Girl Planting seeds

kale_smoothieBy Maureen McDonnell, RN
With the current dominance the pharmaceutical industry has over the medical profession, common sense approaches to staying or regaining our health are often ignored.  We live in a time when drugs are prescribed for symptoms such as headaches, elevated cholesterol, poor attention, depression, PMS, irritability, GI distress (to name a few),  when in actuality, those symptoms often represent an  underlying imbalance in the body that can frequently be corrected with alterations in lifestyle, dietary changes, proper supplementation and varying degrees of detoxification.   This is where I get my conservative friends upset.  So, let me explain: I’m not suggesting that there is never a time for pharmaceuticals.   I’m just pointing out that they are currently overused, they mask symptoms instead of addressing underlying causes of illness, and the quick fix approach they offer has a price that many of us are no longer willing to pay.

It wasn’t always this way. Up until the early part of the last century (when the pharmaceutical approach began to invade and take over the medical mind-set) physicians or healers relied on many forms of natural healing including detoxification or internal cleansing to help their patients regain health.  Internal cleansing as a practice has been used for centuries as a means of eliminating toxins from the body in order to restore vibrancy and health.  Cultures including the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Native Americans and Ayurveda in India have all used botanicals and other forms of cleansing to get rid of toxins from the body and optimize health.

In addition to the reasons these ancient cultures used and valued purging the body of toxins created by our own metabolism, we now live in a time where there’s the added burden of 87,000 relatively new chemicals in our air, water and food including the 2.2 billion pounds of chemicals that are sprayed on crops each year. Almost ¾ of these new substances are small enough molecules to cross cell membranes. (1)

The most recent report from the CDC found the average American had in her body 116 of the 148 synthetic compounds tested for, including the infamous dioxin, polycyclic hydrocarbons and organochlorine pesticides.  (2) Further studies revealed these same substances were also in human milk, placenta and umbilical cord blood, and in the blood and body fat of newborns. Another report showed out of the 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood, 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animals.  (3)

Okay, so here’s where the common sense comes into play: there are 287 million people in the US today and approximately 41% of them suffer from some form of chronic illness.  That is 118 million people not feeling well.  I’m thinking; maybe there is a connection between toxins, their build up in our systems and these illnesses and it might be time to consider bringing back the ancient art of detoxifying as a common sense approach to regaining our health.

After all, we clean out our cars and our homes, doesn’t it make sense to also clean out our bodies periodically?  I know my liver needs a rest once in awhile which is why, as I write this article, I happen to be smack dab in the middle of my own spring cleanse.   Although a bit challenging at first…..(I don’t know too many people who cherish the idea of  giving up coffee in the morning and red wine at night), but it is so worth the effort.  I feel FABULOUS!

There are many different ways to cleanse, and it’s a good idea to work with someone who has experience to guide you through the process.  To understand a bit more about how it all works, , lets start with a brief discussion of two pivotal organs; the liver and the colon.  The liver has over 750 jobs to perform. One of its main functions is to convert harmful chemicals into water-soluble molecules that can be eliminated via the urine and stool.  In the new book Digestive Wellness by Asheville’s PhD, CCN (certified clinical nutritionist), Liz Lipski, the author gives us some insight into just how important a job the liver has in maintaining our health   “The liver is, in my opinion, the most overworked organ of the body.  It has the responsibility for manufacturing thirteen thousand different enzymes, producing cholesterol, breaking down estrogen, regulating blood sugar, filtering blood, manufacturing bile, breaking down old red blood cells and detoxifying harmful substances. When the liver loses its ability to easily perform these functions, we begin to feel ill, with many systems out of ­balance”.

We overwhelm our livers with processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, cleaning chemicals, perfumes, scented shampoos, skin lotions made from mineral oil (a derivative of petroleum), heavy metals (from dental amalgams that are 50% mercury), infections and stress.  When the liver becomes overtaxed, symptoms such as low energy, poor digestion, skin eruptions and an inability to lose weight often develop.  When the body begins to eliminate some of the internal pollution, it relieves enormous stress on our livers, organs and tissues. Immune function is enhanced, energy improves, and other symptoms such as headaches and GI conditions improve.

The second organ that gets some relief with a good spring cleaning is the colon. One of my favorite sayings is: “The road to good health is paved with good intestines”. No one likes to discuss the colon, but having a healthy intestinal tract that is in optimal functioning order absorbing nutrients and eliminating toxins is one of the pillars of great health.   People often laugh when they hear me say “bowels are my business”, yet, in my efforts to help children with autism and women with chronic conditions regain their health, the gut is exactly what we begin to heal first. From there, so many other conditions improve including behavior, attention, immunity and vitality..      Just like the physicians that pre-date the dominance of the pharmaceutical industry, I firmly believe many chronic conditions that plaque us today are the result of an unhealthy gut.

So what are some of the ways we can give our liver a rest, clean out our colons of toxic debris and improve our health and vitality. And what if anything do these different approaches have in common?  Most of the detox programs I’ve come across in the 33 years I’ve been practicing holistic health care, start with a change in diet.  The rationale behind this first step is simple: if you begin a deep cleanse on a lousy diet and don’t first switch over to  a healthier, mostly organic one, its very likely your liver could become overwhelmed and symptoms such as headache, fatigue and nausea could become severe and prevent you from going further.  Some programs like the Master Cleanse (which consists of   lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper for 10 days) can be effective, but many practitioners now caution against this “no food” or “no added supplements” approach because the body needs certain nutrients to perform the complicated detox processes in the liver and depriving the body of nutrients while cleansing can actually be counterproductive. .

Nance Pettit, a local acupuncturist, psychologist and founder of The Art and Heart of Vibrant Living agrees:  “I’ve seen that it is rarely necessary to do a radical water or juice only cleanse. Most folks find huge benefit in eliminating flour, dairy products, sugar (or any other sweeteners other than stevia), stimulants, trans fats, and alcohol. Replacing these things with exercise, green veggie juices, fermented vegetables, soaked grains, seeds, and nuts and good fats like coconut oil with an increase in sleep to 8 hours (starting by 11pm at the latest) is usually all that’s needed. For some, this is enough. Where others need to add fish or grass feed meat as sources of protein. I think perhaps the greatest advantage in doing this, is not what happens during the cleansing time but when you reintroduce foods back to your life and have an awakened sense of the impact they have on your vitality and happiness.”

Other plans similar to the one Nance describes add cleansing herbs such as senna, buckthorn, licorice root, vegetable protein shakes, a good multi, and detox teas which have a gentle (or not so gentle, depending on the condition of your intestines) laxative effect.    

Another form of cleansing is practiced by Ayruvedic practitioner Vishnu Dass LMT, NTS, CAyu at Blue Lotus Ayurveda in Asheville  Panchakarma, is the ancient Ayurvedic method of cleansing widely used in Ayurvedic hospitals worldwide for the treatment and prevention of disease. Vishnu Dass states that this form of cleansing is the foremost purification therapy because it reverses the mechanisms that carry toxins into your tissues,bringing them back to the digestive tract and gently expelling them from the body. The program is tailored to meet the  individual needs in a holistic and natural manner. Panchakarma includes a preparation phase to loosen and mobilize toxins; a cleansing phase to remove metabolic wastes from your system with the help of treatments including tandem warm oil massage, herbal steam baths, herbal medicines; and a series of highly refined detox measures designed to remove toxins through the natural routes of elimination. The last phase is rejuvenation, whereby your body is replenished with a healthy diet and lifestyle as well as nourishing herbal tonics that facilitate in establishing healthy metabolic function, immunity, vitality and

Julia Monet “creates beautiful women from the inside out” In addition to her amazing designs (that do make you feel beautiful on the outside), Julia also provides  consultations in the Ayruvedic traditions of health.  Spring, she says is a great time to consider a cleanse as Ayurveda harnesses and works with this intelligent and natural cleansing process.  If you catch the wave you can get Nature’s support to facilitate your annual internal cleanse instead of adding new toxic build-up on old un-eliminated waste”.

All of the different modalities encourage drinking a lot of water and making sure you have at least 1-2 bowel movements per day by adding extra sources of fiber.  A few years back a good friend did a 7 day cleanse and called to report to me at the end that he hadn’t moved his bowels all week.  I almost jumped through the phone!   Building up all those toxins and then not eliminating them on a daily basis is really dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

Dry brushing (with large strokes toward the heart) is another frequently suggested recommendation to accompany a cleanse.  On his  very popular website, Dr. Joseph Mercola, MD reminds us about the importance of sweating when attempting to detoxify “ Your skin is another major organ of elimination, but many people do not sweat on a regular basis. One beneficial detox method is using an infra-red sauna, particularly for slow metabolizers. It heats your tissues several inches deep, which can enhance your natural metabolic processes. It also enhances circulation and helps oxygenate your tissues.”

And finally, what kind of diet and lifestyle do I return to in order to minimize the build up of toxins once the cleanse is completed?.  In addition to recommending that one should reintroduce foods slowly back into the diet (instead of gorging yourself the day the cleanse is over)   I suggest adhering to the Weston A Price Foundation list of common sense recommendations for a healthy diet:

Eat foods that are natural, unprocessed, and organic (and contain no sugar except for the occasional bit of honey or maple syrup).
Eat foods that grow in your native environment. In other words, eat locally grown, seasonal foods.
Eat unpasteurized dairy products (such as raw milk) and fermented foods.
Eat at least one-third of your food raw.
Make sure you eat enough healthy fats, including those from animal sources like omega-3 fat, and reduce your intake of omega-6 from vegetable oils.
Review of important tips for detoxification/cleansing

1.      Work with someone who can assess your readiness to detox and guide you through this process

2.      Start by cleaning up your diet and eating mostly organic, healthy, foods before beginning a detox program..

3.      While doing the cleanse, make sure you consume plenty of pure water, have at least 1-2 good bowel movements per day and give your body (either via food, vegetable juicing or supplements) the nutrients it needs to properly perform the detoxification process in the liver.

4.      Since the skin is our biggest eliminative organ, do dry brushing (using long strokes toward the heart) prior to bathing to stimulate the lymphatic system

5.      Try to induce a good sweat as our skin is our biggest eliminative organ.

6.      Once the cleanse is over, add foods back gradually assessing their effects.

As we shake out our rugs and open the windows to let the sweet smell of spring fill our dusty  winterized homes, think about how good it’ll feel to shake out the toxins from your system and enjoy the vitality and energy that comes from a little spring cleaning of your beautiful body!  Feels like the common sense thing to do, wouldn’t you say?



Maureen McDonnell has been a registered nurse for 35 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, labor and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.)   She is the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now Conferences, and the co-founder of Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet.  Maureen lectures widely on the role the environment and nutrition play in children’s health.  She is the health editor of WNC Woman Magazine and owner of Nutritionist’s Choice Inc.   Presently, Maureen serves as the Medical Coordinator for the Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer.   She and her husband have five grand kids and feel blessed to be living in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.  To find out more about nutritionally-based detox: or

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