Over the past few weeks, I’ve written on the very popular, sometimes faddish topic of cleansing and when it is and isn’t appropriate. We’ve looked at fasting, sweating, and skin brushing as means of stimulating detoxification. This week, I’m going to cover some dietary interventions that can help clean your body from the inside. These recommendations are safe for virtually everyone, however, I like to err on the side of caution with pregnant and nursing women, and a few of the herbs I mention could be problematic in pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, please keep the cleansing to very safe herbs like nettle leaves and dandelion greens.
The primary organs involved in detoxification are the liver, gut, kidneys, skin, and lungs. Let’s look at some natural therapies for each of these organs.
Lungs: Breathing in household chemicals, urban pollutants, micro particles of new carpet and building materials, and other toxins and irritants can inflame the lungs and cause excessive mucous production.
Some of my favorite herbs for promoting clean lungs are plantain leaf (a low growing weed, not the relative of bananas), mullein leaf and flower (while still yellow), sage leaf, chickweed, and thyme. All of these herbs grow widely and easily throughout much of the United States. They combine well with licorice root, marshmallow root, and peppermint.
You can pick one or more from the first group and combine with one or more of the second group to make a tea that will soothe irritated lungs and help restore healthy function. Of course, deep breathing of clean, fresh air is always a great idea for healthy lungs, too. Also, a recent study showed that eating foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids reduce lung inflammation.
Liver: The liver is a huge, remarkable organ with a diverse range of functions. The one you hear about the most is detoxification. The liver also produces bile, which is vital in the digestion of fat, and the bile is stored in the gallbladder, which secretes it as needed into the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine).
The liver can become inflamed and damaged by exposure to toxins, including pharmaceuticals such as Tylenol, pesticides, solvents, and excessive amounts of alcohol. In some cases, the liver becomes infiltrated with fat (fatty liver disease) and scar tissue (cirrhosis), which greater impair its function. The liver has tremendous regenerative capacity, but if it loses more than about 80% of its function, this is usually fatal (liver failure).
The gallbladder can also get cranky, especially following years of exposure to foods it dislikes, causing the bile to become thicker, crystalline, and occasionally forming stones. Gallbladder pain is often exacerbated upon eating fatty foods. In my opinion, removal of the gallbladder for this condition – which can nearly always be resolved through dietary changes – is tragic.
The liver and gallbladder benefit from bitter foods and herbs, which tend to stimulate bile production and secretion, and perhaps reduce liver inflammation. It’s actually one of the clear benefits of coffee (when the bitterness isn’t cut by adding cream and sugar). But there are plenty of herbs that accomplish this in a healthier way. Some of my favorites are barberry (root bark), gentian root, and dandelion (the root is best). The bitterness is considered to tone the digestive tract and increase secretion of gastric juice. Prolonged use of such bitters can restore a sluggish or debilitated digestive system.
You can take these herbs as tea, or try this recipe I just made up.
- 1 quarts good quality apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg’s)
- 1 ounce dried barberry root (root bark is best)
- 1 ounce dried dandelion root
- 1 ounces dried gentian root
- 3 pieces of ginger the size of your thumb
- Chop or break all the dried herbs into small pieces.
- Slice the ginger thinly or grate it.
- Put all the ingredients into a large jar, making sure there is sufficient vinegar to completely cover the herbs.
- Close the jar tightly.
- Keep the jar in a dark, cool place, and shake it vigorously for a minute each day for two weeks.
- Strain the liquid through a coffee filter or several layers of cheese cloth.
- Store it in a sealed bottle in the refrigerator. The more completely you filter out any herbal matter, the longer it will keep.
- Take 1 teaspoon of this tincture 3 times a day (or as desired) to invigorate and clean the liver and gallbladder. You can take it straight or in a little water. Taken about 20 minutes before a meal it will help stimulate the appetite. Taken after a meal (especially a fatty meal or too big of a meal), it will assist in digestion.
The best advice I can give regarding cleansing the lungs and liver is to avoid exposure to irritants and toxins in the first place! Wear a dust mask when sanding or working with substances that produce dust. Wear a respirator when working with oil based stains, paint stripper, and other volatile chemicals. Avoid using chemical pesticides, and reduce your exposure to new synthetic home goods like couches and appliances (which are almost always treated with flame retardant).
Dr. Peter Borten