Cleansing is something that is often discussed in the natural health field, but is often poorly understood. This post will cover the changes that occur within our bodies as we prepare for autumn and how we can facilitate and benefit from these natural changes.
Cleansing = Cleaning House
Cleansing is an ongoing process – we all need to periodically ‘clean-house’ as our bodies and diets change throughout the year. Just as we wash the outsides of our bodies, internal cleansing is an integral part of achieving and maintaining health. Shedding accumulated toxins seasonally is in harmony with the cycles of the season and our bodies’ needs.
In natural traditions of healing, the eliminative organs are thought to innately let go of their toxins most easily in certain seasons. As such, we have devoted special quarterly posts on the organs of elimination that are most easily cleansed for the upcoming season. Of course, if cleansing of another system is warranted, it can be performed at anytime, but there is a natural progression, once we obtain a vibrant state of health, to the ongoing cleansing process.
Autumn is associated with the colon. Colon cleansing traditionally combines laxative herbs, bulking fibers, carminatives (which are digestive harmonizers) and demulcents (which are softening or moistening agents). The balance of these elements depends on your constitution. For instance, those with chronic, stubborn constipation and a tendency towards dryness are more likely to need stronger herbs all around while others may do well with milder ones. Luckily, there are many choices of herbs to do these different jobs.
In the laxative category are moderate to strong herbs like cascara sagrada, senna, rhubarb, cayenne and psyllium seed. These herbs, used singly or in blends, should be limited to 8 to 10 days of use and can cause cramping if not combined with carminative herbs, which we will talk about shortly. Rhubarb is a laxative when used in large amounts. When used in small amounts it works very well as a digestive tonic and an astringent. Aperient herbs are gentler forms of laxatives and include milk thistle, flax seed, artichoke, chlorella and licorice. They are suitable for more sensitive constitutions or when a hardier constitution desires a slower, gentler action.
Bulking fibers include the perennial favorite psyllium husk, flax seed or meal, chia seed, wheat bran, alfalfa and fruit pectin. Fibers are thought to provide the figurative “scouring” and toxin absorbing action necessary for thorough cleansing. These herbs also require the companionship of carminatives, laxatives and large amounts of water to keep the colon moving in order to avoid bloating and other discomforts.
Carminative herbs are employed by traditional herbalists to stimulate digestion and peristalsis while reducing the laxatives’ tendencies towards gripping and cramping. This includes such favorites as ginger, garlic, papaya, peppermint and cayenne.
Demulcents are herbs added to traditional herbal formulas for those who tend towards dryness and should be avoided or reduced by those with excess mucous conditions. They can also help to deflect the sometimes irritating side effects of stronger laxative herbs on sensitive mucous membranes. In this category, for instance, are slippery elm, marshmallow, licorice and flax seed.
If you would like to try and put together your own blend for colon cleansing, use the information above and experiment. There are also many teas and formulas available on the market to facilitate colon cleansing. Alternately, you can use our Simple Colon Cleanse. Contact us to get started.
Colon Cleansing Guidelines
There are a couple guidelines you should follow when conducting a colon cleanse. First, the modern penchant for “more is better” or “stronger is better” does not necessarily apply to cleansing. Rather, “Easy does it” is the motto here. It is important to go slowly to avoid weakening the system, to not cleanse for too long or too often and to work with mild herbs initially, graduating to stronger herbs only if necessary.
The choice of herbs by strength is one obvious way of controlling the degree of cleansing action; preparation style is another. For example, teas will generally have a gentler action than capsules or tinctures. You can switch herbs or preparation styles as you need in order to accommodate your body’s needs. Working with formulas that blend colon or liver cleansing herbs is another option. With these you get a wider range of action and each capsule has less of each herb than a capsule containing a single herb. This is advantageous as you have better control over dosage. By using a multitude of separate single herbs there is greater risk of initially getting too much for your system to handle causing inadvertent cleansing reactions. Also, it is best to introduce all new supplements, including herbs, in small doses and gradually increase to the desired dosage over several days to minimize reactions. This gives you time to read your own “biofeedback” as to what the best dosage is for your constitution.
Although there are factions within traditional herbalism that will say a “cleansing crisis” or discomfort is necessary, I do not feel this is so. In fact, this sort of practice can often drain vital energy from the body and leave it “cleaner” but lacking in energy to maintain its future health, thus leading to short term gain at the expense of long term health. Cleansing crises occur when too much of an herb, too strong of an herb or too strong a combination of herbs has been used causing the following to occur: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, joint pains, headache, pressure behind the eyes, rashes or irritations of the mucous membranes. If you experience any of these symptoms, discontinue the herbs and flush the system with water, vegetable soups or vegetables juices until the symptoms settle down. Then you can resume your cleanse but at lower, slower doses.
Generally, a 7 to 10 day cleanse period is adequate for most people. A repeat cleanse can be used the following month if necessary. Extra water consumption is a must, as well as supplementing with a whole food, low fat, high fiber, low sodium and potassium rich diet. Generally, fruits tend to increase the tendency towards cramping and it may be best to temporarily avoid them. Physical exercises, breathing exercises, herbal baths, saunas, massage, and skin brushing help to ease the detoxification and cleansing process and should be performed. If you would like more specific information on cleansing regimes, please contact us.
Once you have completed your colon cleansing, there are many things you can do to maintain long-term colon health. To prevent accumulations from insufficient digestion, try a digestive herbal supplement like papaya, ginger, bromelain or a digestive enzyme supplement (we recommend Spectrazyme (vegetarian) or Ortho Digestyme). These are often mixed with stomach soothing herbs for balance, like ginger, licorice, cardamom, cinnamon, or peppermint. Eating a high fiber diet with a minimum of mucous forming foods and plenty of fresh culinary herbs and spices goes a long way towards maintaining a healthy colon.
If you do not get enough fiber in your diet, you could consume a balanced fiber product, such as Endefen or MetaFiber (both powders) or Colon Plus Caps or Fiber Plus Caps (both capsules) to augment your daily diet.
Some cleansing may deplete a portion of the friendly bacteria so it is a good idea to supplement with acidophilus or a broad spectrum flora supplement after completing a colon cleanse – we usually recommend Ultra Flora Plus DF. The amino acid taurine as well as compounds called fructooligosaccharides (FOS) also helps the body create its own friendly bacteria (these are included in the Endefen and Ultra Flora Plus DF formulas).
Lastly, occasional fasting can be incorporated for a half day or a day a week during the colder months of the year as a full or partial fast using vegetable soups and juices. Remember a full fast means you consume only water for a period of time; a partial fast or cleanse uses vegetable juices and soups and may include some other forms of nourishment for the cleansing period. More extended fasting should be undertaken during the warmer months only, after an abbreviated herbal preparation period to ease the transition; this should be performed under the supervision of a health care professional. Full fasting should not be undertaken in any weakened condition, including colds and flu’s. Partial fasting or cleansing is a better choice and should bring relief.
Following the seasons is as natural as passing time. Our ancestors knew instinctively to do this, as they modified their diet and lifestyle with the changing seasons. We can dramatically improve our health by learning from them and listening to the natural cycles that all life follows. Therapeutic cleanses can and should be initiated anytime throughout the year based on an individuals needs. However, everyone can benefit from the natural cycles our bodies go through by preparing for the change of seasons with the appropriate cleanses.
P.S. If you would like more information about products that are beneficial for the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and colon, please see our complete list of GI tract products.