Immune Health: Detoxification and Cleansing to Support a Healthy Immune System


Helping the body detoxify and cleanse can be key to developing and maintaining an optimal immune system.


Helping the body detoxify and cleanse can be key to developing and maintaining an optimal immune system.. Practiced for centuries around the world, most notably within Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine systems, this ritual is gaining ground with mainstream consumers who are taking a much more active approach to their overall health and wellness. 

According to SPINS, a market research and consulting firm that caters to the natural and organic products industry, sales of herbal formulas for cleansing, detoxification, and organ support among natural food retailers were more than $27 million from December 2, 2007, to November 29, 2008 (the most recent statistic available at this time). A survey by Mintel International found that 54 food and drink products were launched in 2008 with the word detox in their descriptions-up from 15 in 2003.

People are exposed to countless toxins on a daily basis through the foods they eat and the air they breathe. By removing and eliminating these toxins, and then feeding the body with healthy nutrients, detoxification can support a strong immune system and renew our ability to maintain optimum health. 

In a nutshell, detoxification means cleansing. This is done by removing impurities from the blood in the liver, where toxins are processed for elimination. Additional “channels” within the body that also eliminate toxins include the kidneys, lungs, the gastrointestinal and lymph systems, and-surprise!-the skin. If you think about it, these systems are working 24/7 without rest. They occasionally need some respite, much in the same way we need to sleep to recharge and energize our bodies on a daily basis. This is where detoxification can play a vital role in how well they do their individual jobs and collectively contribute to overall health and supporting the immune system. (That being said, I would, however, like to point out that for as many proponents as there are for cleansing/detoxification, there are just as many who believe that there is no need for this process.)

The frequency of how often one should detoxify his or her body is different for each individual. Some people do it once a year, while others may do it four times a year to coincide with the change of seasons. Each season can bring its own unique set of toxins that can manifest themselves in a variety of conditions such as:


• Sinus Congestion

• Frequent Colds/Allergies

• Bad Breath

• Excessive Flatulence

• Constipation

• Red, Itchy Eyes

• Skin Rashes

• Indigestion

• Fatigue/Sluggishness


The Liver: Central to Detoxification and
Supporting Immunity

Our liver is our major detoxification organ. It is responsible for breaking down the toxins we get from the foods and beverages we consume, as well as from a variety of other sources such as air pollution, prescription medications, chemicals in the everyday cleaners we use in our homes, and even the water in which we bathe, just to name a few. 

One of the most popular botanicals used to cleanse the liver is milk thistle, or its active compound silymarin. Native to Europe, milk thistle has a long history of use as both a food and a medicine. Historically, it has been used as a digestive tonic; a general tonic for the spleen, stomach, and liver; and to promote bile flow. (Bile acids are essential for the digestion and absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins, proteins, and starches and also regulates your intestines’ level of good bacteria. It is also used as a hepatoprotective agent (meaning it has the ability to prevent damage to the liver) for the treatment of various liver disorders. 

There have been a number of human clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of milk thistle as a hepatoprotective agent1. The mechanism of silymarin’s reported hepatoprotective activity includes inhibition of the transport of toxins into the liver cells, stabilization of the hepatic cell membranes, and stimulation of new liver cell regeneration through increased protein synthesis.

Additional Nutrients that Can Aid in Detoxification and Cleansing

Any of these nutrients can be incorporated in premixes for product applications that aid in detoxification and cleansing the body of a roster of impurities. 

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is another botanical that can be utilized in a cleansing/detoxification regime. In ayurvedic medicine, turmeric has been used for centuries internally as a tonic for the stomach and liver and as a blood purifier.2 Laboratory and clinical research indicates that turmeric and its phenolics have unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.3 

Garlic (Allium sativum) seems to detoxify chemical carcinogens and prevent carcinogenesis and is reported to stimulate immunity.4 It may also help in the detoxification of heavy metals from the body, including lead.5 The mechanism of action appears to be that garlic protects the membranes of red blood cells against heavy-metal ions by chelating the metal ions, allowing them to be excreted from the body. 

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is a member of the ginseng family, but it is of a different genus than other popular ginsengs such as the Panax or American varieties. It has been studied extensively since the 1940s. The root has been found to have many adaptogenic benefits and is frequently prescribed in Europe and Russia as an herbal “tonic” to improve immune function and general well-being. It has been classified as an “adaptogen,” meaning a substance that increases nonspecific resistance of the body to a wide range of chemical, physical, psychological, and biological factors (stressors). Adaptogens have the unique ability to switch from stimulating to sedating effects, based on the body’s needs. 

Schisandra (Schizandra chinensis), like eleuthero, is an adaptogen and has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries as a kidney tonifying agent and sedative. Schisandra and its lignans have been reported to prevent liver damage, stimulate liver repair, and stimulate normal liver function.6 These properties are thought to be related to the antioxidant ability of the schisandrins, stimulation of liver glycogen synthesis, protein synthesis, protection of hepatocyte cell membranes, and elevation of liver microsomal drug-metabolizing enzyme activities.

Picrorhiza (Picrorhiza kurroa) is a perennial herb that grows in the Himalayas in Asia. The underground parts of this plant have been used in ayurvedic medicine since ancient times to treat liver and bronchial problems. Several biologically active principles, particularly glycosides, have been identified in extracts obtained from picrorhiza. Of these, a mixture of the iridoid glycosides, picroside I, and kutkoside has been found to be efficient liver protectants. As an antioxidant for the liver, picrorhiza is reported to protect against changes in liver and brain glutathione metabolism, improving reduced glutathione levels and decreasing inhibition of glutathione-S-transferase, glutathione reductase, and glutathione peroxidase.7

Green Tea
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) catechins can stimulate production of cancer-protective enzymes in people with low natural levels. EGCG (epigallocatechin) ups the levels of glutathione s-transference (GST) enzymes. GSTs are understood to modify cancer-causing molecules so they do not damage cellular DNA. Green tea catechins somehow increase gene expression of these enzymes, which can be advantageous to people with low GST levels to start with.8 

And Last, but Not Least, Fiber
In previous articles, I have written about the many benefits of fiber, ranging from its ability to help lower cholesterol to improving gut health. The bind between gut health and detoxification is quite strong. 

Both soluble and insoluble fibers provide bulk in the large intestine and encourage bowel regularity. A diet that is heavy in red meat, fat, and sugar and low in fruits and vegetables can slow down intestinal transit time. Transit time is the amount of time that it takes from the moment one eats something until it is passed in a bowel movement. A slow transit time means that there is more of an opportunity for bacterial putrefaction and exposure to a roster of pathogens within the colon. 

When one eats what might be considered a traditional western diet, transit time can range from a few days to nearly a week, whereas diets that are high in fiber have transit times that are closer to a day. Fiber is crucial to helping move any impurities out of our bodies. Psyllium fiber, in particular, creates a bulking effect, which helps rid the colon of toxic substances, including heavy metals, as it acts almost as a sponge by absorbing them off the walls of the intestine. So, in addition to cleansing and detoxifying your liver, it is crucial to maintain the health of your colon for overall cleansing and detoxification.

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