Detoxification is a specific integrative health protocol that is traditionally and preferably practiced in the fall and spring seasons, as these are times that energetically correspond to the natural cycles of change in nature and detoxification within our bodies. It can also be done at other times of the year — if medically warranted. Although the fall season has ended and winter is officially here, I would nonetheless like to discuss some of the important details of this increasingly relevant topic with regard to integrative medicine. Having a deeper understanding of the detox process can help us prepare now for the completion of a successful cleanse during the appropriate season as it approaches.
Our bodies are very smart, working hard doing whatever it takes to function as smoothly as possible. With regard to the regular onslaught of pollutants in our environment, health robbing toxins and heavy metals eventually accumulate deep within our tissues and organs. We need them “out of the way” of daily metabolic cycles, and not circulating heavily in our blood stream. In a situation of tragic irony, our bodies can even create tumors in this way, as a “buffer” to survive the buildup of toxins. But what happens when we try to release the toxins all at once, with methods such as fasting, herbal formulas, and weight loss?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is what’s called the Detox Cycle, with two distinct phases, however, it is frequently overlooked. It depicts a more complex physical and energetic flow than often realized, and if we are not well prepared, there can be significant short and long-term side effects to detoxing. One of our major goals therefore, is to design an effective cleanse program without having to experience a “healing crisis”.
What is a Healing Crisis?
A “healing crisis” is caused by the dumping of toxins from the organs and tissues into the circulatory system, or a shift in the areas where the toxins are stored. While “healing crisis” is a valuable term, it is often used as an excuse for an aggravation that could have been prevented. To this end, there are different tools which can support a healthy, crises-free cleanse: sophisticated herbal formulas, trigger point injections, acupuncture, infrared saunas, and nutritional IVs, all of which now provide opportunities for cancer and chronically ill patients to detox with little or no side effects.
What I want to discuss in this article however, is the process of loosening toxins from the organs and tissues where they are stored. This is known as discharging, and it is phase one of the detox cycles. But where are the toxins going after they are discharged?
Phase One Detox: The Circulation “Stations”
When we look at what is happening in phase one detox, toxins are being dumped into the circulatory system from different tissues and organs, with the liver leading the process. Though more emphasized in the spring, the liver as a powerhouse of metabolic functions works hard to filter and recycle the blood, so it has enormous capacity to hold toxins, and excrete them. From the liver, blood flows to the right atrium of the heart (also where the lymph system empties), and with the contraction of the heart, into the lungs. Therefore, the first “station” in the detox cycle where toxins get stuck, is the lungs. Often times, the initial side effects presenting themselves in a detox program are excess phlegm, respiratory congestion and symptoms of common colds and cough.
When the lungs do their job and eliminate, the blood then goes to the left heart, which is station two in the detox cycle. In TCM, the heart and mind are closely connected, a relationship that correlates to emotional release, insight, dreams, insomnia – all of these are part of the heart stage.
After the heart, the blood circulates through the body. The third station is the digestive system, and if our digestive tract does not remove the toxins efficiently, they reabsorb back into the bloodstream. Symptoms in this stage of detox are constipation, bloating, and flatulence, among others. The body then tries for the joints, the fourth station of the detox cycle, and a common area where toxins get stored. As blood continues to circulate in the body, it reaches the kidneys, our filtration system, which are able to eliminate some of the burden through the urine. But toxins that are not excreted here, travel right back to the tissues and the liver.
What we have just described is one cycle of blood circulation. On one level, this can be a fast process, but on a larger level, the detox cycle can be quite slow. We can get stuck at each stage along the way, sometimes for months. Or we can get stuck for a long time at one stage, the lungs, for example, and experience chronic respiratory symptoms. Insomnia, which relates to the heart-mind connection, is another common issue with inappropriate detox, as discharged toxins and blockages (such as phlegm and inflammation) linger in the heart channel. In fact, when assigning detox to a patient with chronic health issues, it is valuable to see which symptoms may start after a detox program. It will help us to understand where the issues are coming from, and following this cycle, where are they progressing to.
Cleansing the blood: Prepare for a deeper Phase Two Detox
In the detox cycle, the distinctions between discharge (phase 1) and excretion (phase 2) are significant when planning a cleanse. Organs and tissues first discharge toxins into the circulatory system, which are eventually excreted by our sweat, breath, urine and bowel movements, as well as with emotional/psychological, and spiritual release. This component of emotional release is especially significant in the fall season, while the spring season emphasizes more physiological changes.
If the burden of discharged toxins into our circulation is manageable, and our excretion channels are supported to function efficiently, we can successfully cleanse with little or no side effects. One metaphor is that of the kitchen drawers. If we open one kitchen drawer and throw everything on the floor, we can clean it up easily. If we open all the drawers and throw everything onto the floor at once, we have a huge mess.
With any cleanse, it is important to move gently and gradually. So one of the most essential first steps is to have a system in place to begin cleansing the blood of circulating toxins, and continue this process throughout both detox phases. It is important to cleanse the blood without causing the organs to discharge too much all at once. There are several good nutritional adjuncts which can support this process, one of them being a high quality medicinal mushroom formula. Medicinal mushrooms can act like sponges, traveling to hard to reach areas of the body to mop up toxins and pathogens.
After the burden of toxins circulating in the blood stream is reduced with gentle blood cleansing supplements and a simplified cleansing diet, additional detox therapies and nutritional adjuncts can be incorporated. Specific functions of additional detox supplements are to help cleanse the blood, enhance the discharge and excretion phases by supporting detoxification within the organ systems, and protect organs and tissues from the stress of an increased burden of toxins and heavy metals. Additionally, supplements which support circulation and overall energy production are essential, as we cannot detoxify if we are depleted of vital energy.
Gently cleansing blood and tissues first will prevent the discomfort many people experience when trying to cleanse, or lose a lot of weight, too quickly. Instead of a “healing crisis”, we can create “healing spaces” — by clearing out toxins in the blood and tissues initially, we make room for the body’s natural process of cleansing and regeneration to occur, taking us into the deeper, more intense and more rewarding phase two of the cleanse. For now, just one question remains… How many layers — of toxins, obstructions, and even afflictive emotions – do you want to peel off?
For more information and tips on detoxification, visit my website at www.dreliaz.org