What is Detoxification?

Nerly all of the people who come to see me in my clinic have one or more health problems that are not getting better by themselves. In many instances there is clear evidence from their symptoms, their history and their physical examination that they are burdened with excess waste products and their system needs detoxification in order for the healing process to get properly started.

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What exactly is a toxin?

A toxin is any substance that causes a negative effect on our cells ability to survive and function properly.

Toxins that originate from outside the body are called exogenous toxins. Common examples include the array of chemicals now used in food processing and agriculture, solvents in cleaning materials, pharmaceutical drugs and the extensive contamination with environmental metals such as lead, aluminium, mercury and cadmium. We live in a heavily polluted world, mostly we can’t see it, but it’s there.

Toxins that we produce inside our own bodies are called endogenous toxins. These come from our own metabolic processes and include carbon dioxide and lactic acid (by-products of cellular respiration), urea (one of the by-products of breaking down proteins) and the common problem of gastrointestinal toxaemia (the absorption of waste products from the digestive system into the blood).


How do we know detoxification is necessary?

There are many physical signs that the body needs help with removing a build-up of toxins such as dark rings under the eyes, bad skin or white to yellow ‘fur’ over the surface of the tongue.

Often the body itself tells us when it is labouring under a too heavy burden of waste products. The most commonly affected systems in the body are the nervous system, the digestive tract and the immune system.

Excess toxicity frequently manifests in the nervous system because if your body is unable to rapidly remove a toxin it gets stored in fat and each and every nerve cell is dependent on a healthy coating of myelin (tissue made almost entirely from fat)..  

Typical signs of toxicity in the nervous system include; fatigue, headaches, poor concentration and mental confusion. Behavioural changes are also common, excess toxicity can cause irritability, moodiness, depression and anxiety.

The digestive system shows toxicity in symptoms such as excessive gas, bloating, belching, heartburn, constipation or diarrhoea. Other problems (such as allergies) can cause the same kinds of symptoms and sometimes the only way to know for sure is to do some effective detoxification and see what improves.

The immune system is always directly involved when toxins are present. We have billions of powerful immune cells throughout our bodies called macrophages that are there to help deal with toxicity in just the same way as they can ingest and dissolve bad bugs. When our immune systems can't keep up it is common to see food allergies, recurrent infections, autoimmune disorders, sensitivities to substances in the environment, inflammatory joint disorders and chronic skin problems.


What is the best way to detoxify your system?

I do think a cleansing diet must be a part of this process and I will give a link to it shortly but what is actually far more important and gives rise to by far the most actual detoxification is the right use of certain herbal medicines that have been prized for their ability to work in this area for many millennia.

Side Note to the Reader:
At this point I need to make it clear that I am really not a fan of the herbal detox programs that you can buy online because I have found them to be over-priced, over-hyped and seriously under-powered. You can see from any of my work on this site that I am not promoting or selling any products so I trust you will hear the spirit behind the advice that is that you get any of the following herbs from a very reputable supplier. Furthermore, if such a person is available and it is possible for you to see them then I also suggest that there may be a great deal of benefit to you going to some trouble to find a good herbalist to a) obtain the best quality herbs and b) consult with for your general health. I have a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here.

If I couldn't see someone in person but wanted them to get a potent and reliable cleanse from herbal medicine then I would confidently recommend the Juniper and Celandine cleanse. These are, at least in my view, the two most potent herbs for the kidneys and liver respectively. Large amounts of them are not required so It should be very inexpensive but do not be deceived by the low and then gradually increasing doses I recommend; it is a very powerful treatment! The whole process is described in detail here.

Juniperus communis (Juniper berry)

Further to those two great herbs I want to write a short list of the herbal medicines I personally consider to be our most potent allies for detoxification. I will frequently make up formulae that will include not all but many of these herbs to be taken at the same time. They are all safe (if taken sensibly) but they are not 'soft' herbs and there is a real art to doing enough to get the job done nice and quickly but not to do too much too soon! That art has a lot to do with the critical matter of the dose!

The art of herbal medicine is hugely dependent on getting the right dose. One of the reasons I don't advise people without seeing them in person is that I don't know what strength or quality herbs they have and so the vital matter of how much to take is impossible to know for sure. With the medicines that we make in our clinic starting with the raw material of the herbs one can get a fine-tuned sense of how much to use but even then in my own practice, depending on the individual patient, I will greatly vary the dose from as little as 1 tsp of combined extracts all the way up to 4 or 5 tsps in a day i.e. from 4 mls once a day all the way up to a maximum of 10 mls twice a day. One size does not fit all!

8mls of a cleansing herbal formula of combined extracts


Burdock Root
I use this one a great deal for people with bad skin and bad blood (I look to see how clean the blood plasma is in a high-powered microscope I use in my rooms and it is rather remarkable how much 'debris' the patient and I can sometimes see). Detailed article on Burdock here.

Dandelion Root
This is one of the most gentle of the cleansing herbs but even then you have to be careful not to use it for too long if the person has had the effects they need from it already. Dandelion “rinses the renal filter and squeezes the hepatic sponge”; more info here.

Yellow Dock
This great 'earthy' herb is one that I greatly rely whenever I need to make sure the bowel is working well during a cleansing process (this is essential because any problems such as a sluggish bowel can spell disaster once you start all the toxins moving through the liver which are then expelled into the bowel via the bile). More here.

Poke Root
One of the most powerful cleansing herbs on the planet and definitely not for use without understanding, respect and, preferably, experience! It is especially helpful when there are old 'hardenings' in the body that relate to an inability to pass out toxins in times past; more on it here.

This is the gentler and safer alternative to Poke Root when you need to activate and cleanse the lymphatic system. It is a remarkably potent herb given its diminutive nature and I have often relied on its sure support; more here.

Red Clover
Another utterly common herb with quite extraordinary powers if you make its acquaintance for long enough! The deep cleansing action on the blood is in both the leaves and the flowers themselves - more here.

Trifolium pratense (Red clover)

Barberry or Golden Seal
I prefer the latter but will often use the former if we cannot get a reputable supply of cultivated Golden Seal (it is an endangered herb). Both have a powerhouse action on the liver and they can always be relied on for certain cleansing. More on Barberry here and Golden Seal here.

Cleansing Diet
As mentioned earlier, I put a stronger emphasis on getting the right herbal program than I do on focusing on the diet but it can also be said that this process will go a lot faster and have a lot less disruption if the person sticks as closely as they can to a diet that moves their body into an alkaline and so naturally cleansing phase. I have a diet that I have now used for many years for my own patients with consistent success; it is described in detail here.

How does detoxification make you feel?

In the early days
It is very common that, in the process of getting rid of toxic substances, people experience one or more symptoms of what is known as a ‘healing crisis’. The timing of this is typically within about 3-5 days of starting the treatment and it also tends to go on for somewhere between 3 and 5 days once it starts.

Typical experiences include feeling cold sweats or other changes in body temperature, having headaches that come and go or move around, getting stiffness deep in the joints, feeling achey and sore (people often think they are getting a flu) and getting changes in gut function (the most common one just being going to the toilet more than usual).

People often get a sense within themselves that these are not sinister symptoms and that they will soon pass. Most people make an instinctive connection with it being a necessary process and not a sign that they are getting sicker!

Drink Water
It is important to drink plenty of water, especially in this phase of the detoxification. How much is enough? You should not be going to the toilet to pass urine less than every two hours and not more than once an hour. I suggest you get a jug, preferably glass, fill it with water and put some cut lemon into it as this will aid the process and be an easy visual reminder to keeping drinking.

This is probably the single biggest factor as to whether people get smoothly through this initially quite intense phase of detoxification or whether it becomes a bit of an ordeal! It might not be anywhere near this bad but if you imagine how you felt with a strong flu and how much you needed to rest then you may get a sense of just how much you may need to let things go for a little bit and just rest. Talk to your friends or family about what you are doing and why so that they are supportive if you do need a few days where you don't do much. The best rest happens when we don't mentally stress about being inactive so any kind of good books, movies, music etc. will be of great help at this stage; and you can be certain that it definitely will pass... and pass quickly too so long as you don't fight against it!


After 7-10 days
If good strong cleansing herbs have been taken and the person has kept quite well to the cleansing diet then I would say there will now be a very high likelihood that they are feeling considerably better in themselves and in practice we will often see a big shift in their chronic health symptoms at this stage.

The main thing people notice is an increase in vitality and it is interesting to note that they very rarely want to stop their cleansing herbs or the diet at this stage. I think people are very capable of instinctively feeling how the 'machine' of their body is working a great deal better now that it is cleaner and they are in no hurry to go back to how they felt and functioned a short while ago!

In my own clinic I will typically keep the whole cleansing process going quite strongly for about a month and for most people it appears that this is about the ideal amount of time to drive the detoxification process quite strongly. I have consistently noticed that if I see the patient after just two weeks that I will often see more debris in their blood than even in the first visit; presumably things are getting removed from long-term storage and being put through the circulation for elimination. Likewise it is common to see quite a significant increase in the coating on their tongue or other signs that their system is still very much engage in active detoxification.

For some people it will take longer than a month but that is usually when they come from a background of having a lot of toxic exposure through some bad habits or from being very poor in their health and low in vitality in general.

For those of my patients with a health problem that is strongly associated to toxicity I will often keep a daily dose of the cleansing herbs going for some time after the initial concentrated detoxification program. Many of my patients say that they do not want to stop either their cleansing herbs or their cleansing diet because they are feeling so much better...

When a person actually needs to cleanse their system and so goes through this process then by far the main thing that happens is that they get a substantial and significant return of 'vitality'. This can also be described as a person's 'life-force' and as much as it is impossible to quantify or measure, it is the surest indicator that there is of our ability to recover from illness, withstand stress and to live long and well on this long journey that is our life.


Why do I need to cleanse my system - am I doing something wrong?

If someone has been drinking quite a lot of alcohol and/or eating a lot of fast food and/or taking any kinds of drugs then I don't suppose they will have any doubts about why they need to cleanse their systems. However over the years I have met many people who go to great lengths to eat whole foods or even organic foods, to not use chemical cleaners and cosmetics, to drink pure water, to even live outside of the city and away from pollution who nevertheless show a marked accumulation of 'debris' in their blood, a characteristic coating on their tongue and the signs and symptoms of health problems that are strongly indicative of a component of toxicity. Why is this?

You can think of planet Earth as being rather like a giant fish bowl. Everything we put into the water, the air and the food-chain goes around and around and we are all breathing, drinking and eating from the same environment. I do think it is wise to avoid exposure to toxins as much as possible but I don't think people should automatically assume they are doing something wrong even if they do need to cleanse their systems.

This Earth is all we have and we certainly can't live in space! Big pharma and the food corporations still largely call the shots but a generation of much more environmentally conscious people will be coming into power this century and it is heartening to see the growth in understanding of green ecologies and the need for sustainable living; surely an essential shift for the generations that we must ensure are still to come!

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd