The Importance of Detoxing Your Body
In 1998, I was filming The Talented Mr. Ripley in Ischia, a little island off the coast of Naples in Italy. I got a call that changed my life. My father had been diagnosed with throat cancer, and it was stage four. Although he underwent treatment and survived for another four years, I watched his health deteriorate slowly until his death in 2002. During this time I began to read about Eastern medicine and the body’s capacity to heal itself. I tried to get my father on board— with mixed results. He loved acupuncture but hated macrobiotic food, which he likened to “biting into The New York Times.” I had read somewhere that in Asia, the concept of going to the doctor when you were already sick was akin to digging a well when you were already thirsty. This struck a chord with me. Over the years I have had my share of medical issues, as we all do. Recently I have found three doctors (one in London, one in New York and one in Los Angeles) who have helped me tremendously. Heeding their advice has helped me out of some very sticky health problems (pneumonia, anemia, stress, etc.). Below they offer their points of view and some ideas about how we can achieve our best health. Here is Dr. Junger on the subject.
Another Inconvenient Truth
The human body is a self-healing, self-renewing, self-cleansing organism. When the right conditions are created, vibrant well-being is its natural state. We have departed from the ways of nature and live under less than natural conditions. Like global warming, the toxicity of our planet is undeniable. I call it “Another Inconvenient Truth.” The air we breathe, the water we drink and shower with, the foods we eat, the cosmetics we use and the buildings we live and work in, are loaded with toxic chemicals that alone or in combination cause disease, suffering and even death. When we remove these obstacles and add what is lacking, our bodies bounce back into health as if by magic. This is natural, common-sense medicine, enabling the body to heal, regenerate and even rejuvenate itself.
With this in mind, if you live in a modern city and want to stay healthy, there are two fundamental practices to follow: detoxification cleansing and eating real foods, just as nature intended food to be.
1. Detoxification Cleansing
Approximately eight hours after eating our last meal the processes of digestion, absorption, and assimilation are completed and the body enters into detoxification mode, a function we don’t think about often. A healthy body, used to eating natural foods, needs around four hours to cleanse and detoxify itself from all the waste products of normal metabolism. This is without counting the toxic overload of modern life. It’s a really good practice to fast every day for 12 hours after our last meal: Eight hours to complete food processing plus four to allow for detoxification. So if your last meal is at 10pm, don’t eat anything before 10am. Breakfast should be exactly that, break-fast, or breaking the fast. This would be enough in a toxin-free world. Since that is not the case, we should periodically make an extra effort to go deeper and catch up with the cleaning, as it were. This is where detox cleansing programs come into play. There are many programs available today based on different systems and philosophies of healing. Some are great, some dangerous. Make sure someone who understands and has experience guides you.
How often and for how long one should engage in detox programs depends on how clean one is to begin with. In addition to all of the above, one should educate oneself as to how to keep our environment toxin-free. Water and air filters, eco-cleaning utensils, chemical free cosmetics, green architecture, alternative fuel vehicles…
2. Eat Real Foods
We used to pick our food from trees and the earth, and hunt or fish for the rest. Now we buy it in modern supermarkets. Ninety percent of the products in supermarkets come in some kind of container. In order to extend shelf life, these food-like products are loaded with chemicals, preservatives, and conservatives that kill bacteria. Most products also contain additives to give them the color, smell, taste, and texture that will tempt us to buy and eat them. The remaining 10% of what is edible—the produce, the fish, the meats and the dairy products—are loaded with chemicals as well. All of these chemicals cause havoc inside our bodies, being the most intimate source of toxins for us since we throw this mixture in our bellies and soon enough it passes into our blood.
Returning to a more natural way of eating is the best way to avoid disease and premature aging. It also keeps the weight off. Buy organic foods, shop in your local farmer’s markets. Increase the consumption of vegetables, fruits, seeds, grains, and legumes. More raw foods are better for health (enzymes remain intact), the environment (smaller carbon footprint), and the pocket (lower utility bills).
To round things up, don’t forget to nourish your soul. The future of medicine is “no medicine.” If we return to a more natural life, our bodies become the best doctors.
Alejandro Junger, MD
Dr. Alejandro Junger is a cardiologist who practices integrative healing. He currently sees patients in his private practice at the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York and, in 2008, he was named the Director of Integrative Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Related: How Detox Environmental Toxins