Spring Clean Your Body
Photography by: Glen Wexler
Detox is a perfectly natural process--in fact, your body already detoxifies itself as it goes about its business.
Think of it as a well-organized sanitation system. Your five main detox systems--lymphatic, respiratory, urinary, the gastrointestinal tract, and the skin--work in concert to neutralize and eliminate potentially harmful substances, from the outside (pesticides, food additives, airborne allergens) as well as the inside (free radicals, metabolic waste). The hydrochloric acid in your stomach kills bacteria; your colon readies wastes for expulsion; your skin secretes toxins via sweat. The tiny vessels that make up your lymphatic system act like garbage trucks that shuttle fluids, fats, and waste throughout your body, channeling these to your liver, which constantly filters and purifies the blood. ("The liver decides which substances the body needs, and which to purge," Gittleman says. "It's the key to life.")
Look deeper, and you'll see that all this activity begins at the cellular level with glutathione, a molecule made up of amino acids. Just as we identify trash by placing it at the curb, glutathione binds with harmful wastes, tagging them for expulsion from the cell. Normally, the availability of glutathione adjusts according to the amount of toxins present.
But there are limits. "Pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals--we get rid of these with the help of glutathione," says Sharol Tilgner, N.D., a naturopathic physician and owner of Wise Acres Herbal Educational Center in Pleasant Hill, Ore. "But as we do more damage to the planet, our bodies need to work harder. Glutathione gets used up more quickly--faster than we can replace it."
If too many harmful agents accumulate, your body is unable to expel them. The mercury your liver can't eliminate, for example, likely ends up in your hair, while xenoestrogens take up residence in your fat cells. This "body burden" can result in immediate problems like fatigue, headache, and low-back pain, and over time, it may create conditions ripe for disease.
"People used to take up cleansing as part of the old puritanical idea that our bodies are dirty, evil, and in need of purging," says Tilgner. "But our bodies are these beautiful temples that extract all the nutrients and fluids we need from food and get rid of what we don't need. So the question is really: How can we restore normal body function and elimination?"