Detox teas and juice cleanses may be all the rage, but is a full-body detox really necessary? What are all these toxins that need to be purged, how did they come about in the first place, and how do we get rid of them?
We asked TCM physician Anita Pee of Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic at Harbourfront and Woodlands and Eu Yan Sang TCM Wellness Clinic at Dhoby Ghaut for an Eastern perspective.
What are toxins?
“Toxins refer to substances that upset the body’s internal environment and create disharmony of the organ system,” says Anita.
These include waste products from the body’s normal metabolic activities, such as faecal material, carbon dioxide and urea, as well as environmental pollutants like heavy metals, free radicals, bacteria and viruses. The toxins throw the body out of balance, leading to sickness and even premature ageing.
A long list of symptoms are associated with toxin buildup in the body, including headaches, shoulder and back aches, menstrual cramps, bloatedness, swollen limbs, chest tightness, excessive burping, reflux, poor appetite, constipation or diarrhoea, bloodshot eyes, thirst, bad breath, ulcers and various skin conditions.
What causes the build-up?
According to TCM principles, toxins are classified into four main categories – qi and blood stagnation, accumulation of phlegm, indigestion, and build-up of internal heat.
Each category of toxins has various causes. For example, says Anita: “Overeating can cause indigestion and harm the spleen and stomach functions. Eating unclean food or cold food also disrupts spleen and stomach function and causes qi stagnation in the body, leading to abdominal pain. Oily and spicy food can lead to accumulation of ‘heat-dampness’ in the intestines.”
Emotional fluctuations can also cause internal imbalances and toxins to form. Additionally, external factors such as wind, cold, heat, dampness, dryness and fire (or a climate that creates heat) can invade the body and cause toxins to build up.
How does detoxing work?
A detox restores the body to a state of harmony and relieves discomfort. It is also useful in preventing toxins from building up in the body, says Anita.
Your juice cleanse does the trick by neutralising toxins within cells with alkaline-forming fruit, thereby helping your body to excrete these toxins.
And detox diets, which usually contain a large proportion of high-fibre foods like vegetables and whole grains, promote smooth bowel movements to push all of the toxins out of your system.
Anita says that the TCM approach is more targeted and depends on the type of toxin accumulation and the affected organs. There are eight main methods for removing toxins from the body:
Unpleasant as it sounds, TCM physicians can prescribe medication to induce vomiting to force toxins out of your body through the mouth.
Sweat out those toxins with exercise, or in a sauna. Alternatively, says Anita: “Drink warm soups or hot water. Another method is to cover up with a thick blanket.”
3. Clearing heat
“Herbs of a cooling nature can clear heatiness in the body,” explains Anita. This method is usually prescribed for those experiencing high fever, dry mouth, sore throat and similar symptoms. Cooling teas can achieve this effect.
Boost your qi and blood circulation, and restore yin-yang harmony to return your body to a balanced state. Anita says that this is used to treat those with numbness in their limbs or who feel weak.
Herbs commonly prescribed with replenishing qi include dang shen (codonopsis) and huang qi (astranagus). Dang gui (Angelica root) is recommended to replenish the blood. Gan jiang (dried ginger) and rou gui (cinnamon) replenish yang whereas American ginseng replenishes yin.
Pass out all those nasty toxins in your stomach and intestines. Jue ming zi (cassia seed) is usually given to patients to facilitate healthy bowel movements. You can also promote bowel movement by massaging your stomach, around the belly button area, in a clockwise direction.
Dispel toxins that accumulate due to coldness by combating them with foods of a warming nature, like ginseng. If you are diagnosed with cold syndromes pertaining to your spleen or stomach, Anita recommends placing a hot water bottle over the abdominal area to warm it.
If you experience nausea or bloating due to indigestion, TCM physicians can prescribe herbs to reduce, dissolve or eliminate toxin accumulation. This method is also used to get rid of phlegm and blood congestion within the body.
Sometimes, more than one of your organs may be responsible for the accumulation of toxins. This requires a combination of specific herbs to restore balance in your body.
But you can’t do this on your own. A trained TCM physician will first need to diagnose the cause of toxin build-up before recommending diet and lifestyle changes. Eu Yan Sang has a Detox Programme that provides treatments such as acupuncture, cupping and herbal medication, recipes to cleanse the body, as well as foot soaks that claim to draw toxins out through the feet.
But Anita says prevention is always better than cure. Maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, get sufficient rest and stay positive to keep the toxins in your body to a minimum.