When the health and movement of functional medicine doctor and clinical professor Terry Wahls, M.D., started deteriorating from years of progressive multiple sclerosis, she turned to neurological research and designed a lifestyle and diet protocol to support her brain cells. Today, fully recovered, Wahls bikes 5 miles to work daily and has published her protocol to help others overcome chronic conditions and restore their health. Her 2014 book, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way To Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, gets an update this month—read an excerpt below from a chapter on how to help the body remove toxin buildup.
Nutrition is important, but there are some other great detox strategies I'd also like you to consider. Here are my favorites:
1. Poop better.
Our gut bacteria are responsible for clearing approximately 25% of the xenobiotics (foreign substances or toxins) we encounter. Being constipated decreases this clearance, so it is important to stay regular. Eat fiber to have a soft, easily passed bowel movement each day, and you will improve your toxin clearance.
Many societies have sweating rituals as part of the purification process. The sweat glands are very effective at removing heavy metals, plastics, and solvents. A sauna is an excellent way to sweat on purpose—it causes the blood vessels to dilate (the body's internal cooling mechanism), increasing the heart's output. This actually accomplishes an effect similar to aerobic exercise!
However, saunas are not for everyone. Do not use saunas if you are or could be pregnant. Many people with MS and other chronic health issues can be severely intolerant to elevations in body temperature. Do not use a sauna until you can tolerate it well. I needed to recover remarkably before I was able to tolerate taking a sauna—this didn't happen until six months into my recovery. When I was finally able to stand the heat, I purchased an infrared sauna for my home. It sits next to the Endless Pool I swim in each day. I began taking a sauna four days a week as part of my detox protocol.
3. Use mud/clay and activated charcoal.
Clays have been used for thousands of years to rejuvenate skin and health. Clay baths for the body or face will extract heavy metals, solvents, and other toxins stored in the fatty tissues of the skin, and activated charcoal can be incorporated into these baths and masks.
You can also make these masks yourself. A wide variety of clays can be found in health food stores or through online stores. Mix the clay or activated charcoal with chlorella and sea salt to make a paste, apply to your skin, and allow it to dry. Leave it on for 30 minutes, then rinse it off.
Another way to use clay is to make a diluted clay bath in a bucket for soaking the feet. It's quite relaxing to mix this with magnesium salts. (Afterward, dump the muddy water in the yard so it doesn't clog your plumbing!) Or make a very diluted clay/water mixture and soak in the bathtub for 30 to 60 minutes. If you ever get the opportunity to go to a spa that offers mud baths, take advantage of this effective detoxifying therapy.
4. Use chlorella and kelp.
Algae and kelp absorb released toxins so they cannot be reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Not only are they good for your, diet but they can be useful applied to the skin, with clay (as explained above) or in a seaweed mask.
However, a warning: If you are going to use algae, I suggest you use only chlorella. Wild algae and spirulina are more likely to be contaminated with harmful cyanotoxins that can cause neurological damage. These algae cyanotoxins are a variation of the noxious toxins produced by algae in the red tide algae blooms associated with fish die-offs and beach closures in polluted coastal waters.
5. Improve lymphatic return.
The purpose of the lymphatic system is to carry away waste that the body generates and accumulates from daily living. Sometimes, however, lymphatic flow and drainage can slow down and waste can back up in the lymphatic system.
A very simple way to improve lymphatic drainage is to practice simple inversions. If you invert yourself using an inversion table or lie on the floor with your hips next to the wall and your legs elevated vertically along the wall, you will increase the return of blood and lymph from your legs, where it can pool, back into your circulation. Inversion is an excellent way to reduce swelling in the legs if you are experiencing swelling related to decreasing physical activity (or airline travel). Start with brief amounts of time and very gradually increase the time with the legs elevated. If you experience swelling in the arms due to decreasing activity of the arm(s), elevating the involved arm(s) overhead can also be quite helpful. Another way to improve lymphatic return is dry brushing.
6. Dry brushing.
This is a technique that increases detoxification through the skin, removes old skin cells, and helps improve lymphatic flow since the lymphatic vessels are just beneath the skin. The technique is simple. Use a gentle brush or a clean, dry washcloth to stroke your skin, starting with your feet, in a gentle circular fashion up toward your heart. Do each leg, then your abdomen. Next, do each arm. The whole process typically takes just five to 10 minutes. You can do this daily if you wish. Many people like to do this just before showering or bathing.
The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way To Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles by Terry Wahls, M.D., is available now.