Posts Tagged ‘vitamins’

Internal Cleansing: Our Organs of Elimination

March 23, 2011

If fasting is about paying attention to what goes into our body (and any kind of detoxification program starts with what food we eat), then cleansing is paying attention to the other end of the equation: what comes out (or not), as well as what gets assimilated in between.

This week I’m going to briefly describe how 5 of our major organs are always involved with detoxification, which is just a part of life. We eat, we digest, nutrients are (hopefully) absorbed, and we deal with the by-products (wastes) of innumerable chemical processes throughout our bodies.

The colon hosts several pounds of friendly (ideally 85% of the total)  bacteria that are true workhorses: they help digest food, manufacture vitamins, and play a major role in our immune function. Our colons also do the heavy lifting of eliminating solid waste. Most problems in our colons (including constipation) develop when we are out of balance: too little fiber; too much “toy food” and not enough real food; too much sugar (which feeds the “bad” micro-organisms like Candida) and not drinking enough water.

Our kidneys filter waste from our blood in an amazingly complex dance. Good nutrition is essential for their job; too much animal protein (especially the poor quality of corn fed confined animals fed antibiotics) stresses the kidneys as they labor to remove excess uric acid. Sometimes lack of Vit. K and other nutrients can result in the back up of inorganic minerals, causing kidney stones. Again, we are talking about a healthy body in balance, and the health of one organ affect the health of all organs.

I recently read that if we had to build a factory to represent our liver, that physical plant would cover 2,000 acres! This is because our liver performs so many complex tasks: making antihistamines, cleansing blood, neutralizing and eliminating toxins, metabolizing fat, dealing with the cholesterol process, making and storing red blood cells, and helping with digestion, bile, our immune system and the balancing of hormones. No wonder out deeply toxic environment is putting such a strain on this precious organ. If we strive to lower the chemical burden, through eating organic real food and filtering out water, we will assist our liver greatly.

Our lungs provide us with a process that is constant from our first breath to our last: the bringing in of oxygen to the red blood cells, and the removal of waste products like carbon dioxide. A good practise is to slow the breath, breathing as deeply as possible, and completely exhaling the air, including that bit that seems to hold on at the bottom of our lungs. You may have to use your diaphram consciously to do that.

Not everyone realizes that our skin is an organ of elimination. And yet not only is it our largest detoxifier, it can act like another set of kidneys and cleanse up to a pound of impurities a day. Our skin also assists our lungs in respiration, doing about 15% of the intake of oxygen and release of CO2 that our bodies need. Our skin tone, elasticity, lack of or appearence of cellulite (which is toxic waste lodged in the skin’s fatty tissues, often due to a sluggish lymphatic system), and lack of or appearance of acne/excema, etc. are all indicators of our entire body’s health. Problems that show up on the skin can be caused by food senstivities, allergins, problems in our lymphatic system, an over-burdened liver, poor food assimilation (and that can be due sometimes to the lack of digestive enzymes), and auto-immune disorders.

Last but never least is our lymphatic system, which is not a discrete organ but a network of lymph vessals and glands throughout the body that helps detoxify and drain areas of our body that are not well perfused with blood. Many of us find as we age that our lymphatic systems get a little sluggish, perhaps due to not enough exercise (the ‘pump” of this system is our legs striding and our arms swinging). A 20 minute walk per day will help, and some folks like to do dry brushing as well (using a dry natural bristle brush, lightly brush your skin from the extremities toward your heart). This is especially beneficial before a shower as it helps remove dead skin.

Tune in next week for herbal specifics (tinctures, teas, essential oils) to assist our bodies’  in their daily detoxification. And happy Spring!

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Spring Tonics

March 15, 2011

Stinging Nettles

Before supermarkets offered all fruits and all vegetables all the time, winter diets in the Northern Hemisphere were heavy on root vegetables, grains and beans, breads, cheese, and meats, often combined in soups. Spring saw the proliferation of wild greens and the planting of gardens, increased trade with other communities as the snows melted, and the understanding that the heavier fatty meals could lighten a little as the temperatures rose. Diet was a construct of the interplay of culture and environment, as well as one’s family’s class. You ate what your parents ate, and barring famine, that system worked fairly well for hundreds of years.

Alfalfa



For those of us who wish to re-connect with the natural rhythms of the seasons, eat more nutritious foods, and recognize that this transition from winter to spring is important, I offer you three fabulous spring tonics: nettles, alfalfa and chickweed.

Nettles are my personal favorite. People have been collecting and using stinging nettles for food, medicine, fiber and dyes since the Bronze Age (or earlier). You must wear gloves in the gathering, but once cooked, the stinging chemical is inactivated. Nettles are the quintessential spring tonic, and have traditionally been used to rebuild the systems of the chronically ill, as well as help gently release  toxins. Medicinally they are useful as an expectorant (help thin and expel mucous), for chronic coughs, to treat cold and flu, as a gentle and safe diuretic (increase the flow of urine and reduce edema or swelling due to fluid retention), and as a restorative for the kidneys and bladder.  Nutritionally nettles contain high amounts of chlorophyll, protein (up to 10%, more than any other vegetable), and minerals: calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, silica, iodine, sodium and sulfur. They are also a good source of Vitamin C, beta carotene and the B complex vitamins. Recipe hint: substitute for spinach, especially in a Quiche. Gather in the early spring until they flower. Once they start producing seeds, they are not so good for either food or medicine.

Alfalfa comes from the Middle East, and a tea made from the leaves and flowers has been traditionally used as a spring tonic and blood thinner, so it is especially good for arthritis and gout.  The green leaves contain 8 essential enzymes and aid digestion. Alfalfa contains over 10 vitamins, and is especially high in A, C, D, B2, B6, and K. Plus you get some iron and calcium.

Chickweed

Chickweed is a European annual that has naturalized through much of North America. It has even shown up in my greenhouse, and is now a regular part of my diet. Medicinally it is soothing and useful to help treat skin conditions, upset and ulcer-prone stomachs, as well as bladder and liver problems. Excellent as a nutritive tonic eaten fresh in salads (or cooked into omelets), chickweed is high in Vit. C, rutin, biotin, choline, inositol, PABA, Vit. B6, B12, Vit.D and beta carotene. It is another mineral powerhouse with magnesium, manganese, sodium, copper and silica.
 
All of these herbs are also considered “weeds” because they grow so easily and profusely. Nettles especially can become invasive. However, because of this ability to not need much of our assistance or attention (except in a desert or high desert climate: you will then need to water) they are excellent for the ” gardening challenged.”  Both Nettles and Alfalfa are perennials, and Chickweed, though an annual, easily (almost scarily  so) reseeds itself: therefore, once planted, they will be your constant and generous companions.