The idea of cleansing the body and soul is a very old one. In both Eastern and Western traditions, cleansing the body to atone for or rid the body of one’s sins was an ancient notion tied to the Western Judeo-Christian-Islamic and Eastern Buddhist-Hindu religious traditions. Methods to cleanse the body utilizing herbs and other means were practiced throughout the world. The elaborate routines of Panchakarma from India are one such example of an ancient cleansing therapy.
The idea of cleansing the body to eliminate our physical dirtiness is more alive and well today than it’s ever been. While the history of detoxing the body from its ills through physical cleansing is an old notion, the modern roots of cleansing can be traced to the early natural hygienists. Dr. John Kellogg, of Kellogg’s corn flakes fame, was an early American pioneer of bodily purification.
Kellogg ran the Battle Creek health sanatorium in Michigan, which was owned and operated by Seventh Day Adventists. At the sanatorium, Kellogg recommended yogurt enemas, strict vegetarianism and a bland diet because he believed that spicy, protein-rich foods increased sex drive while bland foods reduced it. He and his brother developed flaked cereals along with a number of super-bland foods for consumption at the sanatorium including, by accident in 1896, corn flakes. Corn flakes, with their high fiber content, were created to be an anti-aphrodisiac.
In the early twentieth century, John Tilden and others promoted many ideas to cleanse the body of toxins. Toxemia or blood pollution was thought to be the cause of all diseases. Cleansing through diet, fasting, juicing, herbs, colonics, exercise and other methods were taught to be the cures.
During this time, many erroneous nutritional theories were conceived to explain the cause of toxemia. These included concepts such as the putrefying effect from eating meat and dairy foods, an improper balance of acid and alkaline foods, the supremacy of vegan diets, and various food-combining theories. I’ll explain why these theories hold no water later in this article. Unfortunately, these ideas are still promoted today by many contemporary proponents of cleansing protocols.
THE MODERN CLEAN-UP
For decades I was a teacher, counselor, and promoter of a primarily vegan diet for cleansing and better health. I have to admit that I taught most of the theories listed above—except for Kellogg’s theories on sex. I saw first-hand that in most cases not only did the vegan approach not clear toxins from the body but in many cases did not promote healing. I had my epiphany that something was wrong when one of my teachers, Aveline Kushi, developed cancer. Over time, everyone I encountered on an unsupplemented vegan-leaning diet either developed illness or poor health. In recent years, several prominent teachers of a vegan-style macrobiotic diet died at younger ages than the average person from serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions, and the Weston A. Price Foundation were instrumental in helping me fill in the gaps of my nutritional awareness to address the growing problems associated with vegan diets. Many discussions with natural health education colleagues such as Carlo Gugliermo, Steve Gagne, and Steve Acuff were also extremely helpful as they had walked a similar road.
As I awoke from my dietary dream, I saw an explosion of methods that I had followed—lots of health gurus promoting cleansing through diet, remedies, fasting, and a host of other means. Cleansing has become big business, promoted by everyone from Dr. Oz to the Juice Man and, of course, late night infomercials. Books and websites advertising everyone’s favorite cleanses as the answer to weight loss, healing all kinds of diseases, and anti-aging have taken off.
Even when I was promoting a vegan-style diet as a cleansing method, I was suspicious of cleansing protocols. My suspicions arose from the teachings of oriental medicines. In ancient oriental medicines there are two basic approaches to cleansing therapies. One can cleanse by taking substances that speed up the function of the elimination organs such as the colon, liver, and kidneys, or one can cleanse toxins by strengthening the function of these same organs through food, lifestyle practices, herbs and exercise. The second method was considered the most basic and safer way of getting rid of toxins. The first method was only recommended for very strong people.
Today all of the popular cleansing methods focus on stimulating, rather than strengthening, the organs of elimination. For the majority of people, these methods can have very detrimental effects on health.
TRUTH AND MYTHS ABOUT TOXINS
The truth about toxins is that we live in a very polluted world. Air and water pollutants abound. There are chemicals in our food, our homes, our household products, body care products, and in our environments. There is evidence that these toxins can accumulate in the body causing harm.
Ridding the body of toxins can be a very important part of healing diseases. The problems with the most popular detoxing approaches today arise from the methods being used. Just about all of the cleansing methods promoted today do not cleanse the body of the chemicals that we are exposed to. I will explain why most of these methods cause real harm to overall health by weakening the organs of elimination and hampering or even halting the healing process.
There is some truth to the saying that you don’t see the things you aren’t looking for. After my epiphany about my mostly vegan diet, I started to see more evidence that this was not a good way to eat for cleansing or for overall health.
My wife and I were amazed when watching a documentary on ocean pollution by environmentalist, explorer, and film maker, Jean Michel Cousteau. Jean Michel found large amounts of human-made environmental pollutants when testing killer whales and harbor seals. He then decided to test his staff. His vegan-style vegetarian assistant and her son had the highest level of certain environmental pollutants in their bodies, while Jean Michel’s other assistant, who stated she ate everything except fish, had low levels.
This point was brought home to me when one of my clients, through testing by a holistic doctor, was found to have high levels of a contaminant from gasoline in her body. She showed me the supplement that was recommended by her doctor to remove this toxin from her body. The main active ingredients were two amino acids. I found it fascinating that these amino acids are only found in animal products.
MEAT AND THE COLON
Many dietary restrictions are being used today in the name of cleansing. Depending on the teachings of the diet gurus, the avoidance of sugar, salt, dairy, saturated fats, all fats, red meat, all meat, or other categories of foods will be recommended in order to cleanse the body.
For most people, the foods the diet gurus condemn are handled easily by the body. Various foods are claimed to clog the colon, but there is no scientific evidence that this really happens.
Vegan advocates promote the idea that meat, and by association all animal products, rot in the colon creating toxins, or toxemia, which interfere with the elimination of environmental toxins and create illness. In reality, protein-rich foods such as meats stimulate the production of stomach acid. Stomach acid is essential for the digestion of all proteins. In the presence of adequate stomach acid, the protease enzyme pepsin is produced, which initiates the digestion of protein.
When the stomach pH is low enough, that is, when it is acidic enough, enzymes are produced by the pancreas to break down fats, carbohydrates and proteins. When meats or high protein animal products enter the small intestine, pancreatic enzymes that break down fats and proteins mix with these foods. The amino acids or protein components of the meat are then absorbed by the small intestine. By the time what is left of the meat or any animal foods enters the colon (large intestine), it has been completely digested.
Some people do have trouble digesting some animal proteins, especially dairy products, but the protein that is the most difficult to digest is wheat gliadin, a vegetable protein. The food that rots in the colon is the darling of the natural foods movement: fiber.
Here is an interesting fact that contradicts what the “meat-clogs-the-colon” proponents suggest: protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and other animal-source foods cause the stomach to produce adequate amounts of stomach acid. Without adequate stomach acid, the pancreas does not produce sufficient digestive enzymes. If high-protein foods are not eaten, digestion suffers due to low stomach acid.
Vegan diets are very low in complete proteins because grains, beans, and vegetables have very small amounts of proteins. I have found that vegetarian protein sources are good complementary protein sources if adequate complete protein sources are consumed, ideally from meat, poultry, fish or other animal-source foods.
In my counseling practice I have commonly found many vegans or near vegans to have digestive disorders from a lack of stomach acid because of inadequate protein in their diets. Eating some complete protein from animal sources at every meal helps you digest all the food in the meal more completely.
Closely related to the “meat-and-dairy-rotsin-the-colon” theories of cleansing are the food combining and acid-alkaline theories. Food combining was first popularized by William Hay in the 1920s. Herbert Shelton wrote one of the early bibles on food combining in the thirties. The book, Fit for Life, by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, brought back food combining in the eighties. Contemporary versions of food combining are promoted in the Body Ecology Diet and even by Dr. Mercola.
The basic theory behind food combining is that foods with different concentrated nutrients have different digestive demands. It is thought that if foods with concentrated protein such as meat or poultry are eaten with grains, they will rot in the stomach rather than undergo digestion.
Even years ago, before knowing as much as I do now about the science of digestion, I thought that food combining was an odd idea. I couldn’t imagine our ancestors thinking much about food combinations when deciding what to eat. The evidence of what traditional peoples ate around the world shows that they didn’t consider this when choosing their foods. All combinations of foods were eaten in the healthiest and longest-lived cultures.
When following food combining principles, one’s diet becomes extremely low in protein, carbohydrates and calories. There is no solid science behind food combining. The scientific evidence demonstrates that all foods are digested successfully together.
Early food combining theories were based on incomplete science and for some dubious reason, these outdated ideas keep returning. The key to digestion is adequate stomach acid and a healthy, active metabolism.
The acid-alkaline theory also severely limits both one’s diet and health. The idea behind it is that we must eat an alkaline diet to keep our blood alkaline. According to the acid-alkaline proponents, acidic blood causes all manner of diseases. They say that eating more alkaline foods, such as fruits and vegetables, is the key to good health.
The reality is that we can’t regulate our acid-alkaline state by diet. The kidneys regulate our acid-alkaline status. The kidneys are aided in this by lung function. One nutrient that aids the kidneys in maintaining an acid-alkaline balance is adequate complete protein from animal foods. The popular method in acid-alkaline circles of measuring urine or saliva pH does not reflect the blood pH. For more information, read Chris Kresser’s excellent articles1 that explain the science that invalidates the myths of the acid-alkaline theory.
The ironic fact is that many of the foods that people restrict in their diets are necessary for the proper functioning of the organs of elimination, and cutting such foods out of the diet weakens these organs.
Protein in the concentrated forms of meats is needed for colon health. Cholesterol is needed for liver and gall bladder function. Saturated fats aid the functioning of the kidneys, colon and lungs. Sugars and starches are needed for the liver and all the organs.
For many reasons, people may feel good when they first embark on one of the restricted diets. One major reason is the rush of energy that comes from the catabolic hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones liberate energy into the body and mind. Initially, this stress reaction feels good. Reducing chemicals, pesticides, and high amounts of refined sugars is another reason for people’s positive experience. Eating more vegetables as the acid-alkaline and vegan proponents suggest is a healthy practice.
Eventually, though, most people fail with all dietary restrictions whether it is carbs, sugars, or meats. The body needs an array of nutrients to function well. My experience from carrying out thousands of personal health consultations is that the body needs all the macronutrients—carbohydrates, fats, and proteins—in substantial amounts, with smaller amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Appetite, taste and an understanding of the overall effects of foods are the best indicators as to what we should eat. It is important that no major category of food be left out. Even people who are eating traditional nutrient-dense foods should vary the frequency and quanity in the diet of the important and necessary concentrated foods such as liver, butter, meat and other similar foods to ensure long-term health. One size never fits all. A nutritionally complete diet with variability over time is important for everyone.
The worst of the extreme diets that are promoted for cleansing and health are zero-carb and all raw. In zero-carb diets, the body is starved of a major energy source, carbohydrates, while on all raw diets, complete proteins, calories, and many nutrients are missing. Depending on one’s health condition, different types of carbohydrates and some raw foods are helpful.
Some foods cause real health problems for people, such as artificial sweeteners and the industrially produced polyunsaturated vegetables oils—corn, soy, and others. Certain natural foods such as unfermented soy show evidence of harm if eaten regularly or in large amounts.
Some people are allergic or highly sensitive to foods such as gluten, dairy products and even the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, etc.). In my own consultation practice I suggest that people avoid foods that they are sensitive to with one exception. Often a person who has not eaten a food for months or longer, will react negatively to it. This happens to many people after a long period of avoiding gluten, sugar, carbs, meat, dairy or other natural foods. After reintroducing the restricted foods over an appropriate amount of time for each individual, most do fine eating them again.
THE MYTH OF CALORIE RESTRICTION
Many cleansing approaches recommend intended or unintended calorie restriction by juicing or other methods of fasting, green smoothie meal replacements and drinking excessive amounts of water. The major problem with these approaches is that by reducing calories the metabolism drops. When the metabolism drops by undereating, all bodily functions decrease. As the metabolism drops, elimination slows down. The major myth about fasting is that it causes your body to dump toxins. The only truth to this is that when you put your body in a stress mode by calorie or nutrient restriction, or other methods such as extreme exercise, there is a temporary increase in stress hormones. The stress hormones speed up all functions of the body including elimination. This stress “honeymoon” doesn’t last. With the repeated stressors of calorie or nutrient restriction, bodily functions slow down.
The kicker is that if a person has been under repeated stress from nutrient-deficient diets, poor lifestyle habits, or habitual negative thinking, there is no stress honeymoon. Any added stress such as calorie restriction drops the function of the body even further. Elimination and all body activities slow down in these cases. Many modern people and health food followers have already pushed the stress envelope. In these cases, their health will only continue to worsen.
There are additional concerns for health regarding the above-mentioned methods beyond those of calories. Green smoothies contain goitrogens (from cruciferous plants such as kale) in concentrated doses. Goitrogens suppress the function of the thyroid, which lowers the metabolism and weakens the elimination of toxins in addition to all other body functions.
Juicing, smoothie meal replacements, and excessive water consumption add large volumes of liquids to the body. The excess liquid dilutes sodium and causes swelling in the cells, leading to a condition known as hyponatremia. This also causes the metabolism to drop, slowing down elimination and all bodily functions.
As you can see, the most popular cleansing methods are worthless at best and dangerous at worst. Real cleansing is effected by a balanced, nourishing diet, a healthy lifestyle, a positive mental attitude, and doing what you really love in life.
In my health counseling practice, I employ a form of East-West visual, touch and symptom diagnosis to understand the detox or cleansing needs of my clients. In Eastern diagnostic systems, there is a holistic idea that a person’s overall health condition affects that person’s wellbeing.
There are certain states of health that benefit from strongly stimulating the organs of elimination to function more robustly. Certain herbs, foods and supplements can accomplish this.
Other types of health conditions benefit from a fundamental strengthening or toning of the organ functions. Certain foods, herbs, and supplements can foster the strength of the eliminative organs: kidneys, colon, liver, and lungs.
Stimulating the eliminative organs to become active can weaken people who have an overall nutritional or energy deficiency. For the majority of people, a better cleansing method is to eat and live in a way that best supports the healthy functioning of the body.
A diet that supports proper elimination needs ample calories to fuel the metabolism, adequate protein from natural animal foods to support organ functions and structures, saturated fats, adequate carbohydrates from grains, sweet vegetables, tubers, and fruit with moderate amounts of fiber, cooked and raw vegetables, and natural sugars. A diet that is primarily natural, organic and wholesome is best. Natural seasonings, healthy beverages, optional moderate alcohol intake and other wholesome foods round out this healthy regimen. An occasional intake of not-so-healthy foods will not harm healthy persons or hamper their elimination if their routine, daily diet and lifestyle are sound. Diets that are missing any of the macronutrients of carbohydrates, proteins or fats are the worst for our body’s natural detoxification systems.
When the body is in a stress mode, all systems of the body lose their proper functioning. Natural lifestyle practices along with diet aid in countering stress. The right amount of moderate exercise, being outside especially in the sun, stress-reducing practices such as yoga, meditation and quigong, good sleep, engaging in activities, including work, that you love, and a good mental approach help us to thrive and quickly restore balance in times of stress. These activities keep the metabolism high to fuel proper detoxification.
Some people need extra nutrients and herbs to aid in detoxification and natural cleansing. Cleansing nutrients and herbs include vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, B-complex vitamins, milk thistle, dandelion root, and triphala (an Ayurvedic herbal combination).
The elements of health listed above support the body’s natural cleansing ability. Unlike the dangerous cleansing methods that are popular and outlined in this article, the marvelous side effect of eating and living in a healthy way that supports detoxification is vibrant health.
This article was written by John Kozinski, and is published in the Weston A. Price Foundation journals
For more information and sources, please visit the original article.
John Kozinski has been a pioneer natural health teacher, author, and researcher since 1976. Education and diagnostic techniques are rooted in his clinical experience with 40,000+ students and clients. John resigned in 2013 from the Kushi Institute faculty after 27 years. To address catastrophic illness that developed in those following restrictive natural diets John reveals in a new training program his clinical experience and research into what was really working and why for people following popular diets. This education gives teachers, health practitioners, and students new skills to help evaluate and treat a wide variety of health conditions both naturally and complementary to medical treatments. www.macrobiotic.com (413) 623-5925.