In Chinese medicine, spring is an excellent time to cleanse and renew. Much like the buds sprouting on plants outside, the body is energized and ready to emerge from its winter dormancy. The buzzword “detox” can evoke thoughts of deprivation with a dash of lemon-cayenne water, but there are many avenues for resetting your health. Below are some gentle ideas.
One key component of detoxification is minimizing sources of everyday toxic exposures. Set aside a Sunday afternoon to go through the products you use on a regular basis, including skin and hair care, cosmetics, and cleaning products. The Environmental Working Group is an excellent resource for rating the toxicity of various products. For cosmetics and hygiene products, use their Skin Deep database and aim to use products with a score of 3 or lower. Using their Guide to Healthy Cleaning, toss out and replace any cleaning products with a score of C or worse. Consider also revamping your cookware, replacing non-stick pans with well-seasoned cast irons, substituting glass tupperware in place of plastic, and switching out plastic spatulas for wooden and stainless steel implements.
Get into the habit of removing your shoes when you get home. This prevents heavy metals, pesticides, and other harmful substances from getting tracked inside by our shoes. Use your low toxicity home cleaning products regularly, removing toxin-carrying dust from surfaces and flooring. Consider investing in an air purifier; IQAir is top of the line. Indoor plants also work as mini-air purifiers, and a 1989 NASA study identified the best species for this purpose (click here for full list).
Drink filtered water. If you have particular concerns about water quality in your area or increased sensitivity to exposure, consider investing in a reverse osmosis water filtration system. From a dietary perspective, eat only organic whole foods during a cleanse. Two helpful hints: avoid foods that come in packaging, and stick to foods found along the edges of the grocery store. If finances are tight, aim to purchase organic versions of foods found on the Dirty Dozen list.
Supporting Detoxification Pathways
The human body has several natural mechanisms for removing waste: bowel movements, urination, breath, sweat, and tears. With a cleanse, it’s important that all these pathways are optimized. When these pathways are sluggish, toxins are allowed to reabsorb into the body.
A good goal is 1-3 well-formed bowel movements daily. If you are pooping on a less than daily basis, increase your dietary fiber intake (or consider supplementing), hydrate well, and make sure your having some exercise daily. If you still struggle with regularity, consult a naturopathic doctor. Support regular urination by having a glass or stainless steel water bottle carrying filtered water with you at all times. A good rule-of-thumb is if your urine is pale yellow or clear, you are drinking enough water.
Cardio exercise is great for detox via the lungs and skin. During a cleanse, see if you can get 30-60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise in 5-7 days per week. For added detoxification via sweat, follow exercise with time in the sauna, then rinse off with a cool shower. It’s important to shower shortly after sweating, so the toxins released are rinsed off rather than reabsorbed.
Finally, let the tears flow, or more generally, allow for emotional release. Emotional repression leaves us in a state of chronic tension, which affects our nervous system and consequently every aspect of our being. Consider what emotions you need to release and how you can do that in a safe and productive fashion. Perhaps a good cry over a sad movie would do the trick, or a kickboxing class, or venting with friends, or a calming meditation. While you’re doing this internal and external “spring cleaning,” consider engaging with a counselor to help develop healthy emotional habits and avoid repression in the future.
These are some gentle and simple ideas to do a spring time cleanse. If you have a heavier toxic burden (i.e. from workplace exposures) or increased sensitivity to typical exposures (such as a diagnosis of multiple chemical sensitivity), consult with a naturopathic doctor who can assess and address these issues.