Dr. Alejandro Junger was born in Uruguay, where he graduated from medical school in 1990, and moved to New York City for his postgraduate training. He completed three years of training in Internal Medicine at NYU Downtown Hospital and three more years of fellowship in Cardiovascular Diseases at Lenox Hill Hospital. His drastic change in lifestyle and diet from his move to New York City soon manifested as irritable bowel syndrome and depression. Becoming a patient of the system he was practicing was such a shock that it started a journey to search for an alternative solution to his health problems.
His findings are the subject of his first book, Clean, in which Dr. Junger describes how he became aware of the toxicity of our planet. He also explains how detoxification and cleansing have been around for thousands of years, but knowledge of these practices has been forgotten at a time when it is most important. Clean is a manual for readers to learn how to dial our detoxification systems to full speed while supporting our bodies to maximize their effectiveness.
MBG: What is the most common misconception about detoxes?
Dr. Junger: The most common misconception about detoxes is that they are just a fad, that they are not useful and that they are even dangerous. Many people have the idea that 'detoxing' is something new that we are 'doing' to our bodies, when in fact, the processes of detoxification are ongoing constantly since our birth, and should they stop for a minute, life would not be possible.
A 'detox' program is a period of time during which one eats in a certain way and does specific things in order to create the best conditions for the body to be able to do its work of detoxification most effectively.
Another common misconception is that the body can do all the work of detoxification while only consuming water or juices. This may be true for some people that have been CLEAN for some time prior. For most people in modern cities today, it is necessary to provide the body with certain nutrients (amino-acids, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, enzymes...) to safely and effectively handle the chemical transformation of toxins into harmless molecules that can be eliminated from our system. This has led to the increasing popularity of detox programs like the Master Cleanse (during which one just consumes water with lemon, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup).
Can you explain the process of "remove", "restore" and "rejuvenate"?
When you REMOVE the obstacles and you RESTORE whatever was lacking, everything corrects by itself. Function is restored. Symptoms just disappear. Diseases are gone, as if by magic. Our bodies are miraculously wise. Our bodies have all the information and ability needed to not only repair damage, regenerate parts and revitalize itself, and if the conditions are optimal, even to REJUVENATE itself. Examples are:
- Remove toxins by avoiding processed/packaged food with additives and artificial sweeteners, beauty care products with ingredients we can't pronounce, find food and non-food items that are organic like fruits and vegetables, clothing, bedding, makeup, and pet supplies, buy or make our own eco-friendly cleaning products, and also look at removing common allergens from our diets such as dairy, bread, pasta, sugar, white rice/sugar and red meat.
- Restore healthy bacteria in the gut (by using natural and often really delicious plant and herbal antimicrobials like garlic, lemon, olive oil, oregano oil, thyme and cayenne pepper) to help our body as they work endlessly (and without great compensation most of the time!) to move all those toxins accumulated in our cells just by living, working and playing in the everyday world.
- Rejuvenate by making time to rest both our bodies and our minds, with things like meditation, yoga, gentle walking or stretching, being outside whenever possible even if it's just to watch some clouds float by or the snow fall through trees, taking a bath, reading, some form of creative activity, sharing space with loved ones, or simply being still for a few minutes every so often throughout your day.
Why is the Clean Program effective when other detoxes fail?
It is evident that not all detox programs are created equal. There are several reasons why detox programs fail:
1) Difficult to follow. Some programs require time and organization because of their complexity, taking up much time and energy just to drink and eat whatever is required.
2) Wrong setting. Most programs I come across (the majority of which I tried myself) are so intense that one cannot work or take care of one's kids at the same time. They are better done in a spa setting that will contain the person detoxing through the stages. When these great programs are done in the middle of people's busy lives, they fail.
3) The majority of the other programs out there are passed on through thousands of years, and it is precious knowledge. But they were designed at times when there were no chemicals in our foods, homes and everywhere, as they are now. They lack the nutritional support needed for the liver to do its detoxification work.
4) All other programs focus on getting rid of toxins and eliminating the mucus that the body accumulates as a response, to survive the excess toxicity. The CLEAN program is the only program I know of that also addresses the damage that global toxicity first causes on everybody to a different degree; abnormal intestinal flora, intestinal wall disruption, immune system tissue irritation and "gut" nervous system depletion, by providing nutrients necessary for its repair.
How does the Clean Program improve your digestive system?
Modern life is not "digestion friendly". Our digestive system is much more complex than what we are used to think about. Your intestines, where digestion happens, is a long tube inside which foods are broken up into their building blocks so that these can be absorbed (taken inside by the cells of the intestinal wall, transported to the other side of the cell opposite the side facing the intestinal tube, and then released into our circulation).
The intestinal wall has foldings and subfoldings (villi and microvilli) in order to increase the contact surface with the food being digested. These foldings, in a healthy human body, are home to billions of bacteria, the Intestinal Flora. These bacteria are very important. They detoxify a big portion of the toxins we ingest. They digest part of our food, and if they don't, there are certain nutrients that we will not be able to process for absorption. They also defend their territory from other bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
On the other side of the intestinal wall is where 80% of your immune system lives. The Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue (the name of the immune system in the gut) is there by no accident. In fact, it's a strategic position, since the intestinal wall is the place where most of the 'foreign' substances transit through into the bloodstream. Modern life with its toxins overload damages our digestive system in the following ways:
1) Assassination of the Intestinal Flora and growth of other bacteria that resist the poisons that kill the good ones (preservatives, conservatives, pesticides, insecticides, antibiotics).
2) Decreased absorption of nutrients.
3) Leaking of the intestinal wall.
4) Over-excitation of the Immune System with subsequent confusion, ending in an attack on one's own tissues.
5) Depletion of the Gut nervous system (causing depression and Irritable bowel syndrome). The nervous system that exists around the gut in the abdomen manufactures 90% of the serotonin in your body at any given moment.
The CLEAN program is designed to eradicate the bad bacteria, replant the good ones, repair the intestinal wall, calm the immune system, and replenish the gut brain and jump start into full serotonin production.
Most symptoms from the Gut disappear within days of the CLEAN program, or if not fully addressed (such as parasites) the problem will be uncovered and thus allow you to deal with it accordingly.
What does mind/body wellness mean to you?
In my understanding, mind/body wellness is a term that reveals the fact that we still consider the mind and the body as separate. It is still a step further from only considering the physical body as important, but it will transform into just "wellness" in the near future, since it is more and more evident that the distinctions of separation between the mind and the body are not so obvious.
"Mens sana in corpore sano" is an ancient Latin quotation that means, "A healthy mind is a healthy body." I propose a change and call it, "Mens sana IS corpore sano."
How has meditation influenced you?
Meditation gave me the tools to acquire the ability to stay present. This is ultimately what we are all looking for.
What are the some of the best foods for your body?
Organic fresh, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, non-gluten and protein packed grains like quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat, cold water fish, healthy unprocessed oils, nuts, superfoods that are full of energy-enhancing vitamins and minerals, and definitely fresh green vegetable juices... which are easy to digest, and loaded with all the enzymes and nutritional benefits our bodies need, freeing things up to sustain our immune systems and optimize vitality.
As far as toxins go, what foods are some of the worst culprits?
Common allergens such as: red meat, dairy, sugar, gluten, anything artificial/processed...these cause a whole array of symptoms and can lead to many health problems both immediately and down the road. Caffeine is another trigger for most everyone and some people find they need to be careful with nightshades, basically we all have different dietary requirements but the ones I listed are certainly good for everyone to avoid for optimal wellness. My basic rule is if you can't pronounce it, don't put it in (or on) your body. Stick as much as possible to whole foods; anything that looks like it does when it's in nature growing on the tree, bush or out of the ground is a safe bet for the most nutritious and energy-producing, healthiest food. Again, organic is best and try to find local and seasonal food as well to give your body the vitamins and minerals that are specific to your needs, while cutting back on the toxins released into our environment (which we in turn take in through our skin, water and the air) by fossil fuel burning shipping methods. Realizing that we can't avoid all toxins in our environment, we can definitely take steps to minimize our exposure and provide the most efficient systems possible for clearing them out.
How often should we do the program?
There's really no set schedule for cleansing...for some people once a year is a great tune-up, for others a bi-yearly program works and some like to do one with every season...personally I've learned to listen to my body and it's pretty vocal about letting me know when it's time for a 21 day cleanse. You feel it in your energy levels, mind clarity and in your digestive system and it's the absolute best thing you can do for your body -- to honor that request for a clean start whenever or however often that might be!
Who inspires you?
I'm continuously inspired by the many, many people all over the world who are doing the Clean program; they are incredibly active in discussions at our Community Site, posting questions, advice, tips, videos, recipes and inspiration; it motivates me to stay focused and post my own videos, and journal entries. I love it!
Do you have any guilty indulgences?
Sweets and candy, but now my team stocks my apartment with only health sweets like LARABARS, raw chocolate (Gnosis), treats from OneLuckyDuck (like mallomars and raw granola crispies) and ZICO coconut water.
What's next for you? How can our readers find out more about the Clean Program?
We have an exciting month coming up in January...I'll be back on the Martha Stewart Show and she and her studio members are getting excited to do a 21 day Clean Program! Also an overwhelming number of people and all sorts of different groups around the world are joining the Community site, doing the 21 day cleanses, momentum is gathering, everyone is full of enthusiasm and it's amazing to see so many people taking their health into their own hands by giving their bodies the most incredible gift ever -- a restored digestive system!
For more on Dr. Junger and The Clean Program:
To learn more about plant-based nutrition or meditation, check out our video courses The Ultimate Guide To Plant-Based Nutrition With Rich Roll and The Essential Guide To Meditation With Charlie Knoles.