Posts Tagged ‘digestion’

The Art of Gentle Detoxing

As we’ve seen, toxins build up in our bodies over many years and come from many and varied sources.  Our abilities to handle toxic loads are also quite varied (bio-individuality) and have varying effects in different parts of our body.  There are times when it’s critical to try and detox specific substances quickly, and I leave that to the experts (I don’t recommend intense and quick detoxes on your own).  However, for most people, most of the time, I suggest more gentle detox methods, a couple of which I’ll go over at the end of this post.  For now, a little bit on how toxins interact with our  5 major foundational systems.

Toxins and the Foundations

The Foundations to good health underlie almost all physiological function and dysfunction in our bodies.  They include the primary processes and systems of Digestion, Sugar Handling, Fatty Acid Metabolism, Mineral Balance and Hydration.  Underlying all of these is the most important Foundation of all, a good, healthy, Nutrient Dense diet.  Toxins and our ability to effectively detox play a huge role in the functioning and balance of each of these Foundations.  The following information is mostly excerpted from The Nutritional Therapy Association class binder on detoxification.


Diet is the main foundation that underlies all other foundations of good nutrition.  Eating processed, lifeless food (or as I call it, phood) is seen by the body as a toxic activity.  Also, any diet or eating plan that takes in too much food (volume) uses too much energy, and doesn’t leave enough for “house cleaning”, also puts a toxic burden on the body.  Finally, it’s important to take in the proper balance of Macro and Micro nutrients because they play such an important role in the body’s ability to detoxify.


If a person isn’t digesting well, even a “perfect” diet can clog the body’s detoxification pathways.  Many people eat excellent foods (organic, whole, live) and still have major nutritional deficiencies because the nutrient intake isn’t properly balanced.  Specific amino acids in our diet play critical roles in the proper functioning of specific detoxification pathways in the liver. (for example, Methionine is necessary to run the liver’s Sulfation pathway ).  Poor fat digestion clogs the lymph system, and therefore the liver.

Blood Sugar Regulation

Elevated Cortisol and general blood sugar imbalance stress the Liver and other organs of the body.  This is often a result of way too many carbohydrates in the diet, especially simple sugars and starches.  The western SAD (Standard American) diet and even many so-called healthy diets are highly overloaded in terms of carbohydrate intake.  Blood sugar imbalances deplete many, if not all of the B vitamins.  B6 is especially needed for all liver enzyme functions and neurotransmitter synthesis (epinephrine, serotonin).  B2 is needed to make phase II detox enzymes  required by the liver.

Chronically high blood sugars create a buildup of free radicals and a general catabolic state, which robs the nutrients needed by the body to detoxify properly.

Fatty Acids

Fat tissues are one of the body’s major mechanisms used to store difficult to remove toxic waste (heavy metals, petroleum, other chemicals).  The liver metabolizes fats into their usable forms.  Improper ingestion and digestion of fats can cause liver stress.

Bile is made from healthy fat.  The bile is the “river” by which many toxins are removed from the body via the intestinal tract, so bad or sluggish bile also bio-accumulates toxins.  Healthy detoxing almost always includes creating healthy bile.

The proper balance of dietary fat helps to create a properly permeable cell membrane for all of our trillions of cells, allowing wastes to be removed from the inside of the cell in a timely manner.  Rancid fats create unhealthy cells which help to create toxic overload.

Mineral Balance

Detoxification processes can create acidic blood.  Minerals help to buffer this condition.  Toxins deplete minerals like magnesium, which can lead to deficiencies of enzymes that are necessary in healthy Phase I liver detoxification.

Certain minerals help keep heavy metals from collecting in the tissue. (heavy metals are minerals and therefore are kept in balance by other minerals).


We must keep properly hydrated to keep the body flushing appropriately, moving bowels and urine regularly.  Perspiring (another form of natural detoxification)  requires proper hydration.

Proper hydration helps to keep our lung tissue moist so that we can respire healthfully and proper hydration keeps the blood fluid so that toxic material may be delivered more efficiently to the lymph and liver.

A Couple of Gentle Detox Techniques

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of varying kinds of detoxification methods and techniques, and the internet is replete with them.  Be careful and do your research.  I suggest starting with gentle detoxing unless you’re under the care of a competent practitioner (and even then, gentle is usually best).  A couple of my favorites follow:

Oil Pulling – Step by Step

Step1: First thing in the morning on an empty stomach and before drinking any liquids (including water), put exactly about 1 tablespoon of sunflower or sesame oil , or my favorite, coconut oil, into your mouth.

Step 2:

Swish the oil around in your mouth without swallowing it. Move it around in your mouth and through your teeth, as if it was mouthwash (don’t tilt your head back to gargle though). You’ll find that the oil will start to get watery as your saliva mixes with it. Keep swishing.  If your jaw muscles get sore while swishing, you’re putting too much into it. Relax your jaw muscles and use your tongue to help move the liquid around the inside of your mouth. When you do this correctly, you’ll feel very comfortable. Pretty soon, it will become second nature.

Step 3:

As the end of the oil pulling session approaches, you may notice the oil/saliva mixture in your mouth has become thicker. This is quite normal, since it is pulling out toxins from your body.When 20 minutes is up, spit out the oil into the toilet (outside or in a container if it is coconut oil).  Don’t be alarmed if it looks yellowish–this is also normal.

Step 4:

Rinse out your mouth a couple of times with warm sea salt water and spit into the toilet. Rinse with a good completelely natural mouthwash.   Some people prefer to dilute with water (or use full strength), regular hydrogen peroxide and rinse and spit with that. The hydrogen peroxide is very effective at rinsing out any toxins which may be left in the mouth.

Using Clay Baths and Cleanses to Detoxify

The following comes from Michael King at Vitality Herbs and Clay.  I highly recommend the pyrophyllitic clays from Michael’s business in southern Oregon (obtained from the environs of Crater Lake), because of their extreme gentle yet powerful actions.

External Detoxification Methods

Who would have guessed that Nature has had a simple remedy available to us from the beginning of mankind’s walk upon the earth, for just such a day as the one we now live in? Who would have thought that the answer would be as simple and enjoyable as a soothing clay bath?

There is nothing more gentle in the realm of detoxification than a clay bath or shower slurry (for those who do not like baths). A shower slurry is accomplished by simply spreading a thin layer of a moist clay paste all over the body and hanging out in the shower for awhile. A clay bath is accomplished by adding a half cup or more (even several pounds) to your bath water and basking in the warmth for 30 minutes to an hour or more, as desired. The addition of sea salt and/or humic substances to your clay bath increases its detoxification potency.

A clay bath is a gentle, yet powerful detoxification method due to one simple fact – toxins are able to leave the body through every skin cell from head to toe at once.

More effective than foot baths, more effective than Epsom Salt baths, and more effective than isolated poultices, clay baths draw toxins out of the body simultaneously from every square inch of the skin surface exposed to the clay.

Internal Detoxification Methods

Now, let’s discuss internal detoxification. There are a few natural substances when taken internally, that work powerfully well in combination with clay baths. The reason the two are recommended together is to reduce, as much as possible, detoxification reactions caused by doing too much, too fast.

Detox reactions are common early on in a good healing program, yet eventually the body processes them out and the detox symptoms go away. A clay bath will usually reduce or eliminate any detox reactions within minutes.

A detox reaction can show up in several ways: a sluggish feeling, a fuzzy head, a headache, a rash, a breakout, dry skin, aches and pains, flu-like symptoms, etc.

At the very beginning of an internal detox program it is best to be more cautious due to the possibility of unexpected heavy detoxing precipitated by something as simple as a teaspoon of chlorella, or a quarter cup of cilantro, or a teaspoon of clay, or a pinch of humic substances, or a few ounces of an extremely hydrating water source. From just these small amounts, surprisingly intense detox reactions have been experienced by some with a history of exposure to toxic substances.

By being sure to combine frequent baths with your internal detox program you provide yourself with the best chance of minimizing detox reactions and their potential duration. At the first sign of a detox reaction from an internal detox program, take a clay bath or a shower slurry, drink lots of pure water, and if you have the opportunity, do some sweating in a sauna.

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Now that we’ve looked at how a digestive system should work, let’s  look at what is all-too-much the reality for most people in our culture today.  Some 60-70 million people in the US are affected by digestive diseases, (this does not count the millions of other digestive ailments that are not classified as disease).  14 million people are hospitalized each year for digestive problems (9% of all hospitilizations) and 6 million people go through digestive hospital diagnostic and therapeutic procedures (14 percent of all hospital procedures).  This is clearly no small or laughing matter (not even a belly laugh).     

antacids Perhaps the largest class of over-the-counter and prescriptions medications taken today are for digestive related ailments.  Just think of the tons of antacids, acid blockers, gas relievers, bloat relievers, anti-flatulance medications, etc. that are consumed each year (each day??).  And think of the millions of gastric and gut procedures that are done each year from endoscopies to colonoscopies to by-passes (see above).   Many(most??) of these should not be needed if we just knew how to care for our gut by choosing and properly preparing healthful nutrient dense foods that support good digestive functioning.

 So, what happens that creates such dismal digestive health for so many, and what can be done to improve matters – actually to improve things very significantly?  Most digestive problems start from years of abusing our “inner” tube with poor diet, poor eating habits, unconsciousness and stresses of all kinds.

 Remember that digestion starts in the mind/brain, even before we start to eat.  That means that a good place to start to heal digestive disorders is through our thoughts and actions, before a meal.  We have two parts to our autonomic, or “automatic” nervous system.  The first is our fight-or-flight, get ready for action system, called the sympathetic nervous system.  This one is related to stress, which amongst other things, greatly slows down our digestive processes.  The second is the parasympathetic system, which is activated when we are calm, relaxed, meditating, in prayer, etc.  When we get ready to eat, we want to be in parasympathetic mode – this is why so many pre-industrial cultures had customs and traditions that include prayer, slowing down, connecting with family and friends, etc.  It leads to good and healthy digestion.  As a culture, we are sympathetically stressed, eating quickly, swallowing without chewing, eating on the run, being unconscious about eating, and, of course, eating fast food. 

 If you don’t take the time to properly chew your food (about 30 seconds), the brain doesn’t get the message to trigger the proper digestive processes.   Adequate saliva production is not triggered, which affects enzyme production in the mouth affecting the initial breakdown of carbohydrates.  This really is the start of a chain reaction that goes all the way through the digestive system.  Lack of salivary enzymes can reduce the pancreatic enzyme amylase, so that starches are not completely broken down in the small intestine, leaving undigested starches that enter the colon, that can feed candida and other dysbiotic organisms farther down the digestive tract.  Sounds like a mess, doesn’t it?  Well…things can get even worse.

So, what about stomach acid?

 If you watch TV commercials, it would seems as if everyone in America has way too much stomach acid and we all need to do everything we can to bring it down to a reasonable level (and of course, so we can eat anything and everything we want to without ill effects).  In fact, as mentioned above, acid blockers and antacids are amongst the top prescription and over-the-counter medications taken today.

 But, in reality, the stomach is really all about acid; it should be highly acidic to function optimally, and there are all kinds of problems that are created if it isn’t acid enough.  The normal pH of a healthy stomach is between 1.5 and 3.0 (battery acid has a pH of about 0.8) and acid blockers and antacids will almost always bring that up to a higher or more alkaline level.   The problem with most Americans in this regard is not too much stomach acid, but rather, not enough.  Studies have shown that approximately 90 percent of Americans produce too little stomach acid, or HCl.  Dr. Jonathan Wright, MD, came to this conclusion using a small telemetric device dropped into the stomach of thousands of patients.  Dr. George Goodheart, DC, came to essentially the same conclusion using kinesiology and functional assessments.  Factors such as stress, excess carbohydrate consumption, nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and excess alcohol can inhibit HCl production.

 So, what happens if you do not produce enough HCl?

The gut, and particularly the stomach with a very high acid level, is our first line of physical defense against entering pathogenic microorganisms.  Lowering of HCl reduces or eliminates much of that defense.  Yeast, prions, viruses, parasites, etc., are all little proteins, and when the pH is correct in the stomach, pepsin (an enzyme) digests these little microorganisms and they become food.  When the pH is not correct, an environment is created in which these organisms thrive and raise havoc, not only in the stomach, but throughout the digestive system, and ultimately, throughout the body.

 If there is not enough acid in the stomach, foods do not get broken down (carbohydrates will ferment, fats rancidify and proteins will putrefy).  These maldigested foods cause a reflux, or backward flow, into the esophagus.  This is not caused from too much acid, as is commonly thought, and rammed down our throats (literally) by the pharmaceutical and much of the medical industry, but by not being acid enough.  Acid blockers and antacids just exacerbate the problem.  If the stomach acid were strong enough, the digestion would take place normally, and pass on into the small intestine without that constant feeling of indigestion, bloating, gas and nausea.  The reason the esophagus experiences the burning is because the partially digested foods do not transit properly, and then move back up toward the esophagus.  They are acid (maybe pH 4-5), but not acid enough for good digestion.

 Next time, we’ll look at the effect of maldigestion on the rest of the gut, from the small intestine to the colon, and discuss what can be done to bring the entire system back into balance.

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It is often said that the eyes are the window to the soul.  Well, in the same vein, I see that on the physical level, the mouth can be seen as the doorway to good health.  Almost everything that gets into our body, other than what we breathe, to nourish us — or that creates problems and dysfunctions — comes in through the mouth and digestive system.   It is said that we are what we eat, but it is much more accurate to say that we are what we assimilate.  What passes from our digestion into our blood stream and then into our cells is key to almost everything there is about good health. 

 It is estimated that we have somewhere between 40 and 75 trillion (that’s with a T) cells in our body; every one of them is dependent on good raw materials in the form of nutrients that we eat.  Simply put, if we don’t eat well and/or our digestive system is not functioning properly, our cells, and therefore our organs, and therefore we, can’t function as efficiently, as effectively and as healthfully as we are meant to.

Digestion is so important to good health  that I want to spend a little time going over what a properly functioning digestive system would look like and how it would function (even if you have a really good diet, if you aren’t digesting properly, you will still be malnourished).

 So, what is the pathway to good health?  Well, let’s start top-side, with the brain and mouth, and move south.

 Digestion doesn’t technically begin in the mouth, as most people would think – it actually begins in the brain when food is seen, smelled or even imagined.  A whole series of neural signals are sent out when food is even “on the menu”, so to speak.  Saliva creation is one of the first digestive processes that occur when we think about or imagine food – even if the food isn’t physically present.  Saliva contains enzymes that start the breakdown of simple carbohydrates and some fats while the food is still in the mouth. Mucous in the mouth helps to create a bolus, or “food packet” that makes it easier to swallow. 

Other neural signals are sent to the stomach, pancreas and small intestine to alert them that “food is on the way” and to prepare for the upcoming digestive processes. 

Chewing well is important – maybe even critical – to overall digestive health.  This is because chewing our food completely takes a big burden off of other parts of the digestive system (particularly the stomach and small intestine), allows time for proper mixing with the salivary enzymes and helps allow the body to go into a “parasympathetic” or relaxed state, which also greatly aids in good digestion and assimilation.  If your mom ever chided you for not chewing your food completely before you swallowed, this was yet again another time when she was right.

After the food is chewed well and swallowed, it passes from the mouth into the esophagus and then into the stomach.  It does so in a compact ball-like lump or packet called a bolus.  It enters the stomach through the upper valve, or sphincter into the cardiac chamber.  The stomach will swell in size according to the size of the meal and will knead or mechanically massage the bolus as secretions of enzymes and hydrochloric acid (HCl) begin in earnest to break down the nutrients into ever smaller fragments so that they can eventually be assimilated. 

The stomach has two main jobs – to store the food in a “holding area” until it is ready to pass into the small intestines, and to chemically mix the food with digestive enzymes and HCl, forming a thick fluid slurry called chyme.  Most of the digestion that occurs in the stomach works on proteins, which are the most complex and, in many ways, most difficult of all of the macro-nutrients to break down.  If we don’t produce enough HCl, then we can’t properly digest proteins while they are still in the stomach.  Too little HCl also effects the assimilation of other important nutrients, which I’ll discuss in future postings.

We’ve covered a lot of “territory” so far on our digestive journey, with still much more to go.  In the next posting we’ll follow the chyme through the intestinal pathway to see how food gets translated into nutrition.

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