The arrival of spring always brings the urge to detoxify the body as an annual ritual and fresh start. Many people take it upon themselves to do juice or water fasts to cleanse their systems, with some adding in colonic irrigations or enemas. This does provide some benefit for enhanced liver detoxification and removing winter’s accumulated toxins from the tissues. But there’s more. From sweating it out, to using ancient Chinese remedies, what follows are some of my favourite strategies based on experience and research.
When people ask me about the best way to detoxify, I have always recommended a few weeks of sauna therapy to rid the body of toxic heavy metals, drug residues, and other toxins stored for months or years in the fat and muscle cells of the body. Sauna therapy can be combined with one or several of my top 10 recommended natural remedies that follow here.
Although any sauna will work, the best type of sauna to use for detox purposes is the far infrared sauna, and there is plenty of evidence to support this (see References). In fact, it has been shown that detoxing through the skin (i.e. sweating), can actually lighten the load on the kidneys and liver, and flush out toxins that are hard to eliminate any other way. The far infrared sauna is much better tolerated than a conventional sauna, due to the lower heat yet deeper penetration of tissues experienced over longer periods of time.
Sauna detoxification is, however, not for everyone. For reasons that include things like lack of easy access, cost of sauna use, inexperience with detox regimes, heart and kidney disease, blood sugar concerns, prescription drug use, and heat intolerance, people may not be able to do sauna therapy or any type of fasting. In these cases, one can still use some safe and effective natural remedies to achieve good liver detoxification and improve energy levels as well as general health.
First start by eating or juicing more of the foods that aid liver, kidney, and bowel detoxification. These foods are anti-inflammatory and loaded with vitamins, minerals, and detoxification phytonutrients. Always use organic fruits and vegetables to avoid preservatives and other toxins.
Here’s a partial list of the commonest cleansing foods:
- Aloe vera • Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
- Artichokes • Asparagus • Avocados
- Apples • Beets • Cabbage
- Cilantro • Cinnamon • Coriander
- Celery • Cranberries • Cucumbers
- Dandelions • Flaxseeds • Garlic
- Ginger • Grapefruit • Green tea
- Green peas • Kale • Lemons
- Limes • Mint • Nettles
- Pineapple • Radishes • Raspberries, blueberries
- Rosemary • Seaweed • Sesame seeds
- Spinach • Turmeric • Watermelons, cress
Top 10 Remedies
To clean out your system of toxins while optimizing your immunity, here are my top 10 recommended remedies and a description of their benefits:
1. BURDOCK ROOT (Arctium lappa) – 1000 mg or more daily. Studies show that burdock has blood sugar balancing benefits. It can lower very high blood sugar levels, so diabetics need to monitor their blood sugar levels more closely if using burdock. It has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for detoxification and blood purification purposes. Burdock is also a part of the Essiac herbal formula that has been popular as an immune boosting anti-cancer formula used by millions of cancer patients around the world. It also has cancer preventive activity. A 2016 study found that it slowed the growth of breast cancer tumours. Burdock can also act as a diuretic, removing excess water from the system. Burdock has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been used by many for osteoarthritis and other chronic inflammatory conditions. Burdock can cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals and it is not recommended for pregnant or nursing mothers. Those on prescription diuretics, blood thinners, or diabetic medications must also be careful in using burdock.
2. ASTRAGALUS ROOT (Astragalus membranaceus) – 1000 mg or more daily. This plant has a long and distinguished history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is one of the most potent natural immune enhancing agents used by TCM doctors for overall detoxification, cleansing the liver, and helping to treat cancer. It is a complementary medical treatment for high blood sugar. Its effect is particularly impressive in people who suffer from any chronic infectious disease. Like many adaptogenic herbs, it fights stress of any kind. Astragalus has recently been in the news for its anti-aging effects. One of its components (cycloastragenol) has been shown to lengthen chromosome telomeres and thus slow the way one ages. Long term use is safe and yields many benefits for general health. There are no reports of adverse reactions other than improved longevity.
3. DANDELION ROOT (taraxacum officinale) – 500 mg or more daily. Don’t trash those dandelions in your back yard. They have significant implications in both detoxification and your general health. Coincidentally, they bloom in the spring. Dandelions are classic liver cleansers. They improve bile flow and thereby aid in better digestion. Dandelion can lower high blood sugar and has also been successfully used to treat some cases of jaundice, cirrhosis, gout, eczema, and acne. A very high concentration of the amino acid kynurenic is found in dandelion; this is the component of dandelion that boosts bile production and increases bile transport of toxins out of the body. Thus, dandelion is a highly successful natural detoxification remedy.
4. MILK THISTLE (Silybum marianum) – 500 mg or more daily. I think just about every health conscious consumer has heard of this herbal remedy as a powerful liver tonic. Some conventional doctors warn of dire consequences if one uses too much of this herb but there is no evidence it can cause any harm. As one of my colleagues puts it, “Where are the dead bodies?” (I think the dead body pile comes from prescription opiates.) The good news is that milk thistle can, to some degree, protect the liver from both prescription and OTC drugs. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. And anyone with a heavy intake of alcohol and/or cigarettes should be using milk thistle for liver protection. Milk thistle also protects livers from pesticides in food, heavy metals in drinking water, and air pollution. I recommend milk thistle year-round, especially for those who are exposed to the liver-toxic effects of alcohol, drugs and toxins in food and water.
5. MAITAKE (Grifola frondosa) – 500 grams or more daily. This famous mushroom has a long and illustrious history with TCM doctors who often recommend it as a health tonic and as a cancer fighter. It basically enhances immunity and is excellent when combined with any or all of the above remedies. Its immune enhancing properties come from one of its ingredients called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan is a complex long-chain polysaccharide found in this and other mushrooms. Mushrooms are also a source of vitamin D, which has many documented benefits for immunity. Maitake also improves high blood pressure and high blood sugar problems. Diabetics need to monitor their blood sugars more carefully while on this remedy. If you are allergic to mushrooms, it’s best to avoid maitake.
6. SHIITAKE (Lentinula edodes) – 500 mg or more daily. This mushroom is commonly found in grocery stores and is a good source of both B vitamins and vitamin D. It also enhances immunity, detoxifies the body in several ways, and can help as a weight reduction aid, cardiovascular enhancer, and cancer cell fighter. It’s best avoided if you are allergic to mushrooms.
7. YUNZHI (Coriolus or Trametes versicolor) – 500 mg or more daily. This is a lesser known herbal remedy that has immune stimulating properties and has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, slowing cancer spread. Use of this fungus is contraindicated in those who have had bone marrow transplants. Care should also be taken in cases where one has autoimmune disease or is on immunosuppressive drug treatments.
8. ASHWAGANDHA ROOT (Withania somnifera) – 500 mg or more daily. This general tonic is one of the better-known herbal adaptogens most often recommended as an anti-stress, adrenal support remedy. It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties as well as some anti-tumour activity. It’s good to use to balance the other remedies on this top 10 list.
9. SLIPPERY ELM BARK (Ulmus rubra) 100 mg or more daily. This herbal remedy contains mucilage that is quite soothing for oral and gastric inflammation (ulcers). It has also been used quite often as a treatment for inflammatory bowel conditions (e.g. colitis, Crohn’s, IBS). Slippery elm is one of the components of the Essiac anti-cancer herbal combo.
10. CHINESE (TURKISH) RHUBARB ROOT (Rheum palmatum) – 25 mg or more daily. This is yet another one of the herbs that make up the anti-cancer Essiac formula. It has often been recommended by TCM practitioners largely as a purgative, ridding the body of unwanted waste products and improving elimination from the large intestine. Those suffering from chronic constipation would certainly welcome its benefits. There is some evidence that several of the components (anthraquinones) possess anti-cancer effects. This remedy should be used with care and not for extended periods of time due to its laxative effects. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should avoid it.