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by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Sunday, May 15, 2011

In Greek Medicine and other natural healing systems, the spring season is the time to clean house, and detoxify the body in preparation for summer.  During the previous season of winter, heavy, hearty and rich foods tended to be eaten, giving the body a lot of nutritional and caloric support to resist the cold temperatures and microbial assaults on the respiratory and immune systems.  These heavy, rich foods also tended to generate a lot of toxins and excessive morbid humors like phlegm or bile, which were held deep and dormant within the body because the metabolic processes of the body are not as active at bringing them up in the cold weather of winter.

But in the springtime, blood, the dominant humor of the season, rises up to the surface quite exuberantly, much like the sap rises to the leaves of the trees during this season. This increased activity and renewal of blood gives us a great opportunity to cleanse and purify it.  And since the metabolic processes of the body in ripening toxins and its potential in bringing latent toxicity to a crisis situation speeds up and increases in the summer, it’s also a good idea to clean your bodily house in the spring.

“Detox” is a hot and trendy buzzword amongst the health conscious today, but few people know that detoxification was also a key topic of concern amongst physicians and healers even way back in ancient Greece.  In fact, Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, and of Greek and Unani medicine, had a lot to say on this subject, and his sayings and aphorisms on this are rich in healing wisdom.  When it comes to bodily cleansing and detoxification, there’s a right and responsible way to do it, as well as a wrong way, and Hippocrates helps us to differentiate between the two.

The vital need for bodily cleansing and detoxification is emphasized by Hippocrates in the following aphorism:

In bodies not properly cleansed, the more you nourish, the more you injure.
Aphorisms, II : 10

And so, one of the key indications for the need of a cleansing and detoxification regime is a digestive system that is chronically malfunctioning or out of sorts, with gas, distension, bloating, burping belching, or other reflux symptoms being commonplace after eating.  In such a state, your body can’t really assimilate and make use of the nutrients from the food you eat fully and efficiently, and food can stagnate and putrefy in the GI tract, generating toxins and superfluous morbid humors that further clog the vital assimilative channels of the body.

It’s like a cup or vessel, which cannot be filled with the new, fresh and vital if it still contains the old, morbid and stagnant.  So, if you really want to nourish and rebuild your body on a deep and fundamental level, it is often helpful to go on a sensible and moderate fasting and cleansing regimen beforehand.

The ancient Greeks were great believers in the curative powers of fasting.  When fasting, the body’s digestive, assimilative and metabolic organs are no longer burdened with the processing of new or considerable food intake, and can start to consume and metabolize that which is residual, morbid and superfluous in the body, especially toxins and morbid, superfluous humors.  That which is least essential and most superfluous and burdensome to the body is consumed and metabolized first.

A fast can be as short and simple as skipping a meal, like dinner, or it can last for a week or more.  It can also be a partial fast, or a restricted cleansing diet, or it can be a total fast, with nothing more than water or herbal teas consumed.  In undertaking and designing a cleansing regime or fast, one must take care to be prudent and cautious, so as not to undertake something which would be too challenging to your body and its healing resources.  To design the fast or cleansing regime that is right for you, both in terms of your natural constitutional makeup, disposition and temperament as well as the various health conditions or imbalances you may have acquired, it is helpful to consult with a physician or holistic healthcare professional.

As a general counsel, Hippocrates has some helpful aphorisms to guide those who are looking to detoxify their bodies through fasting:

Old persons endure fasting most easily; next, adults; young persons not nearly as well; and most especially, infants, and of them such as are of a particularly lively spirit.
Aphorisms I : 13

Hippocrates goes on to say that this is because growing bodies have the most innate metabolic heat.  Therefore, a greater heat or metabolic fire requires more food or fuel to feed the flame, otherwise, the body becomes wasted.  Therefore, fasting is most safely and responsibly practiced by those who are adults, and are no longer growing.

Besides generalized chronic toxicity symptoms like poor appetite and indigestion; gas, distension and bloating; chronic fatigue and devitalization; a bitter taste in the mouth; irritability, malaise and frequent headaches; etc… another prime indication for fasting or a cleansing diet is an acute healing crisis or fever.  Here, the body is intensively trying to cleanse itself of the offending morbid matter, and should not be burdened by a heavy or substantial food intake.  Hippocrates says:

When the disease is at its height, it will then be necessary to use the most slender diet.
Aphorisms I : 8

We must retrench during paroxysms, for to exhibit food would be injurious.  And in all diseases having periodical paroxysms, we must restrict during the paroxysms.
Aphorisms I : 11

So, forget the old wives’ tale you’ve heard about starving a cold and feeding a fever.  Starve them both!  In acute healing crises, a liquid diet of soups, teas, broths or light porridges at the most, is best.

Hippocrates, above all, was sensible and prudent in matters of diet.  He always argued on the side of balance and moderation, as in the following aphorism:

A slender and restricted diet is always dangerous in chronic diseases, and also in acute diseases, where it is not requisite.  And again, a diet brought to the extreme point of attenuation is dangerous; and repletion, when in the extreme, is also dangerous.
Aphorisms I : 4

In dietary therapy, when designing cleanisng or detoxification diets, we must differentiate between the best regular diet for the individual versus a therapeutic cleansing or detoxification diet.  The cleansing diet will be more slender and restricted, but is meant only to be undertaken for a short period of time, and for a specific cleansing or detoxification objective.  As for one’s normal, regular diet, it should be as broad and varied as the individual’s constitutional nature and temperament, and his or her acquired conditions, will allow.  Excessive or unwarranted nutritional restriction on a regular diet will bring grave health consequences.

Generally speaking, three or four days to a week at the most is the best length of time to go on a fasting regime or cleansing diet.  And having the guidance of a holistic healing professional is also very desirable in order to tailor the diet or regime to meet your healing and detoxification goals.

In the timing of detoxification diets and regimes, it is best to heed the seasons of the year and the phases of the Moon.  A cleansing or detoxification regime is best undertaken around the spring or autumn equinoxes, when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold, so the adaptive powers of the organism are not overly taxed.

Regarding the phases of the Moon, the waxing half of the lunar month is best suited for nourishment and building, whereas the waning half is best suited for cleansing and detoxification.  Ideally, a fasting or cleansing regime should be undertaken during the final week or last quarter of the lunar cycle, to be broken ( break the fast or cleansing regime slowly over a three day period) around the New Moon and followed by a rebuilding regime for a week or two thereafter.

Generally, various kinds of gruels or porridges, called ptisan in Greek Medicine, are the staple food during a cleansing regime or partial fast.  Ayurvedic medicine has itskitcharee, which is a porridge or gruel made from lentils or mung beans and brown or basmati rice.  Greek Medicine uses barley gruels in which various kinds of beans like mung beans, black beans or garbanzos can be mixed, as well as various green and / or root vegetables.  Sea vegetables are also very nice and nutritious.  Above all, the porridge or gruel used should be light and easy to digest.  Generally, the more frail or delicate the individual’s overall health condition, the lighter or thinner the gruel is made, so as to not overtax the powers of digestion and assimilation.

Regarding cleansing herbs that can be taken during a fast or cleansing regime, a distinction must be made between those that are mildy cleansing and detoxifying versus those that are strongly purging.  On this, Hippocrates offers a word of warning:

Purgative medicines agree ill with persons in good health.
Aphorisms, II : 37

In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Purgative medicines are to be used only in cases requiring them, which are generally of an acute and excessive character.  So, if you are basically in good health, and are not suffering from symptoms of acute excess or toxicity, then stay away from purgatives.

For example, let’s take cleansing the bowels.  Some examples of gently cleansing herbs here would be Chicory root, Yellow Dock, Goldenseal, Dandelion root, or Slippery Elm. Examples of purgatives would be Senna, Rhubarb root or Epsom Salts.

Many herbs that are gently cleansing help the eliminative organs of the body in their work of metabolizing excessive morbid humors and neutralizing toxins, often by stimulating the metabolic heat or fire of the organism to ripen them or burn them off.  That’s generally the best way I have found to detoxify, in my experience.  It’s slower and less dramatic than the rapid purge, but if you are patient with your body and its natural detoxification processes, I find that it works better.

Another downside of purging that must be taken into account is that purging the body with purgatives requires a considerable expenditure of the body’s inherent metabolic and vital energy, whereas the gently detoxifying herbs don’t.  That’s another reason why I prefer gently cleansing and detoxifying to purging.

A good detoxifying decoction can be made from the following heavier plant parts: Burdock root, Dandelion root, Gentian, Calamus root, Angelica root, Elecampane root, Valerian root, Licorice root, Ginger root, Prickly Ash bark, Wild Yam, Yellow Dock, Marshmallow root, Siberian Ginseng, Fenugreek seeds, and Elder berries. Mix these 16 herbs together in equal parts. Decoct slowly, in the ratio of one heaping tablespoon of the mixture per cup of water.  Those who smoke may wish to eliminate Calamus root, since many who smoke are sensitive to it.

A good detoxifying tea or infusion can be made from equal parts of the following herbs:  Dandelion herb, Hyssop, Peppermint, Olive leaves, Red Clover, Gotu Kola, Calendula flowers, Plantain, Yarrow, Echinacea herb, Goldenseal herb, and Fennel seed. Use a heaping tablespoon of the herb mixture per cup of hot or boiling water and let it steep for five minutes.

These teas can be taken along with the gruel or porridge.  Eat three medium sized bowls of the gruel or porridge per day, and accompany this by frequent glasses of herb tea, from three to six cups per day.  You may wish to augment this basic regime with morning enemas on the first three consecutive days of the cleansing regime for a fuller, deeper detoxification.

DISCLAIMER: The material in this article has been presented for educational purposes only, and is not intended to substitute for personal diagnosis and treatment from a physician or licensed healthcare professional.  The reader assumes all personal responsibility and liability for the application of the information contained in this article, and is advised to seek medical assistance if any medical condition or disorder develops or persists.

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