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Archive for November, 2009

Toxicity—we’re surrounded by it, infused with it, breathe it, drink it and live with it on a daily basis.  This has been the way it’s always been (pretty much from the beginning of “life on earth”).  42-15534096It’s part and parcel of  balance and homeostasis: there are the creating or nutritive elements of life, and then there are the destroying or toxic elements.  All part of the ebb and flow of the cyles of life.

However, in recent years, starting about 200 years ago with industrialization and intensifying greatly about 60-70 years ago, toxins have played an increasingly important role in the “cost-benefit” analysis of life on earth, including our own health.

Toxins

A toxin is basically any substance that creates irritating and/or harmful effects in the body.  Toxins come from external sources (like air pollution) and internal sources (like cellular wastes).

Toxicity can occur from the side effects of drugs or from patterns of physiology that are different from our usual functioning.

Most drugs, food additives, and allergens can create toxic elements in the body.  In fact, any substance can create toxic elements in the body if overindulged or used in an unbalanced manner: even basic substances such as water, sodium, and almost all nutrients under certain circumstances.

Traditions of Detoxification

Purification/cleansing processes have been around for thousands of years.  Techniques include fasting, saunas and sweat lodges, herbs, water, rest and meditation, enemas, exercise, and a variety of bodywork techniques.

Detoxification occurs on many levels:

  • Physically: Assists the body in clearing congestion, illnesses and disease potential.  It can also improve energy
  • Emotionally: Helps uncover and express feelings, especially hidden frustrations, anger, resentments, or fear, and replace them with forgiveness, love, joy and hope.
  • –Spiritually:  Many people experience new clarity and/or an enhancement of their purpose in life.

Ayurveda (India) Perhaps the oldest organized health system around, the word means “wisdom” or “science” of health and teaches that the fundamental cause of disease is toxins in the system and has two types of treatment for eliminating toxins:

panchakarma

  • Pancha karma: Physical elimination processes such as purgatives and medicated enemas
  • Palliation:  Therapies that neutralize toxins such as fasting, herbs, exercise or sunbathing

Hippocratic Medicine (Greece) started about 500 BC with the beginnings of western philosophy and ideas, and grew into the first principles of western scientific medicine.

  • The Hippocratic Greeks  believed health depended on an equilibrium between the four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.
  • Early treatments (such as bloodletting, massage, and fasting) focused on cleansing and balancing techniques to reestablish humoral equilibrium.

Purification Rituals (Native America)

  • Sweatlodge: An enclosure physically similar to a steam sauna that induces sweating and therefore the release of toxins.
  • Smudging: Smoke from burning sage is waved around a person to eliminate negative energy.
  • Fasting: Used to purify oneself before ritual ceremonies .

Where toxins go in the body

While toxins can be, and are, stored in every one of our 10 to 40 trillion body cells, some parts of the body are especially problematic.  These include our fat cells (where many types of toxins are put in storage), liver cells (which has so much to do with detoxifying processes), our skin (the largest organ of our body and where many toxins migrate), our brain (so important for all nervous system processes and made up mostly of toxin attracting fats), and the cell membranes of all of those trillions of cells (cell membranes are also predominantly made up of fatty acids).

Organs and systems of detoxification

Because of the natural balance between nourishing/metabolic support and cleansing/catabolic processes, many of the body’s organs and organ systems are involved with detoxification.

These include the organs of elimination such as the lungs, the digestive system (especially the stomach and colon), the urinary system (comprised of the kidneys and bladder and very importantly, the skin).

It also includes the internal “freeway” systems of the body, made up of the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system, liver, gallbladder, and the multifaceted immune system.

So, what is detoxification, anyway?

Right out of my classes in Nutritional Therapy come the Big Ideas of Detoxification:

        1.  Detoxification is a parasympathetic process

–this means it works most effectively while we’re sleeping at night and when we’re in a calm and relaxed state

        2. Detoxification frees vital cellular and organ activities to function productively and efficiently

–this is kind of like clearing out your closet to make way for new clothes; as long as physiological “clutter” clogs up our cells and cellular processes, our systems can’t function in an optimal way

        3. NEVER, ever, ever, detoxify without addressing The Foundations first (digestion, sugar handling, hydration, mineral needs and fatty acid balance)….ALL elimination pathways must be open –Otherwise systems will back up and create even more problems (don’t attempt a major detox if you’re constipated, your bile is not moving, you have serious bladder infections, etc.).  Moving into gentle detoxing, as I’ll explain later, though, can be extremely helpful.

Next time we’ll look at the effect of toxins on the main foundations and discuss some gentle, yet powerful, detoxing regimins that I think you’ll all find very helpful in reducing toxic build-up and keeping the toxins in us to a minimum.

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