Dr. Amy’s Wellness Tip for April
Contributed by Dr. Amy Whittington, Trilogy’s Naturopathic Physician
It is that time of year again: time to clean out your closets, clean your air vents, and while you’re at it, why not clean out your body? Cleanses and detoxes have become extremely popular. The downside is that there are numerous “cleanses” and “detoxes” on the market (and on the internet) that can be ineffective or even downright dangerous. A proper and simple cleanse for a limited amount of time, however, can improve energy and sleep patterns, decrease pain, improve digestion, stop sugar cravings and support many systems of the body. If it’s time for you to do some spring cleaning, here are some considerations to make.
It is important to note at this point that if you have access to an integrative physician or nutritionist, this is the best way to proceed through a cleanse, which can be tailored to your health needs. The basics of a good cleanse is a clean diet, and nearly everyone can proceed through this portion safely, as it simply entails avoiding what can be the more problematic foods in our nutrition.
I tend to prescribe short cleanses (around ten days), and for that ten days, I recommend the avoidance of sugars, sugar substitutes, processed foods, animal product (other than fish), common food intolerances, caffeine and alcohol.
Avoid Sugar, Sugar Substitutes, and Processed Foods
Don’t panic. Depending on your health history, you likely can safely moderate small amounts of sugar into your diet over the long run, but this short avoidance can reap great benefit. Many of us consume way too much sugar, and a short hiatus can be a great way to remind yourself how good you feel when you don’t overindulge. Sugar is disruptive to our systems. It contributes to disease and aging; it disrupts mood, energy and sleep. We often find ourselves fighting intense sugar cravings, which can be formed simply out of bad habits, or in a subconscious effort to improve mood or energy. Overuse of sugar can lead to poor metabolism and paired with the calories provided by the sugar, this leads to easy weight gain. Processed foods are often filled with hidden sugars and any valiant effort to remove sugar should also include an avoidance of processed foods.
Sugar substitutes, even the natural ones, also need to be avoided for an effective cleanse to help reset your taste buds. Sugar substitutes wreak nearly as much havoc on your metabolism as sugar does, and should be avoided for any weight loss plan. The first few days of sugar avoidance can be tough. Sugar is a drug and you should expect some withdrawal including fatigue, headache and maybe even achiness. After that first few days, however, you will see better energy, better sleep, better immunity, and you’ll likely be working your way to a slimmer waistline.
Avoid Animal Products
Again, don’t panic. You do not need to become a vegan, but the fact is that animal products including meats, dairy, and eggs, are higher inflammatory foods than other protein sources like fish. Over the long-run, a balanced diet including plenty of fish, will help to negate any negative effects of animal product. Many of us consume too much animal product and a short, complete avoidance of meat and dairy can significantly decrease inflammation in your joints and benefit your cardiovascular system.
Avoid the Most Common Food Intolerances
In an effort to also improve digestion along with other symptoms that can be attributed to possible food intolerances, such as headaches, skin disruptions, digestive disturbance and fatigue, your cleanse should include the avoidance of the most common foods that can cause systemic reactions. Soy, wheat, eggs, chocolate, and dairy are the most commonly reactive foods. I highly encourage that you remove all of these for your cleanse to see if they perhaps cause you symptoms. If you are able to see a naturopath or integrative physician for a specific cleansing plan, a diet avoiding an even more extensive list of food intolerances can and should be constructed. At the end of your cleanse, reintroduce your possible intolerances slowly and one at a time, separated by 4-7 days. If you have a return of headaches, skin disruptions, poor digestion, or fatigue, you might want to seek further investigation into food intolerance testing.
Do Eat Fuel Efficient and Liver Cleansing Foods
Avoiding processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol will offer a break to the detoxifying process of your liver, allowing it to process some stored toxins. You can capitalize on this more by consuming foods that can support the liver detoxification process like artichokes, leafy greens, and leafy herbs, such as thyme and parsley. High fiber foods such as apples, pears, and legumes will help to move freed toxins out of your body. A general focus on whole foods, including lots of organic fruits and vegetables, anti-inflammatory fish, and extra virgin olive oil should round out your cleansing diet.
A physician-led cleanse will usually be accompanied by particular nutrients to help with each of the nutritional goals. Anti-inflammatories, such as turmeric or ginger, might be included to help further decrease inflammation. Additional protein, in a hypoallergenic form, such as a rice or pea-based source, is often used to help to balance blood sugars throughout the process, which will keep you full, further decrease sugar cravings, and promote weight loss. Nutrients like L-glutamine are often used to promote a general healing of the digestive tract. Herbs and amino acids can help to promote the detoxification process of the liver.
Programs coined as ‘cleanses’ and ‘detoxes’ can vary greatly in what they have to offer, and the efficacy of actually detoxing the liver is arguable because it cannot be tracked or measured. However, it is hard to argue the efficacy of a simple cleanse, which has you avoid foods that we know are more problematic. There should not be any fasting, the use of an extreme amount of supplementation, or any strange concoctions to consume.
If you feel like you could improve your energy, sleep, mood, or pain level, a whole-foods cleanse can be a great jump-start to improve your health and habits. If you will be pursuing a program, ideally you will follow a plan provided for you by your integrative or naturopathic physician. If you choose to construct a self-guided cleanse, ensure that it is based simply in “clean eating.”
Happy Spring Cleaning! Stay healthy & be well!
– Amy Whittington, NMD