Purification, also known as detoxification, is the use of natural methods to remove toxins from the body and to improve health. While our bodies do have natural pathways and systems for removing toxins, sometimes those systems get overwhelmed and need help. This is especially true if our diet is not the best and we are deficient in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that our bodies’ detoxification pathways need to metabolize and remove toxins (Nick, 2001, ch. 1). Even with an optimal, nutrient-dense diet, the level of exposure to environmental toxins may overwhelm the body’s pathways.
Detoxification pathways in the body include:
- Liver metabolism
- Intestinal tract
- Lungs (via respiration), nose and throat
- Skin and connective tissue
- Lymphatic system
Although purification has a long history in Europe, modern Western mainstream medicine does not include it, but instead focuses on medications to treat symptoms, many of which are also toxic to the body.
Purification can include many healing modalities, such as sauna, lymph drainage, hydrotherapy, exercise, and even enemas.
We will focus here on diet and digestion. A detoxification and purification program selects foods and herbs that assist the body’s detoxification pathways, in conjunction with a nutrient-dense and calorie-restricted diet aimed at bolstering metabolism and avoiding toxin-containing foods.
How To Tell When Purification Is Needed
The effects of toxins in the body can be subtle. In addition to the long-term health risks related to some toxic exposures, toxicity can produce vague symptoms and a general feeling of malaise (Nab, 2016, p. 19).
Signs of toxicity in the body include:
- Stuffy head
- Poor sleep
- Digestive problems
- Food cravings
- Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
- Mental fog
- Low libido
- Unhealthy skin
- Aching joints and muscles
- Impaired resistance to colds and infections
In other words, if you are generally feeling rundown and sluggish, detoxification and purification can help. If you are struggling with your weight, purification can also help jump start your metabolism to help you lose weight.
Why Purification Is Necessary
We are exposed to two major forms of toxins: external toxins and internal toxins. Both types can dramatically affect the health of our bodies and our natural purification systems. It is important to become more aware about the ways in which we are exposed to various toxins in our daily lives.
In the modern world, we are exposed to many environmental toxins that impact our health (Nick, 2001, ch. 3). These include toxins such as:
- Pollutants, chemicals, and pesticides
- Many substances found at home or work (cleaning agents, synthetic fragrances, tobacco smoke, molds, some metals)
- What we consume (alcohol, caffeine, synthetic sweeteners, preservatives in processed foods)
- Certain pharmaceutical medications, especially those that impact the liver and kidney detoxification pathways
Many of these external toxins have been scientifically proven to carry health risks (e.g., lead, asbestos, certain pesticides). Other toxins are strongly suspected to pose health risks, but they have not been proven yet due to a lack of adequate scientific research.
The relatively new concept of chemical body burden refers to the accumulated effect of exposure to so many types of toxins. For instance, pharmaceuticals like antibiotics, steroids, hormones, and antidepressants are often flushed down the toilet and end up in the water supply. They are not generally measured, as the particulate matter is below known toxic levels, but in combination with other toxins, they add to the body burden and affect humans in unknown ways. In fact, studies have already shown their effects on aquatic life in several ways, including a finding that antidepressants can “alter the behavior and reproductive functions of fish and mollusks,” according to Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE).
Children, the elderly, and developing fetuses are especially vulnerable to toxic overload. Chronic illnesses caused by toxic exposure may take a long time to develop, such as cancer caused by asbestos exposure, which makes it difficult to prove causality and assess the impact of toxic exposure.
Industrial chemicals, such as cadmium, lead, dioxin and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) accumulate in our food supply. A recent discovery of high levels of cadmium produced by Bullseye Glass in SE Portland shows just how ubiquitous these heavy metals and toxins are in our environment.
There are several ways in which the body’s life processes can produce toxins (Nick, 2001, ch. 2). A healthy body can handle and eliminate these internal toxins, but under stress the system may not function well enough.
The body’s natural functions can produce toxins as a by-product, and these need to be eliminated. Types of these toxins include:
- Carbon dioxide produced in the body that is expelled by respiration
- Debris from dead cells
- Dead and digested bacteria
- Metabolic products of molds and yeasts present in the body
A pH imbalance can impact toxicity levels as well. Digestion depends on a proper balance of acid and alkaline reactions, and pH imbalance can disrupt digestion and produce toxins. Additionally, connective tissue and the lymphatic drainage system, which clears toxic waste, is impacted by an acidic pH imbalance. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is highly acidic.
Free radicals, chemically unstable compounds, are produced by the body’s metabolism. If the body is stressed, these can become toxins. A diet high in antioxidants helps the body process and neutralize free radicals.
Last but not least, emotional stress and trauma can disrupt brain and central nervous system metabolism, resulting in toxic changes at the cellular level.
How Do We Purify?
Elizabeth Zenger, Ph.D., L.Ac. can design a purification program customized to meet your individual health needs and goals. A good starting point for many clients is the 21-day Purification Program from Standard Process.
Do you have a goal of losing weight? If so, we can recommend a more calorie-restrictive and nutrient-dense version of the purification diet, which will help jump start your metabolism.
Wondering about food intolerances? Some people have sensitivities and even allergic reactions to certain foods, and we are not aware of the cause of their own distress. In the day-to-day, we eat so many foods that it can be hard to track down the source of the problem. By eliminating the most common culprits (soy and legumes, grains, shellfish, nuts, dairy, eggs) for 21 days, we can reintroduce foods one-by-one to “challenge” the body and uncover its reactions. (Many of these foods, like nuts and eggs, are fine to eat after the purification process, as long as they do not produce an unpleasant reaction!)
Getting rid of processed foods, sugars, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages gives our body a break from many of the toxins we consume in the Standard American Diet (SAD). It’s also an opportunity to make long-term changes and reduce or eliminate many of those foods permanently.
Purification is also a fantastic starting point on the path of wellness for those with chronic health problems, such as autoimmune conditions, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, heartburn, chronic pain, frequent colds, seasonal allergies, menopausal problems and poor sleep.
What Happens During a Purification Program?
In this 21-day program, the first week includes an herbal supplement that assists the detoxification pathways of the liver and kidneys, and extra fiber to help remove toxins from the intestines. During this time, you may feel an intensification of symptoms like fatigue or headache (called the Herxheimer reaction) as toxins are released from the body. This is a healing reaction, so take it easy for a few days until the symptoms pass.
The program includes a diet of many vegetables, some fruit, adequate protein, and some additional supplements. A nutrient shake supplement, SP Complete, provides a protein source and nutrient-packed green food extracts.
After the first week of detoxification, you will find that symptoms clear up and you will feel energized and clear-headed, with more stamina throughout the day. During this time, a green food supplement is added to the protocol to super-charge the nutrient density of your diet, helping your metabolism to recover even further.
Avoiding Toxins And Maintaining Health
We can’t eliminate all toxins from our lives, but we can create a “new normal” for our diet and lifestyle, minimizing the impact of both internal and external toxins on health. We want to solidify each of the changes we make in order to maintain better overall health. One by one, you will reintroduce each eliminated foods to uncover any hidden food intolerances. You may be surprised by the results!
Here are some key steps for positive change:
- Continue eating a nutrient-dense diet, with nine servings of vegetables and fruit per day (at least six of which are vegetables)
- Eat 2-3 4 oz. servings per day of lean meat, fish, poultry, or eggs
- Choose high-quality sources, especially for meat (grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, organic or pasture-raised chicken and eggs), and avoid all factory-farmed animal products
- Eat whole grains in moderation and avoid white flour or refined carbohydrates
- Avoid foods and beverages containing added sugars
- Choose healthy fats (nuts, seeds, fish) and oils (olive, coconut, avocado) and avoid synthetic vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean) and trans fats (margarine)
- Drink more water (0.5 ounce for each pound of your bodyweight, or at least 2 liters per day)
Give Your Body Some Much-Needed Love
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is practicing self-care. If you have been feeling low in energy, restless, or just plain tired, try purification. Fill your body with nourishing foods and supplements and discover a lighter, more focused you. It’s time to listen to your body and to help your natural purification systems become more efficient.
For more information on our purification program, contact Inner Works Acupuncture at (503) 227-2127 to schedule an appointment. We are conveniently located in Portland and offer full-body health treatments and nutritional consults, including Five Element Acupuncture, Zero Balancing, Chinese herbal medicine, and more.
Nab, Georgia. (2016). One Degree of Change: The Standard Process 21-Day Purification Program Cookbook. Palmyra, WI: Standard Process, Inc.
Nick, Gina L. (2001). Clinical Purification: A Complete Treatment and Reference Manual. Brookfield, WI: Longevity Through Prevention, Inc.