The Healthy Hedonist

A fun lover's guide to great health

hedonism, n. the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence

- The New Oxford American Dictionary

My Body

What are the basic principles of detoxification?

This is an extremely important aspect of life in our post-modern world. Most of us are exposed to hundreds of chemicals every day. That, combined with poor choices in diet, lack of exercise, and not enough water or nutrients, causes our livers to become backed up. The result is fatigue, depression, lethargy, poor complexion, bad breath and an array of possible illnesses, cancer being the scariest of them all.

The strategies in this book that come under the detox pillar are eating fruits and vegetables, taking the right combination of antioxidant vitamins and minerals, and choosing a balanced approach to week-night dinners so that your liver can do its job. Improving circulation goes hand-in-hand with this one, and between them. These practices can protect your health or improve it. There are also detox weekend strategies that can help you make great strides in cleansing you system.

The whole subject of detoxification is bubbling under the surface of our general health awareness. From talking with people about it, I find that a lot of individuals are aware that they need detox and have a great interest in it. That's good. But there is very little general knowledge of what detox is and how it works.

What is "detox?" The general perception is changing. Even the old perception of the word was not solely about what celebrities do at the Betty Ford Clinic because of substance abuse problems. It also referred to medically supervised detoxification to intervene when any type of person is addicted to alcohol, cocaine, heroin or prescription tranquilizers or painkillers.

The new way to understand "detox" is to see it as a process that happens naturally within the body. It is the combined effect of several of the body's organs and systems working harmoniously together.

The easiest way to understand detox is as a "vacation for your body." Another metaphor is to call it a "spring cleaning," regardless of when it takes place. Whatever analogy is used, it's about providing the time and nutrients for the body to concentrate on these activities instead of the processes you normally ask it to perform. The benefits that most people describe are those of feeling more energized, more clear-headed and "lighter." Weight loss is often an additional benefit, but to approach detox from only that angle misses many of the lessons the process has to teach.

Why do we need to detox if this is a natural process? Our environment is filled with chemicals that our bodies regard as toxic. Some of them we know are toxic. We call them poisonous, or carcinogenic. And hopefully we avoid them. But there are many, many more that it's difficult, if not impossible, to avoid. For example, some of us live in places where the air and water are more polluted. Yes, we have the option to move, but can we earn a living in a place that's less polluted? The issues around how to avoid toxins become very complex.

Even when we make efforts to avoid toxins, the truth is that our bodies are being exposed to levels that have rarely, if ever, been present before. We know the Romans were exposed to lead via their plumbing. We know the air pollution from the factories of 19th century England could sometimes be fatal.

But, by and large, the chemical soup in which we live was never present before the last half of the 20th century, and certainly, there have never been the variety of sources we experience today. Conventional building techniques, new carpets, furniture made of plywood and "press-wood," synthetic fabrics, plastic toys and new automobiles all "outgas" chemicals. And we can add our choices in personal care products, laundry products and what we voluntarily choose as our indulgences to our body's chemical load. Last, but not least, are emotional toxins. Our negative emotional states cause the creation of stress hormones that our liver has to process, along with the chemicals, some reproductive hormones and the byproducts of metabolism.

I don't present this list to scare you. The good news is that a personal detox program is a positive response you can have to the situation. Will it totally remove the threat that chemicals pose to your health? No, however, it can reduce the threat for most people. There are no guarantees in terms of health, but if you take responsibility, become increasingly better informed, and cautiously experiment based both on your own information as well as on the advice of your licensed, holistically oriented practitioner, I believe you will find ways to protect and improve your current state of health.