The Concept of Detoxification - McDowell's Herbal Treatments

The idea of detoxification is the most confusing term used in the modern world. Just what do I mean when I say I want to DETOX?

Our body takes in chemicals, food and other foreign substances all the time to be alive in the dynamic organic world we live in - it moves, stores and removes wastes 24/7. Let’s explore the concept a little further.

Lymphatic system: is a network of tissues and organs (that include the spleen, bone marrow, and other interrelated systems) that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body. Often, we interpret this solely as the IMMUNE System.

Liver: The most over worked organ of the body that requires special mention over the festive season! When the liver has broken down harmful substances, its by-products are excreted into the bile or blood. Bile by-products enter the intestine and leave the body in the form of faeces.
The liver cells also break down fats and produce energy. The liver produces about 800 to 1,000 ml of bile per day. The liver cells also convert ammonia to a much less toxic substance called urea, which is released into the blood. Urea is then transported to the kidneys and passes out of the body in urine.

Kidneys: Blood by-products via the liver are filtered out by the kidneys and leave the body in the form of urine.

Skin: Provides backup removal of acids, salts, urea and other wastes if preferred channels become overloaded and helps regulate our temperature, as well as providing the essential integrity to keep everything well contained!

Lungs: Purify and filter the air we breathe for gas exchanges in the blood.

Sinuses: Primary channel for mucous removal, and the first line of defence in our immune system.

Colon: Excretes solid wastes as faeces. Constipation can cause a recycling of wastes if the bowel is sluggish.

Fat/Tissues: storage of metabolites/chemicals/virus etc that can’t be processed during normal metabolic process, hormone production/ stores, energy reserves. Scary thought that the fat becomes the buffer to a toxic laden system, which in turn creates an oestrogen dominant body, thereby reducing insulin sensitivity and affecting neurotransmitters.

It is not that difficult then to understand that these systems, if not working efficiently or are burdened by too many chemicals for processing the body, can get overwhelmed.

To stimulate a cleansing cycle, we do need to promote better eating habits, drink more fluids that support our body’s processes as well as avoid toxic elements in our life.

To me detoxing my life is on all levels - from the air I breath, to the chemicals I allow in my home and on/in my body as well as the food that I eat.

Some foods are better than others - you can really get into the extremes of diet but I am not a big fan of fad diets. I prefer to be as sensible as possible for majority of the time!

Common detox methods:


Best applied in situations of digestive upsets, liver issues, pancreatic problems, diarrhoea and vomiting. Keeping up nourishing fluids are essential, and herbal teas like Chamomile, Rosehips, Ginger and Peppermint are ideal. Prolonged fasting needs to be supervised appropriately and is not recommended in many situations. Knowing when to apply this method of detoxification is critical to the success. Periodically fasting when healthy has numerous benefits, as studies are now showing.

Clean Foods

Currently in the age of fast foods, a simple eating plan is now considered detoxing. By simple I mean keeping to whole foods and eliminating foods known to cause inflammation. Foods like wheat, sugar, coffee and alcohol. I promote this kind of diet as a standard way to eat, incorporating the idea of 80-90% is this kind of diet, and 20-10% can be “cheats” so long as you’re generally healthy. You can’t cheat if you’re trying to achieve a healthy outcome in a specific period, or if you’re chronically ill.

Colon Cleansing

Colon Cleansing is very useful for people who are prone to constipation and inflammation such as Irritable Bowel. Toning up the colon with a cathartic cleansing program ( I like to use Senna and Cascara) can have wonderful benefits . Clearing out stagnant waste improves the overall bowel ecology, settles excessive mucus and helps to promote cleaner nutritional uptake by helping to repair the “leaky gut” syndrome. It’s useful to consider the whole Gastro Intestinal tract as you would your external skin. Even though the system is well moistened, the skin and mucosal lining suffer from irritation, parasitic damage and atrophy. Herbs like Wormwood help to make the lining very unattractive to parasites, and the lovely slippery elm powder will add a pre-biotic benefit as well as protect an irritated GIT from ulceration.

Organ Support

When an herbalist discusses ideas of stimulating elimination, it’s essential that the organs that are responsible for this task are well supported. Good kidney and liver function are obvious choices to support well with herbs. But less obvious is how well we breathe and make use of the oxygen in our blood and the elimination of carbon dioxide. The process of energy release and the subsequent metabolic waste are areas often overlooked when considering elimination. Through iridology and appropriate questioning, you can see find weakness and therefore provide the most relevant support. St Mary’s thistle, Dandelion and Fennel are commonly prescribed for liver and pancreatic support, whilst Elecampane, Nettle, Rue and Hawthorn may be prescribed for lung strength and heart health with the aim of improving overall metabolic waste elimination.

Blood Cleansing

This is where we start to become a little medieval. The Term Blood Cleanser is certainly one of those terms that seems like a medieval myth, and gives rise to the idea of the “quackery” . I find that the term itself helps one to conceptualises the idea so well!

Certain herbs (classed as alteratives) stimulate tissues and organs to increase elimination (we know the liver dumps a heap of urea in the blood and bile). This in turn stimulates all immune functions from cleaning up viral debris, bacterial debris and of our own cells that are dying off all the time,  to the removal of urea via the Kidneys. Bear in mind that as old cells die off, new cells are being produced all the time. How healthy these cells are is determined by the environment in which they are grow. It makes sense to keep the body’s internal environment as clean as possible from harmful factors.  

It is now being understood that there are essential enzymes that are directly responsible for this elimination pathway (phase II detoxification pathway) the main enzyme is known as Glutathione which is produced by the body. Other hormones and neurochemicals are also involved but suffice it to say that the most important enzyme is this, and if this enzyme is inhibited from working as it should then cells become very inflamed under the burden of metabolic waste.  Many herbs appear to support this enzyme manufacture. It is also known that certain chemicals inhibit this process. It is suggested that endocrine disrupting chemicals (many plastics in manufacturing) and heavy metals (mercury and arsenic) are the main culprits.

My Favourites Herbs for Blood Cleansing are: Echinacea, St Marys Thistle, Buchu, Mistletoe, Burdock, Rosehips and Nettle. Maritime Pine Bark Extract is the herb I use to boost Glutathione levels and protect from free radicals.

If you need help understanding the type of herbal detox that is best for you or your animals, please contact us and make use of our free consultation support service.

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