Detoxification is one of the more widely used treatments and concepts in alternative medicine. It is based on the principle that illnesses can be caused by the accumulation of toxic substances (toxins) in the body.
Eliminating existing toxins and avoiding new toxins are essential parts of the healing process. Detoxification utilizes a variety of tests and techniques.
Alternative medical practitioners claim that detoxification is helpful for those individuals suffering from many chronic diseases and conditions, including allergies, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, chronic infections, depression, diabetes, headaches, heart disease, high cholesterol, low blood sugar levels, digestive disorders, mental illness, and obesity. It is helpful for people with diseases, such as cancer, which are influenced by environmental factors and for those who have been exposed to high levels of toxic materials as a result of accident or occupation. People who have allergies or immune system problems that conventional medicine is unable to diagnose or treat, including chronic fatigue syndrome, environmental illness/ multiple chemical sensitivity, and fibromyalgia, often turn to detoxification therapy for relief. Symptoms for those suffering these conditions may include unexplained fatigue, increased allergies, hypersensitivity to common materials, food intolerances, chronic indigestion, aches and pains, low grade fever, headaches, insomnia, depression, sore throats, sudden weight loss or gain, lowered resistance to infection, general malaise, and disability. Detoxification can also be used as a beneficial preventative measure and as a tool to increase overall health, vitality, and resistance to disease.
Toxins in the body include heavy metals and various chemicals such as pesticides, industrial pollutants, and food additives. Drugs and alcohol also have toxic effects in the body. Toxic wastes are produced as a normal by-product of cellular metabolism and by the bacteria that live in the intestine.
The body has natural methods of detoxification. The liver is the principal organ of detoxification, assisted by the kidneys and intestines. Toxins can be excreted from the body by the kidneys, bowels, skin, and lungs. Detoxification treatments become necessary when the body’s natural detoxification systems become overwhelmed. Long-term effects of improper diet, stress, overeating, a sedentary lifestyle, illness, and poor health habits can cause this condition in general. When a buildup of toxic substances in the body creates illness, the condition is called toxemia.
Some people’s digestive tracts become unable to digest food properly, due to years of overeating and diets that are high in fat and processed foods and low in fiber (a diet common among many Americans). Obstruction of food passing through the large intestine can lead to the growth of harmful microbes. This state is known as toxic colon syndrome or intestinal toxemia.
Detoxification therapies try to activate and assist the body’s own detoxification processes. They are also designed to eliminate additional exposure to toxins and strengthen the body and immune system so that toxic imbalances will not occur in the future. A biochemical recently recommended for detoxification of the body is the compound N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). Studies found that the compound inhibits the replication of viruses that cause one form of influenza and reduces the inflammation associated with such infections. In the body, NAC is converted to the amino acid glutathione, which has been credited with removing heavy metals and other toxins from the body. Some practitioners claim that the amino acid aids in the detoxification of the liver and breakdown of mucus. Some research also points to the possibility that detoxification may offer benefits in very specific medical problems. Researchers reported that a small number of patients suffering from refractory (resistant to treatment) severe atopic dermatitis experienced relief when treated with a combination of herbal medication, acupuncture, and fasting.
Testing for toxic substances
Detoxification specialists use a variety of tests to determine the causes contributing to toxic conditions. These causes include infections, allergies, addictions, toxic chemicals, and digestive and organ dysfunction.
The results of blood, urine, stool, and hair analyses, as well as allergy tests, can indicate problems that may be resolved with detoxification therapy. Detoxification therapists usually have access to laboratories that specialize in sophisticated diagnostic tests for toxic conditions.
People who have toxemia are often susceptible to infection because their immune systems are weakened. Parasites, bacteria, viruses, and fungi can cause infections. Detoxification therapists will screen patients for underlying infections that may be contributing to illness.
Detoxification therapists use a variety of healing techniques after a diagnosis is made. The first step is to eliminate a patient’s exposure to all toxic or potentially allergenic substances. These include heavy metals, chemicals, radiation (from x-rays, power lines, cell phones, computer screens, and microwaves), smog, polluted water, foods, drugs, caffeine, alcohol, perfume, excess noise, and stress. If mercury poisoning has been determined, the patient will be advised to have mercury fillings from the teeth removed, preferably by a holistic dentist.
Specific treatments are used to stimulate and assist the body’s detoxification process. Dietary change is immediately enacted, eliminating allergenic and unhealthy foods, and emphasizing foods that assist detoxification and support healing. Detoxification diets are generally vegetarian diets low in fat, high in fiber, with a raw food emphasis. Processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine are avoided. Nutritional supplements such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, and essential fatty acids are often prescribed.
Spirulina is a form of sea algae that is frequently given to assist in eliminating heavy metals. Lipotropic agents are certain vitamins and nutrients that promote the flow of bile and fat from the liver. Many herbal supplements are used in detoxification therapies as well. Milk thistle extract, called silymarin, is one of the more potent herbs for detoxifying the liver. Naturopathy, Ayurvedic medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) recommend numerous herbal formulas for detoxification and immune system strengthening. If infections or parasites have been found, these are treated with herbal formulas, and antibiotics can be used in difficult cases.
For digestive tract disorders, herbal laxatives and high fiber foods such as psyllium seeds may be given to cleanse the digestive tract and promote elimination. Colonics are used to cleanse the lower intestines. Digestive enzymes are prescribed to improve digestion, and acidophilus and other friendly bacteria are reintroduced into the system with nutritional supplements.
Fasting is another major therapy in detoxification. Fasting is one of the oldest and quickest ways to promote the elimination of stored toxins in the body and to prompt the healing process. People with severe toxic conditions are supervised closely during fasting because the number of toxins in the body temporarily increases as they are being released.
Chelation therapy is used by detoxification specialists to rid the body of heavy metals. Chelates are substances that bind to heavy metals and speed their elimination. Homeopathic medicine also offers remedies for removing heavy metals.
Sweating therapies can detoxify the body because the skin is a major organ of elimination. Sweating helps release those toxins that are stored in the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat cells. Saunas, therapeutic baths, and exercise are some of these treatments.
Body therapies may also be prescribed, including massage therapy, acupressure, shiatsu, manual lymph drainage, and polarity therapy. These body therapies seek to improve circulatory and structural problems, reduce stress, and promote healing responses in the body. Mind/body therapies such as psychotherapy, counseling, and stress management techniques may be used to heal the psychological components of illness
and to help patients overcome their negative patterns contributing to illness.
Patients can assist diagnosis and treatment by keeping detailed diaries of their activities, symptoms, and contact with environmental factors that may be affecting their health. Reducing exposure to environmental toxins and making immediate dietary and lifestyle changes may speed the detoxification process.
During the detoxification process, patients may experience side effects of fatigue, malaise, aches and pains, emotional duress, acne, headaches, allergies, and symptoms of colds and influenza. Detoxification specialists claim that these negative side effects are part of the healing process. These reactions are sometimes called ‘‘healing crises.’’ They are caused by temporarily increased levels of toxins in the body due to elimination and cleansing.