some research on the subject. The body gets overloaded with toxins in many ways. Heavy metals such as aluminum, mercury, copper and lead can be absorbed from the environment (through anti-perspirant deodorants, cookware, canned food and conventionally-grown food, to name just a few sources) and can ultimately result in depression, nervous system disorders, immune system dysfunction, memory loss, digestive problems, anemia and chronic muscle and joint pain, among many other problems. Moreover, the body's attempts to detoxify heavy metals can stress the liver and kidneys.
Processed foods, hormones, antibiotics and chemicals in meat, high fat foods, and even unwashed vegetables can also contribute to overloading the body with toxins. The internal organs that work to detoxify the body include the colon, liver, kidneys and lymph system. The lymph system flows throughout the body picking up toxins, almost acting as a "sweep up" crew. The liver extracts nutrients from the blood and attempts to detoxify harmful chemicals, drugs, alcohol and other toxins. The kidneys also clean toxins and remove waste byproducts. The colon absorbs water and prepares waste products for elimination by the body. If the colon is backed up, the lymph can't dump as many toxins and the effectiveness of the liver and kidneys are compromised as well.
One important factor that can cause colon congestion is (brace yourself for this pleasant jargon) mucoid fecal matter. Any acid-forming food or substance that is ingested (including chemical toxins, candy, drugs, coffee & even meats and excess dairy), will cause the body to secrete a mucus substance. The function of this substance is to protect the body from digesting the harmful substance. Since many of us make a habit of ingesting toxic matter, this substance continues to build up, thicker and thicker, sticking to the intestinal walls in the process. The colon's ability to absorb nutrients is inhibited by this matter. So, a cleanse and colonic can aid in its elimination (although a more long term cleanse is necessary to get rid of most or all of it).
Another condition that is actually quite widespread and that colon cleansing can assist in the removal of, is the existence of intestinal worms and parasites. Many factors can contribute to this, including eating food that was grown in infected soil, eating unclean raw vegetables, or contact with animals (even dogs and cats).
My research also unearthed two very simple keys to daily detox that I've always been vaguely aware of, yet they seem easy to dismiss in a fast-paced, busy lifestyle-these are deep breathing and drinking plenty of water. It's so easy to forget to breathe, and yet it is a very simple and powerful way of assisting the body in releasing toxins. Oxygen is vital for the entire body and increases circulation of both the blood and the lymph system. One of the easiest and most effective ways to fight congestion and disease is to drink enough (purified) water every day (eight -8oz. glasses is the norm). Tap water in this day and age is counterproductive.
Larry had suggested that I do a two-day cleanse at home before my visit to Seattle Healing Arts for a colonic and other detox procedures. His reasoning was that the colonic would be much more effective if I went into it with two days of cleansing already behind me (so to speak). He assured me that it would be easy and painless, although I had my doubts about that.
My colonic was scheduled on a Monday. The preceding Saturday and Sunday I made no plans, stocked up on organic greens and vegetables (you are advised to eat healthy, light meals when doing a cleanse), rented a few movies, and kept my cleansing instructions handy. The plan was for me to use bentonite clay and psyllium husk, which are two excellent aids when doing an intestinal cleanse. They work together to pull toxins, parasites and fecal matter out of the intestines. The clay attracts and binds toxins and the psyllium husks, which expand to hundreds of time their original size and conform to the shape of the intestines, act as a sort of "broom" to sweep up toxic material and fecal matter. I also planned to take an herbal supplement, Nature's Secret Super Cleanse, to help nourish my system and break down fecal matter. I had pre-ordered my favorite vitamin and mineral supplement, which also contained herbs. Bentonite clay tends to absorb minerals along with toxins, so a mineral supplement is a good idea. And herbs can help kill parasites-garlic, Irish moss and cayenne are particularly helpful for this purpose.
Larry was right. The process was very gentle and simple. Following instructions I mixed a bentonite clay shake with organic apple juice, and followed that with a psyillum husk shake mixed with warmed soy milk at three hour intervals throughout each day. (I wondered why the soy milk needed to be warm, until I tried it cold. It's good to drink the shake quickly, and that's no fun when it's cold, trust me). I also made sure I drank water constantly, which is very important during a cleanse or detox. I suffered no discomfort except for a withdrawal headache on Sunday morning. This happy outcome was not clear to me during the process, however, and I placed many anxious calls to Larry throughout the weekend, including phoning to ask if it was okay to take Advil for my pounding Sunday morning headache. I felt like a hypocrite. "Isn't it counterproductive to be detoxing and deliberately introduce ibuprofen into my system?" I asked on his voicemail. His reply was calm and assured. "Pain management is where it's at. Don't stress yourself with a headache. By all means, take the Advil." Larry had also recommended fresh wheat grass juice as one of the most powerful detox aids available. I drove all the way to Ravenna's Whole Foods Market (from my home near Lynnwood) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to avail myself of this proclaimed elixir.
The cleanse process can make you feel a bit "out of it," which is normal. It's good practice in being still, and I found that it fostered a more meditative state of mind. I found myself thinking a lot about my internal organs, the abuse I'd put them through over the years, and my tendency to function as if totally disconnected from them. In the midst of my fear that the process would make me sick, I decided to be empowered and proactive. I did a meditation in which I talked to my colon and other organs, thanked them for working so hard for me over the years, and apologized for my lack of awareness and inattention to their well being. I described the process I was undergoing, and even discussed the fact that I was scheduled for a colonic and what that entailed. I asked each organ for its cooperation and assistance in detoxing.
On Monday I reaped the rewards of my conscientious adherence to the cleanse, and from what I could tell my body was cooperating fully with the process. I paid a delightful visit to the Healing Arts Clinic in Maple Valley, which offers a variety of natural health and detox services. The facility is a very welcoming, renovated farm house situated on a beautiful river, with a deck overlooking the water. My slight case of nerves were immediately calmed by the environment and the caring presence of Gayle Edwards, the clinic's owner, resident herbalist and colon therapist. I had an excellent experience at the clinic, and am looking forward to another visit to take advantage of the additional services they offer.
Gayle explained that I should spend an hour in the infrared sauna to relax and begin releasing toxins. Then I would have a massage, which would help further with the release of toxins. After that we would do a colonic. I thoroughly enjoyed the infrared sauna. It's a great way to eliminate toxins through sweat, and it's much more effective than a steam sauna; the heat reaches the body directly without having to heat the surrounding air. You can feel the difference-it's easier to breathe and stay grounded and the sweat seems to come from deeper in the body. The infrared sauna greatly aids relaxation and blood circulation and can do wonders for fatigue. I felt like a new person afterwards. After an excellent massage by Cathy Patillo that focused on toxin release and drainage, I was ready for the colonic.
Actually I don't think I ever would have been really ready for a colonic. Although I understood the benefits, the actual process was difficult for me, as I imagine it is for most people. The process is simple-a small tube is inserted into the opening of the rectum and introduces a steady stream of warm purified water. On this particular machine, I was completely covered, and in a similar position as sitting in a recliner. The goal is for the water, to gently and slowly circulate through the entire lower intestine, or colon, as the patient releases the contents of the colon. You can see how this might be uncomfortable, especially in a society where releasing the contents of your colon in the presence of a virtual stranger is one of the most taboo acts you can possibly perform.
At the same time, the process is unbelievably enlightening. The contents of the colon can be seen flowing into oblivion through a clear glass tube. Gayle was an excellent guide she has a very calming, gentle yet authoritative presence. Her insight into the process and the contents of my lower intestine were invaluable. As it turns out, the two-day cleanse I had done at home was very beneficial. Gayle could tell that I'd done a lot of work, and said that the colonic was very healthy as a result. The contents of my colon had softened, it was obvious to her that I'd been eating greens and drinking wheat grass juice, and also obvious that I'd saturated my system with water. Gayle observed an overabundance of mucus, which would indicate possible allergies. That didn't surprise me; I had suspected for a long time that I might have food allergies and she encouraged me to look into that possibility (the clinic provides allergy testing). She also admonished, as my mother has been telling me for years, that I probably eat too quickly and needed to slow down and take time to chew my food thoroughly.
In addition to talking to the client about the contents of what he or she is releasing, Gayle also does foot relexology during the colonic in order to assist the body in releasing toxins. She sometimes will add an abdominal massage to check for blockages. During my colonic she found a blockage on my right side. I tried to breathe into this area and focus on moving and releasing the block, and by the end of the colonic the block was gone (perhaps another indication that talking to my colon had helped).
The most profound effect of this process for me was that I felt more connected to my digestive system. As the process continued, and I could actually see the contents moving through the glass tube, I was filled with compassion for my colon for what I had put it through over the years. I cringed with empathy as I thought of the PMS binges, holiday dinners, virulent snacking habits and bragging about my "iron stomach" and the fact that I could down things like pickles and chocolate in a single sitting without experiencing any consequences. Other possible benefits from a colonic include weight loss, removal of blood impurities, elimination of constipation and diarrhea, relief from painful menstruation and enhanced mental clarity.
My next step at the Healing Arts Clinic was to check in with Bio-Cleanse technician Tina Brown. The bio-cleanse unit is a machine that is placed in water. The client places their feet in this water and the bio-cleanse unit generates energy that increases, realigns and balances the body's chi, or life force energy. Toxins are released into the water through the pores of the skin. You can actually see a change of color in the water, and then other substances appear in the water as well. Apparently, the contents of these substances vary from person to person. A particularly interesting story was that the water of an auto-mechanic turned to a slimy black sludge! The experience was relaxing and gave me a definite feeling of well being.
As the rest of the week passed, I continued to down water and was careful to eat only healthy foods. I found it was much easier to do so. One of the side effects of a colonic is it can help the body get rid of its unhealthy food cravings. I still would have the thought of eating junk, but I could more easily identify it as an emotional urge and not a physical need. As I told a friend, "my legs are much less likely to walk me to the store for a candy bar of their own accord." I found it much easier to make healthy decisions and felt more in control of my habits. I also found myself dealing with the emotions that were behind the emotional cravings. This was uncomfortable, but after going through all that work I did not want to undo it by going backwards. I missed my bad habits, but I also missed my ex-boyfriend-and I didn't want to go back to them any more than I wanted to go back to him.
Later that week I met with MSA technician Venus Herbito at Seattle Functional Health for a detailed health assessment. Venus uses an FDA approved electro-dermal testing device called an MSA-21. This system is amazing. During this non-invasive procedure the technician uses a pencil-like instrument to measure the energy flow and energy restrictions of the body's acupuncture meridians, which are basically the major paths through which chi or life force energy flows within the body, and in this case are accessed through points on the hands and feet. This assessment is not considered to be a diagnosis, but is a great way to raise the client's awareness of their health. It can be a money and time saver as well, by getting directly to the root of any existing or potential problems.
The MSA-21 functional testing includes internal organ functions, food allergies, environmental sensitivity, heavy metals toxicity, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The staff at Seattle Functional Health are very thorough-results of the tests are read, and homeopathic and herbal remedies as well as supplements are tested to determine their effectiveness for the specific client. Venus works closely with clients on an ongoing basis to determine that their treatment is effective and that progress is being made. Doctors are on staff and available for referral and treatment as well.
The results of my testing didn't surprise me. There were no vitamin or mineral deficiencies-proof that I'd been taking my supplements regularly. What showed up were weaknesses in the adrenals and lymph system-not surprising after the stress of a break up. Venus and a colleague worked together to test different homeopathic remedies until they found two that would work for me.
My next step was a visit to acupuncturist Shelly Sherwood for a classic detox treatment. As a big fan of acupuncture, I was looking forward to it-this was familiar territory. Shelly explained that she would do what was called a "five needle protocol." The detoxification benefits of this treatment were discovered in 1972, when a doctor was treating a patient in preparation for surgery. The patient happened to be an opium addict, and reported that after the treatment his craving for the drug had subsided significantly. Since then the treatment has been used successfully to treat everything from heroin addiction to sugar cravings. As Shelly described, "it takes care of the craving for whatever bad habits you have." I personally know someone who kicked a variety of hard drugs exclusively through the use of this technique.
The treatment uses five ear points: the first alleviates tension, anxiety and pain; the second is a liver point which helps move stagnant liver chi; the third is a kidney point which in Chinese medicine helps restore will power and nourishes your "base" or "essence" chi. The fourth point has a strong relaxing effect on the internal organs, reconciling the "fight or flight" response to stress with the body's natural impulse to cool down and relax; and the last is either a lung point or a heart point, depending on what the client needs at the time.
This treatment was very powerful and relaxing. It reminded me that I can request the five needle protocol from my acupuncturist when I need help maintaining the healthy lifestyle to which I am now newly committed.
The territory I had left to explore was lymphatic drainage, through massage and through a specialized draining technique. I decided not to get either of these treatments first hand, as I wanted to give my organs a break. I did talk with two massage therapists, Victor Fairchild and Ronaye Camren (both highly recommended), who gave me some insight into the Vadder method of lymphatic drainage massage. I also talked with naturopath Agnes Yabuki, who specializes in electronically assisted lymphatic therapy, another drainage technique.
The lymph system is a vital part of moving toxins out of the body. Lymph moves naturally through exercise. Ideally the lymph is fluid, but congestion in this area will cause it to gel and move more slowly. Stagnant lymph can be a result of stress, energy blockages, or an abundance of toxins, which can include a diet high in fat and lack of exercise. The health of the lymph system is critical to maintaining a properly functioning immune system.
In lymphatic drainage massage a very light touch is used to help improve the circulation of the lymph, so it can drain into the proper organs and allow for optimum organ function.
Electronically assisted lymphatic drainage uses a micro-current device and a multi-wave high frequency oscillation device. This technique is also very gentle.
The benefits of lymphatic drainage can be quite dramatic. It can greatly improve many conditions, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, edema, premenstrual and menstrual discomfort, allergies and chronic muscle and joint pain, just to name a few.
Proper diet, proper sleep, exercise, drinking water, deep breathing and meditation are great ways to improve the flow of lymph through the body. Massage therapist Ronaye Camren suggests a powerful breathing exercise to aid lymph movement and drainage. You place your hands on your kidneys-first find the bottom of your rib cage in front, then move your hands to your back, toward the spine. The kidneys are located two inches below the bottom rib and about one inch out from the spine (it's like putting your hands on your hips, but just a little higher). Then you take four short breaths in, one after another, then four short breaths out.
There are many ways to detox, and many natural health procedures to assist the body in this process. It is too exhausting a subject to be addressed fully here. One of the most important aspects of committing to detox program is that by doing so you are taking responsibility for your own health. It helps you see how every part of your body is connected and that the only way to health is to address the system as a whole. Generally speaking, optimum health cannot be achieved when one is overloaded with toxins, and doing a detox program is one of the first major steps you can take to achieve optimum health. Being more conscious of your health is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.
For more information on detoxification:
"Cleanse & Purify Thyself," by Dr. Richard Anderson, founder of Arise & Shine cleanse products.
Seattle Healing Arts Clinic, especially Gayle Edwards, herbalist and colon therapist, Cathy Patillo, massage therapist and Tina Brown, bio-cleanse and MSA technician. Contact them at 425-432-2226
Seattle Functional Health, especially Venus Herbito, MSA technician
and Dr. Flenn Chrestman. Contact them at 206-325-2333
Shelly Sherwood, acupuncturist, also specializes in sound healing. Contact her at 206-523-2455
Agnes Yabuki, naturopath, lymphatic drainage specialist. Contact her at 206-621-9929.
Victor Fairchild and Ronaye Camren, Massage Therapists and instructors, Bellevue Massage School. They're at 425-641-3409.