A number of detox treatments seek to cleanse the body.
Though not approved by the FDA in the United States, detox treatments are often prescribed by naturopathic doctors to remove toxins from the body with the goal of restoring the immune system to its full capacity. Traditionally, a naturopathic practitioner might use a series of detox treatments that act on the skin, lungs, liver, bowel, kidney and lymphatic systems. A cornerstone of naturopathic thought suggests that most diseases are the result of toxic buildup in one of these systems and that by detoxifying the body, many diseases may be prevented or cured. With this in mind, naturopathic physicians will assess a patient's medical history, in addition to heavy metal levels and individual sensitivities to nutrition and environment. From there, the doctor may develop a detoxification treatment program that lasts anywhere from a couple weeks to many months.
Many naturopathic detoxification programs begin with a colon cleanse to remove waste, toxins and parasites from the large intestine. Because later stages of most detox treatments attempt to cleanse the liver and blood, it is essential that the intestine can effectively process those toxins out of the body. Colon cleansing methods fall into two categories: colon cleanse diets and colonics, also known as colon irrigation.
Colon irrigation is a treatment performed under the supervision of a naturopathic doctor. A sterilized rubber tube is inserted into the patient's colon. The tube delivers temperature-controlled water, which stimulates the smooth muscle of the intestine wall. This promotes the expulsion of waste from the body, which is then promptly disposed of in a sanitary manner. As many as 15 gallons of water may cycle through the colon during the treatment, and there are few side effects. Some patients will experience slight nausea or chills as the toxins pass through their system, though these pass quickly.
Naturopathic doctors may use a few colonics treatments to help restore colon function; others may administer as many as 10 to 12 treatments in the short term, depending on the patient's condition. Still others do not recommend the use of colon irrigation at all as a long-term health solution. Many of these naturopaths prescribe a cleansing diet in conjunction with supplements, like probiotics, to restore the proper bacteria balance and promote colon health.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a probiotic supplement may also be helpful in treating Crohn's disease, which is a chronic inflammation of the intestine. Probiotics are not digested by the body, but do establish themselves in the intestine and promote healthy bacteria growth. Probiotics may also be used to stimulate the colon, in addition to psyllium husk, slippery elm or flax seeds. These supplements are traditionally used during a fast, during which the patient consumes only juices, water or raw foods.
Most Naturopaths believe that the buildup of toxic heavy metals, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, can lead to serious health problems like cancer and heart disease if not removed from the body. To treat toxic heavy metal buildup naturopaths often use chelation therapy. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, this therapy involves injecting the man-made amino acid EDTA into a vein. This chemical has been shown to bind to harmful chemicals and remove them from the bloodstream. If taken without supervision in the form of a pill, EDTA has caused kidney failure in rare cases. While taking chelation treatments, it is important that patients continue to take a multivitamin, as many minerals are important for maintaining health.
However, there are a number of chelating agents a naturopath might prescribe to prevent the formation of free radical chains. For instance, vitamin C and E are both known to remove harmful toxins, as are other antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables help remove toxins, as does exercise. Crushed garlic, as an ingredient in healthy foods, is effective in cleansing the blood, as is cilantro if eaten chopped or in juice.
When cleansing the kidneys, it is important to drink plenty of water before starting the treatment. As many as eight glasses a day are recommended by Natural Health California, a naturopathic clinic. In fact, some kidney treatments involve ingesting only juice for up to 10 days, with proper preparation and the assistance of a naturopathic doctor.
Other treatments include eating a large quantity of watermelon and urinating frequently; a tea made from watermelon seed is also thought to be effective. Other common remedies include corn silk tea and celery tea, in addition to parsley seeds and leaves. Many diuretics may stimulate kidney function, helping them to cleanse themselves of toxins.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the seed of milk thistle has long been used as a remedy to treat liver, spleen and kidney disorders. Other antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, beta carotene and selenium are all helpful. Green leafy vegetables are known to have these nutrients, and are commonly a part of liver cleansing diets. In addition, B vitamins may be helpful. B-3, or niacin, in particular has a detoxifying effect and may be used to treat high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoarthritis and atherosclerosis -- the buildup of plaque in the veins.
Coffee enemas are also often used as part of a liver detoxification program, sometimes as part of skin cancer treatment. The National Institutes of Health is currently studying how effective they are against pancreatic cancer. Though the coffee is administered through the colon, it is actually a treatment for the liver. This is because it acts on the sigmoid colon, which is connected to the liver by a duct. Once this duct is free of toxins, it opens the way for the liver to start releasing toxins that have built up in it. These may then be safely cycled through the intestine so that they may leave the body.
To prepare for liver detox treatments, a naturopathic doctor might recommend that patients incorporate plenty of artichokes, carrots, beets and onions into their diet. Of course, limiting exposure to harmful chemical fumes, nicotine, caffeine and alcohol is also essential for an effective cleanse.