According to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Spring and Fall seasons provide the best opportunities for deeply detoxifying and cleansing the body of harmful impurities that have collected in our organs and tissues over the past months and years. Fundamental philosophies in TCM state that the energies which manifest as seasonal changes in our external environment are also reflected in the body, and spring offers a unique transitional period of time when internal energies rise and expand, providing movement and growth to carry us away from the conservation and stagnancy characterizing the energies of cold winter months prior. This expansive energy helps to move things to the surface and expel some of the body’s burden of toxins in preparation for the high activity of summer, and this energy of upward growth toward the sun means emotions and issues stored deep within the past also have an opportunity to be released. With a little preparation and mindfulness, the forces of renewal and rebirth that are so pervasive during the spring season can be harnessed and used to greatly benefit the body, mind and spirit during a spring cleanse.
In TCM, spring is related to the wood element and to the liver and gall bladder. As such, the liver is the focus of the spring cleanse. As we detoxify the liver, however, we also need to make sure that other parts of the body — especially those involved in secretion and detoxification — are well supported. Otherwise, we may experience toxic backups with symptoms such as constipation, digestive disturbances, respiratory congestion, headaches and others. With both of these goals in mind, the process of detoxification necessarily includes drainage and elimination. Drainage is the discharge of toxins and waste products from the organs into the system – while elimination is the actual removal of these waste products through the urine, feces, sweat, skin and respiratory tract.
A spring cleanse can be as short as 3 days, or as long as 21 days, but I find that 10-14 days is optimal for most individuals. You might choose to start with a preparation phase, followed by a middle segment that is more intense, and wind down your cleanse by repeating the preparation phase. However you plan your detox, a fresh healthy diet with a focus on organic, seasonal vegetables should always serve as the foundation. Aim to increase your intake of organic green vegetables – whether steamed or raw – while limiting high sugar fruits during this time. And, of course, boost your liquid consumption. This can be in the form of water, herbal teas or vegetable soups or broth.
Another excellent detoxification tool I use is a simple lemon and olive oil drink. This is a particularly good option for your spring cleanse, as the acidity helps to contract your liver, while the olive oil works on your gall bladder. It’s easy to prepare: Simply cut one organic lemon into pieces (seeds removed) and mix with 1 ¼ cups spring water, along with a tablespoon of olive oil, in the blender. Then strain the contents, but not too much, as you still want some of the pulp to remain – and drink before bed on an empty stomach.
Not only will this support the gentle discharge of toxins from your liver, but many of my patients have found that it improves their sleep as well. (For those with liver issues or a high toxic burden, however, I always recommend that the lemon and olive oil drink be started at a reduced dosage of only ¼ the general mix.)
Beyond diet, one of the best things that you can do to optimize your cleanse is to exercise. The beautiful spring weather provide us all with ample opportunity of outdoor activity – and a simple 30 minute walk each day can go a long way toward boosting your health, whatever time of year.
Cleanse Food Program
The goals of your cleansing food program are:
- Eliminate foods that have strong pro-inflammatory potential, such as processed foods, highly salted or sweetened foods, non organic foods, red meat, alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine.
- Rest your digestive system from the digestion of concentrated proteins, fats, and oil, and nutritionally depleted foods such as sugar, refined flour, fast foods, etc.
- Alkalinize your system promoting the oxygenation and release of waste and stored toxins.
- Provide support for all your organs and systems of detoxification and elimination.
- Provide nutrients to deeply vitalize at the cellular level.
- Balance blood glucose levels.
- Reseed the intestines with beneficial bacterial.
- Improve digestion.
- Improve bowel transit time.
- Heal and minimize intestinal permeability.
- Improve immune function.
- Balance hormones.
- Remove heavy metals, pesticides, chemical toxins and bacterial toxins.
Foods to Include
- Emphasize green leafy vegetables, especially bitter greens such as dandelion greens, endive, parsley, beet, kale, chard, mustard greens, spinach, endive, bok choy, arugula and mixed salad greens.
- Cruciferous vegetables: kale broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens.
- Onion family: onions, shallots, garlic, leeks.
- Artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes
- Other vegetables: beet roots, celery, asparagus, celery, zucchini, cucumbers, beets, string beans, beet greens, naturally fermented sauerkraut, sea vegetables.
Preparation: raw, juiced, steamed, baked, or lightly sautéed in small amount of grapeseed oil.
Fresh juices with leafy green vegetables as a base are an ideal way to get a balance of cleansing and rebuilding supportive phytonutrients. Fresh vegetable juices are alkaline rich, mineral rich and phytonutrient rich. When tissues hold waste material and toxins, or they are damaged through excess free radial activity, they become acidic. Fatty tissues hold fat soluble chemicals, and toxins and heavy metals get stored in the lipid membranes of the cells (including the brain). Vegetable juices and broths provide an alkaline reserve that alters tissue pH and remineralizes the body, allowing the tissues to rid themselves of metabolic waste and toxins. Enzymes in the fresh vegetable juices also help to break down and remove toxins, and the high chlorophyll content of green leafy vegetables helps to cleanse and oxygenate the blood. Veggie juices should be taken 2-3 times per day if possible. Powdered juice concentrates are ideal for work or travel – just add water.
Fruits contain a high amount of natural sugars, and therefore should be used in moderation during a cleanse as one of the goals of the cleanse is to rebalance blood glucose levels. Apples, pears, peaches, blueberries and raspberries and citrus eaten separately, are all appropriate choices during a cleanse. Avoid concentrated fruit juices and all other fruits during this time.
Herbal teas are a wonderful way to help hydrate and cleanse the body. All caffeinated teas need to be avoided as they interfere with the body’s cleansing and re-balancing processes. Herbal teas that support the various elimination processes are highly beneficial. These herbs are usually available in both commercial tea bags and in bulk for your own brewing. Some of these herbs include the following: dandelion root, burdock root, astragalus root, ginger root, licorice root, nettle, cleavers, mint, horsetail, oat straw, fennel, cardamom, rooibos and red clover blossom.
Simmer the following vegetables for 45 minutes. Strain and drink the broth throughout the day. The broth can be kept refrigerated for up to 3 days: Celery, green beans, zucchini, parsley, spinach. You can also puree the vegetables after cooking and eat as a soup.
Prepare the above alkalizing broth with the addition of any of the following: beets, kale, mustard or dandelion greens, seaweed, flax seed, astragalus, burdock root, turmeric root, garlic, onion.
Herbs and condiments
Ginger, cayenne, licorice root, burdock root, milk thistle seed, dandelion leaf and root, curry, turmeric, nutmeg, and cinnamon may be added to your dishes for variety and for their positive effects on digestion and detoxification.
During your cleanse I often advise using a rice-based protein powder several times per day as a way to help keep you blood sugar levels as stable as possible. Sprouted seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, flax) and sprouted beans, especially mung beans, can also be used. Your health care provider may suggest more protein sources for your individual needs.
Oils should be minimized during a cleanse, preferably no more than 2 Tb per day. The best are olive oil and flax oils. Both should be used unheated.
Drink a minimum of eight, 8oz glasses of filtered water per day. Water in plastic bottles should be avoided as it often contains unsafe levels of toxins that have leeched into the water from the packaging. Add lemon to your filtered water for an extra detoxification effect.
You may need some assistance to eliminate while on a cleanse. The high fiber content of an increased vegetable intake may be adequate. If not, then it is vital that you add a good fiber source to your regimen, because a sluggish bowel will produce a toxic effect even if you are eating healthy, cleansing foods. Fresh ground flax seed, rice bran or psyllium can be used. In addition, I recommend using a comprehensive digestive formula that can assist in regulation of the bowels as well as cleansing the GI tract of unhealthy bacteria and fungus. You should have bowel movements twice per day while doing a cleanse. Otherwise, toxins have a chance to get reabsorbed back into your body from your GI tract.
Foods to Avoid
- Meat, fish, poultry, eggs
- Dairy products
- Gluten-containing grains: wheat, rye, oats, barley
- Corn and all products containing corn
- Grains (small amounts of rice, quinoa or amaranth may be used)
- Sugar, honey, molasses, artificial sweeteners
- Fruit juices
- Cold drinks
- Oils except for small amounts of grapeseed, olive, coconut or flax (2 Tbs/day)
Supplements to Include
During a cleanse, there are a number of supportive nutritional supplements that can help significantly with the elimination process. While a cleansing diet full of green leafy and cruciferous vegetables and cleansing liquids is the foundation of a thorough detox program, the support provided by specific nutraceuticals and herbs will help to make the cleanse deeper and more efficient, while minimizing some of the discomfort that may arise as your body discharges toxins from deep within.
Heavy metal removal always plays a part in any comprehensive seasonal cleanse. Aluminum, lead, mercury and other toxic metals surround us on a daily basis, and a continuing effort is necessary on our part in order to keep these harmful metals out of our bodies where they can slowly make us sick. In this respect, chelation is absolutely crucial to your detox – but it should always be accomplished in a gentle and gradual manner. In my experience, a Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP)/modified alginate supplement –followed by a phase II detox formula containing a number of chelating herbs and nutraceuticals to ensure complete detoxification – is the safest and most effective way to achieve this. Case report studies show that the combination of these two unique formulas reduces overall heavy metal and environmental toxin levels within the body, safely and effectively. The MCP/alginate combination is intended for long term use, prior to and after your seasonal cleanse, while the phase II detox formula is to be used on a short term basis for 2-3 weeks during the second phase of your actual cleanse.
I also highly recommend medicinal mushrooms for cleansing the liver and colon, and overall body of built up toxins and impurities. An organically grown, comprehensive medicinal mushroom formula that contains a synergistic blend of 10 highly beneficial mushroom species is an optimal choice for removing toxins from stagnant areas of the body, as these mushrooms tend to have an affinity for deeper areas of toxicity within various organs and systems in the body.
Since one of the most critical purposes of your spring cleanse is to discharge and clear the liver, and since this organ can adversely affect colonic elimination, it goes without saying that intestinal support and healthy bowel movements are also essential to the detoxification process. In addition, bringing warmth and vitality to the digestive process through the use of herbs is essential any time of year, but especially during a cleanse. For this reason, I recommend using a comprehensive poly-herbal digestion formula to boost sluggish digestion, and to help with common symptoms like bloating, flatulence and fluid retention.
A high quality probiotic supplement is also very important during a cleanse. One of the goals of cleansing and detoxifying is to rid the intestines of harmful bacteria, fungus and parasites. Replanting beneficial bacteria in the GI tract with probiotics significantly helps to reduce the presence of harmful invaders and improve the overall environment in your gut, leading to increased digestive capacity and overall vitality.
There are a number of supportive therapies that can enhance detoxification and provide support for the organs of elimination, including the liver, bowel, lymph, skin, lungs and kidneys. The following list of supportive therapeutic modalities can be utilized for health benefits any time of year, but when used strategically during a seasonal cleanse, they can help deepen and enhance the process of detoxification significantly.
These recommendations can be modified to create an individual cleanse protocol that is most appropriate for you, depending on health, lifestyle, work, etc. If you are under the care of a health practitioner for a serious condition, it is essential that you discuss such recommendations before starting any new program. However, these recommendations are safe for most people and, with simple modifications such as increased protein intake or reduced cleansing time, they can be utilized by most everybody. If you find that you can’t commit to a longer program, or you find it hard to maintain will power to complete your cleanse diet, just do the best that you can.
The basic ingredients of a successful spring cleanse don’t need to be complicated. On the contrary, by making a commitment, no matter how long, to simplify your diet and engage your heart, mind and body in the opportunity for transition and growth that this season provides – you’ll set a foundation for optimal health and vibrancy that will stay with you all year long.
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