From the Inside Out - tips on how to detox


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Regular periods of detoxification have been shown to prevent the development of degenerative diseases and promote good health. Josie Cowgill Dip.ION outlines various ways in which to unburden the body of its toxic load

We live in toxic times. In addition to the everyday toxins that we expect to deal with such as carbon dioxide in the air and the by-products of digestion, in the last 50 years we have had to adapt to an enormous number of new toxic elements present in our food, water and environment. The body is constantly detoxifying this toxic load in order to maintain normal cell function. However, when the load becomes greater than the body’s capacity to deal with it, toxins begin to accumulate in tissues and organs which may eventually result in diminished health. This is where the importance of periods of detoxifica-tion comes in. By limiting the incoming burden of new toxins and enhancing the elimination of stored toxins, a reduction in total body toxicity is achieved.

The process of detoxification has been used in many cultural and religious traditions throughout history. Often, a combination of holistic therapies is applied, including diet, hydrotherapy, colon cleansing, herbal medicine, skin brushing, massage, exercise, relaxation and meditation. Spring and autumn are thought to be the best times of the year to detoxify the system. In spring the body benefits from ridding itself of toxins and excess fat that may have accumulated over the winter months (a time when the body is building rather than cleansing). The autumn is a good time to cleanse the body in order to prepare it for the harsher winter climate.


A toxin is any substance that is detrimental to the normal functioning of body cells and therefore health in general.

Toxins can be in the form of:

Chemicals and additives in food such as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, artificial fertilisers, antibiotics, food additives, artificial colourings and flavourings.
Toxins in food such as peanuts contaminated with aflatoxins and glycoalkaloids in the green part of potatoes.
Environmental toxins from cleaning products, traffic pollution and industrial pollution.
Chemicals in water supplies.
Drugs: social and medical.
Heavy metals as found in dental fillings (mercury), petrol (lead), cooking utensils (aluminium), water pipes (lead), antiperspirants (aluminium) and antacid tablets (aluminium).
Free Radicals from burnt foods, heated oils and fats, cigarette smoke, sunshine, radiation, excessive exercise and stress.
Yeasts, which reside in the bowel such as Candida albicans, can produce toxins.
Incompletely digested foods. If the digestive system is unable to break down food sufficiently, or if bowel function is irregular, partially digested food may accumulate in the intestines. There, it can ferment and putrefy, resulting in a release of toxins into surrounding tissues.


Giving the body a chance to throw off stored toxins can benefit the entire system by improving:
skin and hair condition
immune function, inflammation, susceptibility to infections and allergic reactions
energy levels
mental function and clarity of thought
quality of sleep
liver and kidney function
taste, enjoyment of food and a change in attitude to eating and food
weight control




The organs of the body involved in detoxification include the liver, kidneys, lungs (removal of volatile gases), skin and bowel. The liver, the main organ of detoxification, has the biggest role to play. Detoxification in the liver is carried out by the P450 detoxification enzyme system, which consists of Phase I and Phase II.

Phase I

In Phase I, the liver carries out a series of oxidation, reduction and hydrolysis reactions involving the cytochrome P450 detoxification enzyme system. Via this process, toxins (e.g. caffeine) can be directly neutralised, or converted into intermediate metabolites.

The metabolites produced in Phase I can sometimes be more toxic than when in their original state and if they are not broken down immediately by Phase II enzymes can cause free radical damage.

The function of the P450 enzymes varies greatly from one person to another according to genetic make-up, exposure to toxins and nutritional status. Problems can occur if there are insufficient antioxidants to mop up the free radicals produced during the process or if there are insufficient nutrients needed for enzyme function.
Individuals with underactive Phase I enzymes may experience intolerance to perfumes, caffeine and environmental toxins and may be at increased risk of liver disease.1 Alcohol affects the P450 enzyme system to such an extent that it increases the toxicity of other toxins. This is why it is not advisable to drink alcohol when on medication.

Phase II

Some toxins can by-pass Phase I and go straight to Phase II along with Phase I end products. In Phase II, toxins and Phase I metabolites are neutralised or conjugated into a state in which they can be removed from the body. There are six pathways or conjugation categories in which this can be achieved and each pathway requires specific nutrients to function properly. Poor nutrition and excessive exposure to toxins can result in a depletion of the liver’s detoxification pathways. This can lead to toxic overload, weakened immunity and disease.




During a detox programme it is not uncommon to experience a Herxheimer reaction or healing crisis. Symptoms may include:

Acne, rashes and other skin problems
Aching muscles and joints
Fatigue or heaviness
Headaches, blocked nose and excess mucous
Bad breath and/or coated tongue
Flare ups of previous symptoms

To minimise the reaction:

Modify the regime to a less restrictive one until the symptoms subside. Sudden changes in diet can put a strain on the body.
Ensure the supply of nutrients needed by the liver and other organs is sufficient.
Make sure the organs of elimination are fully functioning. Colonic irrigation or enemas can be useful.
Drink a minimum of two litres of filtered/bottled water a day.
Take detox baths or saunas.
Avoid strenuous exercise.
Take gentle, outdoor exercise such as walking.



Fasting is the most radical form of detoxification and involves the intake of water only. However, this should not be carried out unless the body has previously undergone several less severe detox sessions and is well nourished with the nutrients required for detoxification. Depriving the body of all nutrition when it is already deficient could lead to the break down of tissues to release the nutrients needed.4 The guidance of a practitioner should be sought before starting.

Detoxification does not have to be extreme to be effective. Given that most people have a lifetime’s accumulation of toxins stored in the body, a gentler approach is often a safer choice. The following are popular forms of detoxification regimes. To reduce the intake of further toxicity, organic food and “pure” water should be consumed at all times. It is not advisable to cleanse the body during pregnancy or lactation because of the amount of toxins released. In those who have low blood pressure, diabetes, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), or are underweight, very toxic or tend to feel the cold, the first three methods should be avoided.

1. Juicing: Although juicing is highly eliminative, it is preferable to the water fast as the body is still provided with sufficient carbohydrates for energy. Because of this, lean tissue is less likely to be broken down. Juices supply the body with bio-available vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and enzymes.

As the fibre has been removed from the produce the digestive system does not have to work to release the nutrients, so it is able to have a rest. In fact, it has been estimated that juices can be assimilated within 30 minutes.

Green juices, which can be made by combining a selection from cabbage, kale, watercress, parsley, dandelion greens, alfalfa sprouts and other green leafy vegetables, are rich in chlorophyll, which helps to purify the blood and build red blood cells. These can be sweetened with carrot or apple juice to make them more palatable.

Other vegetables suitable for juicing include beetroot, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, Chinese leaves, chicory, fennel, green pepper, broccoli, onion and radish. Fruit-wise, temperate rather than tropical produce is recommended such as apple, pear, apricot, blackberry, blackcurrant, cranberry, raspberry, grape and peach. Fruit juices are best diluted with water to reduce the amount of fructose (fruit sugar) present.

Those with a yeast problem such as candidiasis should opt for juicing vegetables rather than fruit to avoid aggravating the condition. This also applies to those with a tendency towards disglycaemia.

2. Fresh fruit and juice diet: As above with the addition of fresh fruit in between juice intake.

3. Raw fruit and vegetable diet: Typically, this involves fruit and/or fruit juices in the morning, a vegetable salad for lunch and either a fresh fruit or vegetable salad in the evening. Steamed vegetables can be consumed in place of raw vegetables if you find them hard to digest. Snacks can include fruit, and juices can be taken throughout the day. Fruit should be eaten on an empty stomach at least one hour before or two hours after a vegetable meal, to avoid fermentation in the digestive tract.

4. Brown rice diet: This can range from eating brown rice only to brown rice and vegetables with the addition of fresh fruit and fruit and vegetable juices between rice meals. Including vegetables along with the rice still allows for effective cleansing while the variety makes the diet easier to adhere to.6

5. Whole food diet: This type of detox programme is based on the intake of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and their cold pressed oils, legumes, sprouts and whole grains with the avoidance of caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, meat, fish, dairy produce, wheat and other gluten-containing grains, refined foods, fried foods, sugar and salt. Drinks may include filtered/bottled water, fruit and vegetable juices, and herbal teas. Eating a whole food diet is the gentlest way of detoxifying the system and can be continued for a longer period of time without depleting the body or encouraging it to detoxify too quickly.



The length of a detoxification programme depends on an individual’s state of health and lifestyle. According to James F. Balch MD and Phyllis A. Balch, authors of Prescription for Nutritional Healing (Avery) “a three-day juice fast helps the body rid itself of toxins and cleanses the blood. A five-day juice fast begins the process of healing and rebuilding the immune system, and a ten-day juice fast can take care of many problems before they arise and help to fight off illness.”7 Fasting on juices twice a year will provide optimal benefit.

When following a cleansing regime ideally it should be undertaken away from the stresses and strains of everyday life. However, the less severe detox plans, such as those outlined in numbers 4 and 5 can be fitted in to most people’s lives with a bit of preparation and planning.




If you have a reasonably healthy diet and lifestyle and are in good health, try the following five-day detox regime:

Day 1 Follow a whole food diet as summarised in detox regime number 5.
Day 2 Eat raw fruit and raw or lightly steamed vegetables in addition to fruit and vegetable juices as in detox regime number 3.
Day 3 Include fresh fruit, and fruit and vegetable juices only as in detox regime number 2. The number of days on Day 3 of the regime can be extended if a longer period of cleansing is required.
Day 4 As for Day 2.
Day 5 As for Day 1.




The following mixture can be taken in the morning during a detox regime to stimulate liver function.

Blend together until smooth:

200 ml of organic apple juice
1 lemon, peeled
1-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 cm ginger root, grated
1-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

If citrus fruit is not tolerated add one teaspoon of turmeric instead.8 Follow with some peppermint tea or dandelion coffee.


This should be done gradually. Foods should be re-introduced slowly over a period of a few days. If you have been following a diet of fruit and/or fruit and vegetable juices then vegetables can be added for two days, followed by whole grains, legumes and other plant-based foods. Finally, meat, fish, eggs and dairy produce can be re-introduced if desired. Take time over your meals and try to create an enjoyable atmosphere when eating. Eat when hungry and stop when full. Avoid eating when stressed, upset or overly tired.


Nutritional supplements
Many nutrients are required by the liver to carry out Phase 1 and 2 detoxification pathways. These include:


Vitamins – A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C (with bioflavonoids) and E, choline and folic acid.
Minerals – selenium, copper, manganese, zinc and magnesium.
Amino acids – glutathione, cysteine, glycine and methionine.

It is also a good idea to replenish bowel flora with a probiotic supplement both during and after a cleanse. These beneficial bacteria aid digestion and promote regular bowel function.

Colonic irrigation, enemas and bowel cleansing

Many people suffer from sluggish bowel movements. During a detox this may be exacerbated as less food is entering the alimentary tract to keep things moving. Colonic irrigation or the use of enemas can be beneficial by preventing the build up of toxins and removing previously stored waste.

Herbal remedies

The use of herbs can be a powerful way of stimulating the liver, lungs, kidneys and bowel. The following are examples of herbs to support specific organs:

Liver: dandelion, milk thistle, liverwort, burdock, yellow dock, blue flag, artichoke, ginger.
Kidneys: uva ursi, parsley, dandelion leaves, juniper, goldenseal.
Lungs: comfrey, marshmallow, mullein.
Bowel stimulants: cascara, turkey rhubarb, dandelion root, burdock, barberry, blue flag, licorice root, yellow dock.
Bowel cleansers: bentonite clay, linseeds, psyllium husks, slippery elm, pectin, beet fibre, fenugreek. It is often beneficial to use bowel stimulants in combination with bowel cleansers, which absorb or pull toxins away from the intestinal wall.


To help stimulate the bowel and dislodge built-up waste matter, the abdomen can be massaged in the direction of the colon (lower right corner, clockwise towards the left corner). Lymphatic drainage and reflexology may also be helpful.


Saunas promote the release of toxins and heavy metals through sweat. This can be followed with hot and cold showers to improve circulation. Baths of Epsom salts can help remove heavy metals and alkalise the tissues.

Exercise, relaxation, stretching and meditation

During a detox programme, exercise should be gentle such as walking, yoga and stretching, preferably done outside to get the benefits of fresh air and daylight. It’s also a good time to engage in meditation or creative visualisation as the mind is likely to be clearer and more focused.

Skin brushing

Skin brushing stimulates the lymphatic system and improves skin texture and tone. Brush from the extremities towards the heart.


Most people carry a heavy toxic load due to negative lifestyle habits, pollution, medication, stress and a lack of good nutrition. These toxins accumulate in the body and can eventually lead to the development of degenerative diseases. It is therefore advisable to avoid harmful dietary and lifestyle habits before starting a detoxification programme to ensure that the release of toxins is not too rapid for the liver to cope with. Ensuring that the organs of elimination are not clogged can help the body to remove toxins before they have a chance to cause symptoms. Ideally, a cleansing programme should be tailored to individual needs in order to reduce toxic reactions. A series of short detoxes, accompanied by permanent changes in diet and lifestyle, may well work best in most cases. After all, it is the way in which we live from day-to-day that ultimately determines our health.


Ash M, Gilmore E, Immunity and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Nutri-Link, 1999.
Plaskett L, The wherewithal to Detoxify, Biomedical Information Services Ltd.
S Baker, Detoxification and Healing, Keats Publishing, 1997.
R Ballentine, Diet and Nutrition – a holistic approach, The Himalayan Institute Press, 1978.
Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, Fit for Life, Bantam Books, 1987.
Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole foods, North Atlantic Books, 1993.
James F. Balch MD and Phyllis A. Balch, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Avery, 1997.
J Davies, Self Heal, New leaf, 2000.

Josie Cowgill is a nutritional therapist practicing in London. In addition to seeing clients, she gives talks and lectures at various venues, freelances as a health writer.




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