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No matter how good our diets are or how much we exercise, the truth is that we are constantly exposed to health-robbing toxins and heavy metals. These pollutants accumulate deep within our tissues and organs; and depending on our toxin levels, they require gentle cleansing efforts over time.
But what happens when we try to cleanse and release toxins quickly — or all at once, with methods such as fasting, “three-day cleanse programs,” strong herbal decoctions or rapid weight loss? The results can be quite uncomfortable, yielding respiratory difficulties, digestive upset, joint pains and other problems.
Many people refer to these detox results as the healing crisis phase, asserting that such uncomfortable reactions are actually a good thing. In truth, however, a healing crisis can have harmful consequences, because the body can’t eliminate so many toxins all at once.
What Exactly Is A Healing Crisis?
In terms of detoxification, a healing crisis is caused by the quick release of toxins from organs and tissues into the circulatory system, where they travel to other organs and cause symptoms. While healing crisis is a valid concept, it is often used as an excuse for an aggravation that could have been prevented.
There are a number of different tools that can support a healthy, crisis-free cleanse: gentle herbal formulas, acupuncture, infrared saunas, nutritional IVs and specific dietary supplements. All of these provide opportunities for people to detox with little or no side effects. This is particularly important for cancer and chronically ill patients who would benefit most from detox but may not be able to handle such a healing crisis.
The Detox Cycles
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there is something called the “detox cycle” with two distinct phases: phase 1 and phase 2. The detox cycle concept captures a more complex physical and energetic movement of toxins throughout the body. If we are not well aligned with this flow, there can be significant short-term and long-term side effects when we detoxify. Our goal is to engage in an effective cleanse program without having to experience a healing crisis. Understanding and aligning with the detox cycles can help us succeed.
First, though, you have to consider the process of loosening toxins from the organs and tissues where they are stored. This is known as discharging, and it is phase 1 of the detox cycles. But where are the toxins going after they are discharged, and how can we remove them safely and efficiently? To understand this process, we must focus on the different detox stations: the areas where toxins can get stuck during detoxification.
The Role Of The Liver
In phase 1 of the detox cycle, toxins are released into the circulatory system from different tissues and organs, with the liver leading the process. This process is emphasized during the spring season because, according to TCM, the spring season corresponds to increased liver activity.
The liver acts as a powerhouse of metabolic functions and works hard to filter and recycle the blood, so it has enormous capacity both to hold toxins and excrete them.
The Lungs And Heart
From the liver, blood flows to the right atrium of the heart (also where the lymph system empties); and with the contractions of the heart, it flows into the lungs. Therefore, the first station in the detox cycle where toxins can get stuck is the lungs. Oftentimes, the first side effects in a rapid detox program are excess phlegm, respiratory congestion and symptoms of a common cold.
The blood then flows to the left heart ventricle, which is station two in the detox cycle. In TCM, the heart and mind are closely connected, a relationship that correlates to emotional release, insight, dreams and insomnia, as well as possible heart symptoms such as palpitations or racing pulse.
The Digestive System, Joints And Kidneys
After traveling through the heart, the blood circulates through the body. The third detox station is the digestive system. If the digestive tract is overburdened with toxins, they reabsorb back into the bloodstream. Symptoms in this stage of detox include constipation, bloating and flatulence. The body then tries to store toxins in the joints, the fourth station of the detox cycle and a common area where toxins get stored.
As blood continues to circulate in the body, it reaches the kidneys, (our filtration system); they can eliminate some of the toxin burden through the urine. But the toxins that are not excreted here travel right back to the tissues and the liver.
What we have just described is one cycle of blood circulation. On one level, this can be a fast process; but on a larger level, the detox cycle proceeds quite slowly. We can get stuck at each stage along the way, sometimes for months. Or we can get stuck for a long time at one stage (for example, in the lungs) and experience chronic respiratory symptoms. Insomnia, which relates to the heart-mind connection, is another common issue during an inappropriate detox, when discharged toxins and blockages (such as phlegm and inflammation) linger in the heart channel.
In fact, when recommending detox to a patient with chronic, undiagnosed health issues, it is valuable to see which symptoms start after a detox program. This helps us understand where the health issues are coming from and, following this cycle, where they are progressing to.
Preparation For Success
In the detox cycle, the distinctions between drainage (phase 1) and excretion (phase 2) are significant when planning a cleanse. Organs and tissues discharge toxins into the circulatory system. These substances are eventually excreted by the sweat, breath, urine and bowel movements, as well as with emotional/psychological release.
The Kitchen Drawer Metaphor
If the burden of discharged toxins into the circulation is manageable through slow and gentle processes and the excretion channels are functioning efficiently, we can successfully cleanse with little or no side effects. You can construct an analogy between this process and your kitchen drawers. If you open one kitchen drawer and throw everything on the floor, you can clean out that drawer easily. (That corresponds to an orderly, controlled detox process.) But if you open all the drawers and throw everything onto the floor at once, you have a huge mess. (That’s similar to a massive, body-wide cleanse.)
Cleanse The Circulation And Digestion First
One of the most important first steps in a successful detox is to begin cleansing the blood and the digestive tract. It is important to cleanse the blood first without causing the organs to discharge too much all at once. There are several gentle supplements that can support this process, including medicinal mushrooms. Medicinal mushrooms act like sponges, traveling to hard-to-reach areas of the body to mop up toxins and pathogens. Another important supplement for gently cleansing the blood and digestion consists of a modified citrus pectin and modified alginate formula. This formula binds to and removes heavy metals and toxins from the circulation system and digestive tract without affecting essential minerals.
Phase 2: Complete Your Cleanse
After the burden of toxins circulating in the bloodstream is reduced with gentle blood-cleansing supplements and a simplified, alkaline diet, additional detox therapies and supplements can be incorporated.
Specific functions of additional detox supplements are to further cleanse the blood, support detoxification within the organ systems, and protect organs and tissues from the stress of free radicals caused by toxins and heavy metals. Additionally, ingredients that support circulation and overall energy production are essential; we cannot detoxify if we are depleted of vital energy. In my practice, I rely on a gentle phase 2 detox formula that addresses these issues and supports overall health. Herbs such as dandelion, burdock, seaweed, cilantro, nettles and many others are excellent for this phase of detox.
Gently cleansing the blood circulation and digestive system first prevents the discomfort many people experience when trying to cleanse successfully. Instead of a “healing crisis,” you can cultivate your healing capacity. By clearing out toxins in the blood and preventing re-absorption through the digestive system as a first step, you make room for the body’s natural process of detoxification and regeneration to occur. This will ease you into the deeper and more rewarding part of your cleanse, resulting in greater energy, vitality and long-term wellness.
For more information and tips on heavy metal detoxification and seasonal cleansing, visit www.dreliaz.org.