By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
It’s that time of year again, when we’re suddenly motivated to make positive changes in our health – eating more vegetables, exercising regularly and looking for a boost in our health to match the boost in our mood that naturally comes with the change of seasons.
Spring cleanses used to be very popular, and I’m grateful that now the focus is on more gentle, moderate and sustainable health changes. In this article I’ll share with you some reasons we still do want to support the liver at this time of year, and also some ways you can do this at home, or may seek extra support to go deeper.
Our exposure to toxins continues to grow
Our bodies are faced with increasing numbers of toxins, especially in the past 100 years. Toxins exist in the environment and in our food and water supply, including pesticides, heavy metals, volatile chemicals, synthetic materials and cigarette smoke, to name a few. These toxins stress our regular detoxification capacity. Our bodies also detox internally produced substances, such as hormones and biochemical metabolites every day, and this in combination with external toxins can overwhelm our organs of detoxification.
The liver is the main organ of detoxification, and it’s job is to change potentially harmful substances into non-toxic, water-soluble compounds that an be eliminated by either the kidneys or the intestines. There are two phases of detoxification: Phase I and Phase II. In Phase I, through a process called oxidation, the liver makes toxins more water-soluble, so they can be excreted through the liver and kidneys. Phase II detoxification, through a process called conjugation, then combines these water soluble toxins with sulfur, specific amino acids, or organic acids, which are then excreted in the bile, and through the digestive tract.
Factors that impair liver detoxification include:
- Tobacco smoke
- High alcohol intake
- Consumption of standard vegetable oils
- Eating char-broiled meats
- Nutrient deficiencies (B-vitamins, magnesium, antioxidants and more)
- Low dietary protein intake
- Certain medications, such as acetaminophen
- Chronic exposure to chemicals and solvents
Factors that support liver detoxification include:
- Getting enough dietary protein to provide the amino acids cysteine and methionine (found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds and beans)
- Bioflavonoids which are found in many fruits, vegetables and teas
- Onions, garlic, leeks
- Curcumin (active ingredient in the spice turmeric)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts)
Signs that your detoxification pathways need support
These are some typical signs that you may need to support your liver, and take stress off of your organs of detoxification. Remember that it’s hard to avoid environmental toxins, especially for those of us who live in big cities.
- Overall fatigue
- Dark circles under your eyes
- Dull skin, poor complexion or frequent acne
- Regular headaches
- Sore joints
- Chronic sinus problems or stuffiness
- Bloating or water retention
- Poor concentration
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Unexplained muscle aches
- Skin rashes or eczema
- Chronic stress in your life
- History of cigarette smoking, or exposure to cigarette smoke
- Exposure to mold
- High or regular alcohol intake
- Regular exposure to industrial chemicals or solvents
Tips to support your spring reset
Although I no longer support a one-size-fits-all spring cleanse, there are definitely many good reasons to reduce your toxic load and optimize liver function this spring. Here are my top tips to get started:
- The most important is to follow your body’s natural inclination to get healthy in the springtime. As local fresh produce becomes available, vegetables and fruits taste so much better, and it naturally becomes much easier to eat well. With longer days, and more sunshine, most of us experience a drive to take better care of our bodies. This is the time to create a personalized, health-promoting plan to either tackle long-standing chronic health issues, or take a preventative stance with your health.
- Set an intention for the month. If you’re motivated to make changes, first begin with an intention: create some clarity about what you hope to achieve. Some ideas for you: Stronger self-care practices. Lowering inflammation. Moving your body every day. Breaking an old habit that no longer serves you. Resolving spring allergies. Practicing intuitive eating. Choose something personal for you.
- Remember that this is the season of the liver. In Chinese medicine, the springtime is the season to take care of the liver, and foods that support this are leafy greens of all types (watercress, lettuces, sprouts, dandelion), and sour flavour like lemon and apple cider vinegar. In Chinese medicine terms, the liver is the organ most affected by stagnant emotions and stress, and springtime can be a time to focus on releasing emotions especially those rooted in anger or frustration.
- If you experience spring and summer allergies, a spring reset can greatly reduce your symptoms. The combination of a hypoallergenic nutrition plan (usually avoiding gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, sugar and alcohol) can make a big impact on your allergy season this year. By lowering immune system stresses and inflammation through food, and possibly adding digestive support too you can experience a much easier allergy season.
- Get outside and move your body. Exercise has an enormously beneficial role in supporting detox by moving your lymphatic system, and also through sweating. Did you know that sweating, through exercise or sauna, is the best way to release toxins stored in fat cells? Regular movement complements a spring cleanse tremendously.
- Don’t make your plan too extreme! The most beneficial spring cleanse will be one where you create some lasting new healthy habits because you felt so great during this time. Beware of diet mentality with detox kits, extreme juice cleanses and restrictive food plans – a short-term extreme plan is not the answer.
Do you need support or structure?
If you would like support to create a health-promoting spring reset, here are a few of the ways a naturopathic visit can help:
- To create a personalized plan for you, knowing your current health issues and health goals.
- Supporting gut health, hormone balance, inflammation or immune system too – wherever you need to bring more balance.
- Providing nutrition recommendations and also meal plans where needed (just ask – we have lots!!)
- Navigating nutrition changes and/or supplements if you are on medications.
- Most importantly ensuring that your spring reset is right for you personally, and will help you to feel healthier, more vibrant and in balance.
I hope this short article has inspired you to make some health promoting changes this spring. If you would like support to create your personalized plan – I would be happy to help.
Please note that content on this website is intended for informational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional, not is it meant to diagnose or treat a health problem, symptom or disease. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read on this website. Information provided on this website DOES NOT create a doctor-patient relationship between you and any doctor affiliated with our website.