By Anne McIntyre

In Eastern traditions as well as here in the West, detoxification followed by rejuvenation is seen as the primary approach to maintaining health in mind and body. Regular periods of detoxification can help protect us from illness and can also be used in treatment of many health problems when they arise. Detoxification can increase our energy and vitality and promote a sense of wellbeing.

Toxins are a product of our everyday lives and are very much related to our lifestyles, our diet and digestion, the health of our gut, our environment, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and our emotional patterns and tendencies. They are substances that are potentially harmful to the body; they lower our defenses, predispose us to ill health and increase free radicals in the body. Research points to the role of free radicals in the ageing process, the development of many degenerative diseases and immunological problems.

If you experience symptoms such as fatigue, sluggish elimination, skin problems, allergies, frequent infections, bags under the eyes, abdominal bloating, menstrual difficulties, depression, irritability or foggy-mindedness, your body might be telling you it’s ready for a detox! It may be time to change your eating habits, live a healthier lifestyle and cleanse your body of toxins so you can reap the benefits of being healthier with increased energy, vitality and enthusiasm for life.


It has long been a tradition in Britain and Europe to do a detox in spring using cleansing herbs like dandelion, nettles and cleavers, in conjunction with eating a light diet with plenty of fresh greens.

In winter, the cold weather causes our bodies to contract, inhibiting the free flow of nutrients and wastes, and making it hard for the body to release toxins. It is a time for hibernation and storing our vital energy. It is best to do a detox only once the spring has melted the ice, the world around us has started to warm up stimulating the flow of sap through the trees and the growth of plants all around us as nature starts to burst into life again. At this time our bodies relax into the increasing warmth and our vital fluids start to flow more freely. Internal toxins which have been accumulating through the winter begin to surface enhancing our bodies’ ability to eliminate them in order to lay the best foundation for health through the rest of the year; by detoxing at this time we can be in tune with the seasons. Once cleansed, the body can operate its homeostatic mechanisms and maintain balance in body and mind unimpeded by toxic accumulations.


Prevention is the key to health, so the best plan is to prevent a build-up of toxins through a healthy lifestyle:

* Exercise every day to improve your digestion and elimination of toxins via the pores of your skin
* Eat a healthy diet with as much organic food as possible and plenty of culinary herbs and spices to promote digestion
* Do a daily oil massage to flush out toxins through the skin
* Drink aromatic herbal teas such as fennel, peppermint, ginger and rosemary regularly to improve digestion
* Practice relaxation or meditation every day to help reduce stress. Enjoy yourself!
* Avoid smoking, the use of recreational drugs, coffee, alcohol and white sugar and over-work.
* Avoid the use of antibiotics and other drugs unless absolutely necessary


Good digestion is vital for optimum health, and incomplete digestion is where the first stages of disease begin. When digestion is good, our food is properly digested and the nutrients assimilated to circulate around the body and nourish all our tissues. The waste products are passed out through regular bowel movements as well as urination and sweating.

Our ability to digest well is greatly influenced by our reactions to our external environment. The wrong diet and lifestyle, incompatible food combinations, eating too much or too little or when stressed, eating late or going to sleep on a full stomach, or eating foods that are processed or stale can all adversely affect our digestion. The weather or season, repressed emotions and stress can further exacerbate poor digestion.

The billions of beneficial intestinal bacteria in a healthy gut synthesise vitamins, break down dietary toxins to make them less harmful, stimulate local immunity (inhibiting infections and decreasing the risk of food poisoning) and general immunity. Actually four-fifths of the body’s immune system is found in the gut lining. 

When food is not digested well, partially digested foods remain in the gut which then ferment and set up an internal environment that supports the growth of “unfriendly” bacteria, yeasts and parasites. These produce toxins that irritate the gut lining causing small holes in the gut wall (known as leaky gut syndrome), which allows molecules of partially digested food as well as toxins through the gut wall and into the blood stream to circulate throughout the body. These wreak havoc with our immune systems and predispose us to food allergies, autoimmune disease and other illness. Gut toxicity also blocks the absorption and assimilation of beneficial nutrients, meaning that the right nutrients and remedies cannot be properly utilised by the body.


It is recommended that we should detox at least once a year. A short detox for a period of two to three weeks is generally safe but is not recommended for pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and patients with chronic degenerative diseases or cancer which may require deeper cleansing therapy with the help of a practitioner.

A detox programme can help the body’s natural cleaning process by:

1. Enhancing good digestion

Start the day with a cup of hot water and the juice of half a lemon or lime. Alternatively a cup of ginger tea made with freshly grated ginger will help to stimulate the flow of digestive enzymes and clear toxins from the gut.

Eat plenty of lightly cooked organically-grown fresh vegetables; they should make up at least 60-70% of your daily diet. Soups, stews and casseroles are all good. Beetroot, radishes, artichokes, cabbage, broccoli, spirulina, nettles, chlorella, coriander leaf and seaweed are all excellent detoxifying foods. Avoid heavy foods including red meats, gluten, nuts, dairy and sugar as well as all processed foodstuffs.

Add aromatic and antimicrobial herbs and spices such as thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary, ginger, long pepper, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and turmeric to your food to stimulate the flow of digestive enzymes and to combat unfriendly gut organisms.

There are several other herbs that could prove very useful in clearing toxins from the gut:

* Cat’s claw, garlic, myrrh, andrographis, olive leaf and reishi mushroom are all excellent for combating “unfriendly” gut micro-organisms (dysbiosis).
* Oregon grape, elecampane, dill, burdock, bearberry, calendula and pau d’arco act similarly.
* Aloe vera juice, (25 mls twice daily) is soothing, immune enhancing and combats dysbiosis.

Probiotic supplements of friendly bacteria including Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifida bacteria help restore the normal bacterial population of the gut. Caprylic acid (1gm with meals), linseed and evening primrose oil are also helpful.

Take a supplement of 1 gm of vitamin C which helps the body produce glutathione, a compound that supports the immune system and helps the liver break down toxins including heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and arsenic and carcinogens.

2. Stimulating the liver to clear toxins from the body 

Bitter herbs such as dandelion, chicory, aloe vera juice, milk thistle, turmeric, chamomile, burdock, rosemary and sage will stimulate the flow of bile from the liver, the great detoxifying organ of the body and help it in its detox work.

3. Promoting elimination through the bowels, kidneys and skin 

Mild laxatives such as dandelion root, aloe vera, burdock root and licorice root will help to clear toxins via the bowels. Diuretic herbs such as fennel and coriander seed, dandelion leaf, corn silk and nettle will promote the excretion of toxins via the kidneys while hot infusions of diaphoretic herbs that bring blood flow to the surface of the body including lime flower, peppermint, yarrow and elderflower will promote excretion of toxins via sweating. Drink at least 2 litres of warm water daily to flush out toxins. It can be helpful to sweat in a steam room so your body can further eliminate wastes through perspiration.

4. Improving circulation of the blood and lymph using massage and exercise

Only gentle exercise such as walking in the fresh air, yoga, pilates, Qi Gong or T’ai Qi is recommended while detoxing. Gentle self-massage all over the body using warm sesame oil before a warm bath or shower is wonderfully relaxing and detoxing at the same time. You can also practice breathing deeply to stimulate the flow of oxygen through the body.

5. Enhance resilience to stress

It is important to take time to rest, relax and de-stress. Life’s pressures trigger your body to release stress hormones including cortisol into the bloodstream and although they might give you the adrenaline rush to give you the energy, motivation and focus to get things done, over time or in large amounts they create toxins and decrease the liver’s ability to break down toxins.

It is important to get plenty of sleep, not to burn the candle at both ends and to avoid overstimulating your system with caffeine and alcohol. To reduce anxiety levels try taking simple herbs such as chamomile, lemon balm, California poppy, wild oats, skullcap, lime flower, ashwagandha or gotu kola regularly. Yoga and meditation are simple and effective ways to relax and help transform your attitude to life and its inevitable stresses.

This simple detox programme can then be followed by replenishing the body with sweet and nourishing foods including oats, root vegetables, nuts and seeds as well as nourishing and rejuvenating herbs such as ashwagandha and Siberian ginseng. So you will see that detoxing is not complicated….it simply requires a little organisation and self-discipline but you will be rewarded for your efforts with greater energy, vitality and joie de vivre…good luck!

Anne McIntyre is a Fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (FNIMH), a Member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners’ Association (MAPA), and has been practicing herbal medicine for over 30 years. She gives consultations from her practice at Artemis House in Gloucestershire and a clinic in London after which she prescribes herbs in the form of tinctures, teas and powders from her dispensary. Learn More here.


Print This Article