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by Nicki Woodward(more info)

listed in detoxification, originally published in issue 120 - February 2006

With the advent of the 'detox diet', have we lost sight of the true potential of cleansing as a naturopathic tool? Indeed, the rise of chronic illness in a nation plagued by pollution calls for regular body cleansing – but what does this involve and is there a right way to do it?

Cleansing the body for reasons of health and spirituality seems to be an age old ritual. Ayurvedic herbal medicine has been used in India for centuries to release toxins and relieve the symptoms associated with a build-up of unwanted material. The Ancient Greeks introduced the concept of the health spa, and used Hopi ear candles and herbs to cleanse the body on both a spiritual and physical level.

To the Romans, detoxification was part of relaxation and pleasure. The Roman baths were a place to meet, exercise, relax and 'purify' the body. Steam rooms, essential oils, and massage were enjoyed, whilst tools were employed to gently scrape the skin and expel unwanted toxins. The Roman detoxification process was also an internal affair as well as an external one. Various herbs were taken to increase the flow of bile and to help fight off the effects of excess alcohol consumption. We can also see some parallel in the ritual of the Native American sweat lodge and the luxury of today's modern spas. Two different motivations but one effective outcome – cleansing.

Mankind has always been partial to an internal clean-up, but today we have actually pinned it down and given it a name – The Detox. Personally, I'm not sure that something so potentially diverse warrants such a branding. Detoxification at its extreme can be exemplified by the juice or water fast, perhaps a prodigy of the age old religious fast (taken as an act of commitment, penance or spiritual clarity). Of course, procedures such as colonic irrigation are always at hand to speed up the eliminatory process. Whether you have cut out coffee to sip dandelion tea, or have heartily endured foodless weeks with only water as nourishment, you are detoxing to a certain degree. Just how far one needs to go depends on the individual and the complaint which needs addressing.

Natural detoxification occurs via the eliminatory processes of sweating, breathing, urination and defecation. When one partakes in a detox, these processes are encouraged by supporting and stimulating the organs of elimination, particularly the liver. The liver is the major organ of detoxification and takes a significant role in the health of the body. It has 260 known functions, including the production of bile which is stored in the gall-bladder and carries all toxic wastes from the liver. Healing authorities, both ancient and modern, believe that when the liver becomes congested and stagnant, you become more vulnerable to disease. To resume health and energy, the liver and gall-bladder must be cleansed and kept flowing freely.

As I say, this is merely a belief. Search closely, and you will find limited scientific based evidence to support the efficacy of the detox and its effect on the liver and body cells. But if you are a natural healer, experience with clients will have most likely confirmed your belief in the power of cleansing. Of course, quick fix cleansing regimes, such as the cabbage soup diet, rarely work, but a comprehensive therapeutic plan under the guidance of a practitioner says much for long-term success. Take my client Sara for example; she had tried many diets and cleansing regimes, but had remained overweight and miserable for years. After an initial month of gentle cleansing we reintroduced foods to keep the regime a realistic plan for life, and within five months she had lost almost three stone. Naturally, her physical and mental status vastly improved.

Sometimes the practitioner is rewarded with an unexpected improvement. My client Beata came to me searching for answers to her weight increase and flagging energy levels. After only a few weeks on a cleansing programme she had indeed lost weight, but had also experienced a pain-free period for the first time in her life. This, she explained with exasperation, was no less than a miracle as they were always of a very debilitating nature. Joleen also benefited from a cleansing regime after a lifetime of painful stress headaches had left her exhausted. We focused on her diet and discussed ways to reduce her stress levels, such as exercise. These simple yet important adjustments made a real difference to the frequency and severity of the headaches. Whilst stress seemed to be the underlying factor, toxic overload appeared to worsen the condition.

There is no doubt in my mind that a well-planned and executed 'detox' can work wonders for body and soul. But it may be wise to walk this path with a guiding hand, least you should end up hungry, tired and irritable.


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About Nicki Woodward

Nicki Woodward BA Hons DN MED MBANT Dip Phyt MNIMH ITEC is a fully qualified Nutritionist, Medical Herbalist and Massage Therapist who practises in Middlesex and Surrey. She is a member of the NIMH (National Institute of Medical Herbalists) and BANT (British Association of Nutritional Therapists). Her experience to-date includes training, research and supplement development. She may be contacted on Tel: 07989 968 349;

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