Keeping the body in tune.
This week's Prevention Not Prescriptions guest blogger is Malynn Utzinger-Wheeler, MA, MD.
A colleague of my husband’s recently asked me about doing a gallbladder cleanse.This got me thinking about all the misinformation floating around about cleansing and what it really means to keep our bodies in tune. As a physician, I see cleansing and light fasting as powerful tools to reintroduce us to our bodies’ natural biorhythms. Instead of eating whatever is available whenever we have time, a cleanse allows us to ask, “Am I really hungry and what am I hungry for?” Quieting yourself down, you may also learn what has made you feel empty over the years. It’s probably not a lack of calories but rather the love, safety, and sense of being alive we crave.
All that said, a cleanse can be done for the wrong reasons, such as seeking a quick fix for obesity. Such a yo-yo approach may make things worse. And then, there is just plain misinformation. A common example is believing that a gallbladder cleanse, involving a regimen of lemon juice, olive oil, and sometimes cayenne pepper, ginger, and salt, is a way to get rid of “hundreds of little gallstones.” Although to my knowledge no one has proven that stones do or don’t come out, the material released is probably coagulated/crystallized oil or tiny cholesterol particles. Actual gallstones may remain in the gallbladder or may be pushed against or into a duct, causing pain or possibly requiring medical attention. Likewise a salt laxative could cause problems for people with cardiac arrhythmias or extremely high or low blood pressure. Most of the time, such complications don’t occur, but I still prefer to recommend gentler kinds of cleansing, especially for people with advanced cancer, severe malnutrition or muscle degeneration. A wonderful book of guidelines is: The New Detox Diet by Elson Haas, MD.
Giving the body a break from excessive calories and foods that cause inflammation, allergic responses and spikes in blood sugar allows it to operate more efficiently in the repair and regeneration of healthy cells and in the elimination or transformation of wastes. Although there are very few peer reviewed studies of cleansing, patients in my office and others’ have reported reduced acne and eczema, better sleep, improved digestion, relief from depression, fatigue, anxiety and allergies. Fertility may improve and hormones may function more optimally, as well. Several studies show that reducing calories by about 30% often leads to a decrease in biomarkers of aging, may lower the incidence and progression of cancer, and can result in fewer symptoms of Alzheimer disease and better memory function.
Most of all, cleansing can be a time to clean up your emotional life—eliminating behaviors, thoughts or even relationships that don’t bring out the best in you. Instead, cultivate qualities shown to promote health, such as optimism, gratitude and social connection. As you spend less time digesting and more time noticing, you’ll get wiser about what your body and mind really crave. Your desire for sugar may be your desire to taste the sweetness of life!
Here is my favorite warming winter cleanse to get you started:
- Begin with organic, non-GMO miso paste—a fermented, unpasteurized soy paste that cultivates healthy gut flora, which may improve immunity, assist in manufacturing vitamins, decrease allergic and inflammatory responses, and even signal the production of neurotransmitters to balance mood!
- Bring 6 cups water to a boil. Add 2 cups sliced shitake mushrooms, 1 Tbsp sliced ginger root, and 2 cups spinach. Experiment with adding other veggies too, such as chard, kale, zucchini, broccoli, or carrots for sweetness. Add a pinch cayenne pepper, aiming for a mild heat. Simmer for 3 minutes or until veggies are tender, then allow to cool for 2 minutes.
- For a slightly sweet/salty immunity boost, buy a bag of dulse, a dried sea vegetable. Rinse lightly and add a handful right to the soup.
- Finally, add your miso paste, 3-5 Tbsp, according to your taste. Stir in thoroughly. Sip and enjoy a cup or two at each meal for 3-4 days.
- For substance, cook a batch of brown rice for the week and add a couple avocado slices or steamed veggies to each bowl. Spritz with Bragg’s Amino Acids, a nutritious soy-sauce alternative, if you like.
- Be sure to include at least 6-8 cups of water each day and do some gentle walking and stretching.
Many people feel so much better when eating this way that they decide to do it once a month. If you’ve ever wondered whether a cleanse can help you, this may be your time to try!
Malynn Utzinger-Wheeler, MA, MD brings passion and self-admitted obsession for "a balanced perspective" to the practice of medicine. Trained as a western physician, holistic healer, and anthropologist, she offers therapy and deep healing to her patients with eating disorders, depression, anxiety, cancer and chronic illness.