Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: How to detox naturally

For a health boost, choose organic vegetables and leafy greens, which enhance detoxification via the liver. Photo / Getty
For a health boost, choose organic vegetables and leafy greens, which enhance detoxification via the liver. Photo / Getty

I've read a lot about detoxing recently - it seems to be everywhere! I've seen everything from teas to juice cleanses to long stays in the sauna, and I'm not sure what sources to trust. What is a healthy way to detox that won't end up doing more harm than good in the long run?

Great question! Let's start with some clarification as detoxification is often misunderstood.

Detoxification is a normal process that the body undertakes every minute of every day - it refers to the metabolic process by which the body eliminates what is unnecessary or harmful to its functioning. It's occurring without any effort on your behalf.

The types of detoxification regimes that you refer to in your question are methods designed to enhance this naturally occurring process. The need for enhanced detoxification is based on the theory that illnesses can be caused by the accumulation of toxic substances in the body.

Whilst this was considered for many years to be unfounded theory, studies now confirm that exposure to toxins in our food, water and environment is contributing to health problems, including reduced fertility.

Worryingly, studies also confirm that babies of the 21st century are born with an overwhelming toxic burden that can impact their long-term health.

Methods of detoxification have existed in different cultures for thousands of years, ranging from sweat lodges in Native American traditions to seasonal cleansing in traditional European and Ayurvedic medicine. Science has begun to catch up with the wisdom of these traditional approaches, hence the increased awareness of detoxification in mainstream society.

However, long term health benefits can't be gained from "miracle detox products" or fad diets that often involve extreme changes in diet that can't be sustained. Your natural elimination processes are best optimised by simple lifestyle choices made daily:

Reduce your exposure

• Reduce your intake of alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and unnecessary drugs.
• Choose food the way it naturally comes and reduce your consumption of processed foods containing additives, preservatives, and trans fats.
• Choose organic or spray-free produce to reduce exposure to pesticides and synthetic fertilisers.
• Buy cleaning and personal care products without harmful chemicals (parabens, endocrine disrupters, ethanolamines etc.) or, even better, make your own.

Enhance elimination

• Ensure daily bowel motions - increase plant fibre, water and exercise if this is a problem for you.
• Increase your consumption of foods that enhance detoxification via the liver, such as the Brassica vegetable family, garlic, green leafy vegetables, turmeric and rosemary.
• B group vitamins are required for the first stage of liver detoxification - whole grains are a good source.
• Regular saunas can be a great way to enhance elimination via the skin, through increased sweating. Start out with 5 minutes, and increase slowly as your tolerence improves. Be sure to keep hydrated.

The use of medicincal plants can safely support the elimination process. Modern research shows that St Mary's Thistle (Silybum marianum) has the ability to both regenerate damaged liver cells and to protect them from harmful substances. Its use is called for whenever alcohol, drug, dietary abuse or exposure to chemical pollution has threatened normal liver function.

Similarly, elimination of water soluble toxins via the kidneys can be enhanced by Golden Rod (Solidago virgaurea), Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica). These plants have been shown to help clear the body of water-soluble metabolic wastes, excess sodium, uric acid and inflammatory by-products due to their gentle diuretic action.

Medicinal herbs used to support detoxification are best taken as a tea remedy as the extra water aids flushing.

At the turn of every season a short period where you make a concerted effort to adhere to the actions above will lessen your exposure to toxins and enhance the ability of your liver and kidneys to mobilise stored waste.

By the end of that time most people find it easy to incorporate better choices into their daily lives for long-term health. The daily ritual of taking organic tea remedies to support your body in its elimination job is such a good choice.

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis ( offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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