The Spring Cleanse
Winter into Spring
As we move towards the Spring equinox and the first days of spring, there is an increasing sense of anticipation. The smells in the air are changing and we will soon be welcoming new spring growth as the snow cover recedes and tree sap starts to rise.
Prior to the growth of the global food industry, people would emerge from winter somewhat nutritionally depleted, as the availability of local food was scarce through the winter. Carefully stocked pantries, packed with jams and pickles from the summer and fall harvest, would be largely depleted by March. The emergence of nutritionally packed greens through the sun-warmed spring soil provided a resource to revitalise the body and provide new vigour.
The process of cleansing and detoxifying the body has been incorporated into religions and spiritual practice throughout the centuries. In Europe and parts of Canada, the tradition of gathering young nettles and dandelion greens in the spring to make soup and salad still continues as part of the annual spring cleanse. Click here for a nettle soup recipe packed full of Spring nutrients.
Sources of toxins
It could be argued that in today’s world with increased pollution of the air, sea and soil affecting the food and drink we consume and the air we breathe, that we have added burdens on the body’s innate detoxification systems.
The main routes of entry for toxins are via the digestive system in food and drinks, inhalation via the lungs and absorption through the skin.
- Food and water - pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, food packaging
- Environmental pollutants – glue, paint, cleaning products, furniture, plastics
- Personal care products – body lotions, antiperspirants, shampoo, hair dye,
- Cigarette smoke, e-cigarette vapours
- Heavy metals – fish, drinking water
- Natural body processes generate toxins as by-products
Our Detoxification Systems and Routes of Elimination
The body has developed sophisticated systems to detoxify and eliminate harmful chemicals and substances and safely remove them from the body. These systems rely on a regular supply of specific nutrients for optimal function. The reintroduction of nutritious plant foods into the diet in Spring provided the body with the nutrients required to support those natural innate detoxification systems, thus the Spring Cleanse or annual detox.
The liver is the most important organ for detoxification and incorporates two phases. During phase I the liver converts harmful substances to a water-soluble form that can enter phase II of the detoxification process and be repackaged and safely excreted from the body. Excretion routes include…
- Bile and the gut– bile is excreted from the liver, taking some of the repackaged toxins with it into the gut, where they are eliminated in the feces
- Kidney – urine is filtered and excreted via the kidneys taking harmful substances with it
- Lungs – exhaled breathe can include some toxic substances
- Skin – the skin is our largest organ. Sweating releases only small amounts of toxins, so the more you sweat, the better.
- Other routes of excretion are breast milk and saliva
Supporting Detoxification Processes
Disease and poor health can occur when the body is no longer able to manage the toxic load presented to it and the body’s natural detoxification pathways are overwhelmed or compromised. Detox, as it is sometimes referred to, is something that can be done routinely at the start of each new season or on the first day of the week or month or it can be consciously supporting your body every day though the dietary choices you make.
We can support the detoxification process in two ways; by minimizing our exposure to toxins and by supporting the innate detoxification processes of the body.
Minimising exposure to toxins
- Wash vegetables and fruit – an excellent list of the most and least chemically contaminated foods is available at https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/#.Wpbl3a3MwXo
- Consider organic grains – some farmers use glyphosate (Round-up) on grain crops prior to harvesting, organic farmers do not. Some studies are suggesting negative health consequences on gut bacteria associated with glyphosate.
- Wild fish or organic lean meat reduces toxic exposure.
- Personal care products and cosmetics- inform yourself about their ingredients and avoid toxic ingredients where possible. A good place to start is https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/#.Wpbld63MwXo
- Purchase or make natural house cleaning products
- Drink filtered water – a solid block carbon filter will effectively remove some heavy metals.
- Avoid smoking and smoky atmospheres
- Minimize alcohol as it can compromise the liver, which is our primary organ of detoxification.
Supporting the innate detoxification processes of the body
- Increase antioxidant intake with vegetables and fruit - 5-10 per day in a variety of colours. Consider juicing or smoothies if this seems like too many portions. A diet rich in vitamins, minerals and plant nutrients called phytochemicals, supports the liver by providing antioxidants such as quercitin, which help prevent toxins from damaging the body. By choosing a variety of vegetables and fruit, you will be providing your body with a variety of phytonutrients so it can take care of itself quietly in the background.
- Fibre – a diet rich in fibre will improve the time it takes for food to move through the gut and remove the toxins eliminated in bile via the faeces. Soluble fibre such as psyllium, oats or barley, binds to the toxins such as heavy metals and oestrogen, securing their exit from the body.
- Adequate protein – amino acids are the building blocks of protein and vital to the detoxification process. They can be obtained from eating lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds and plant proteins such as beans and lentils.
- Specific foods to support detoxification include garlic, onions, chicory, beetroot, broccoli (especially sprouted), cauliflower, watercress, artichoke, green leafy vegetables such as collard greens, kale, chard
- Wholefoods, avoiding ultra-processed foods – eat foods as close to their natural state as possible
- Stay well hydrated
Other non-nutritional measures
- Exercise – improves liver function, increases sweating, encourages deep breathing, massages the abdominal organs, encourage bowel movements, increased blood flow.
- Sauna – improves sweating optimizing the skin as an excretory route
Herbs to Support the Liver
Liver support is often plays a foundational role in the herbal approach to health, especially for chronic and inflammatory conditions. It can lay the groundwork for improved health. The choice of herbs and the approach to care is individualised and specific.
Herbs commonly used to support the liver include
- dandelion root
- globe artichoke
- milk thistle
- yellow dock
The strategies outlined above can enhance general vitality and gently support the body to function optimally. If you think you might benefit from a more personalised approach please schedule an appointment here and we can take the time to look more closely at your specific needs.
All content provided on this website is for general information purposes only and is not intended to replace medical or specialist advice.
A qualified Medical Herbalist is always your best resource for information related to herbal medicines.
Registered Dietitians are a reliable and trusted resource for nutrition related information, always up to date and always ready to work with you to realise your goals.