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Are you feeling sluggish, low energy, bloated, constipated, or exhausted—moreso than usual?

If yes…you may want to consider doing a whole foods-based spring cleanse. My DIY spring cleanse includes a program guide that walks you through the process, recipes, shopping list and suggested meals. Use coupon code Spring15 to get 15% off through March 31st.

Spring is an ideal time to do a cleanse and help the body rid itself of “heaviness” accumulated over the winter. This “heaviness” can manifest physically as extra weight; emotionally as depression, overwhelm, anger or irritability; or mentally as brain fog or a sense of stagnation or inertia.

In this post, we will be talking specifically about the benefits of a whole foods-based cleanse (versus a detox). While the terms “cleanse” and “detox” are often used interchangeably—I’m guilty of this myself!—there are subtle differences that distinguish a cleanse from a detox.

Cleanse vs. Detox

Where they are similar…

Both a cleanse and detox are short-term (ranging from 1 to 3 days, up to 1 to 3 weeks) dietary and lifestyle interventions to help eliminate toxins from the body. 

Both a cleanse and a detox focus on hydrating well; eating less overall (volume-wise); eating foods that are lighter, clean (e.g., minimally processed) and nutrient-dense; and engaging in lifestyle practices that promote rest and relaxation.

After doing either a cleanse or detox, people often report having more energy, clearer skin, improved sleep, less cravings, less bloating, modest weight loss, and/or balanced mood. 

Where they differ…

A cleanse is a way to support and enhance the body’s detoxification organs and natural pathways and systems. 

This involves abstaining from certain foods; prioritizing sleep, rest, and relaxation; engaging in gentle exercise; and, optionally, using herbal supplements if and when necessary to help your body remove toxins more efficiently. A typical cleanse will eliminate primary “trigger foods” that contribute to allergies, sensitivities, and digestive distress, including gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, sugar, refined carbohydrates, caffeine (coffee, tea, soda), processed foods and alcohol.

If you follow a simple, whole foods-based cleanse—one that omits common trigger foods—you will be eating less food overall (in terms of volume), but more nutrient-dense foods. You are also less likely to experience intense hunger and/or symptoms of low blood sugar that can accompany a detox (see below), especially if you are doing a detox for the first time, a fasting neophyte, or if you have blood sugar issues, like hypoglycemia.

The goal of a detox is to facilitate the release of toxins from fat cells and to enhance the body’s detoxification pathways, particularly the liver, the main organ of detoxification, located just beneath your right rib cage

Think of a detox as a next-level cleanse. It is deeper and more intense. A detox is typically more restrictive than a cleanse. A detox can involve one or more of the following elements: some form of fasting (e.g., extended intermittent fasting, water fast); a liquids-only intake (e.g., juicing, Master Cleanse, vegetable or bone); therapeutic sweating; detox-supportive supplements and/or teas; colonic irrigation and/or enemas.

Word of caution: If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, you should not do a detox (as described above). 

Most environmental toxins are fat-soluble, which means that toxins are stored in our fat cells. During a detox, toxins are knocked loose from their fat storage cells and released into the bloodstream, where they are carried to the liver, then filtered out of the body. Since blood passes through the placenta and provides nutrients to your breast milk (essentially, all fat), a flood of toxins released during a detox could potentially be transferred from mother to baby through the placenta or through breast milk.

Is a cleanse or detox really necessary?

Conventional medicine often poo-poos the notion of cleansing or detoxing, the argument being that our bodies are well-equipped to eliminate toxins on their own.

It is true that our bodies are ingeniously designed to handle day-to-day detoxification.

However…we are no longer eating, hydrating, moving, sleeping or communing the same way that our ancestors did—as evidenced by the current obesity epidemic with 73.6% of America adults (aged 20 and over) now overweight, of whom 42% are obese (1).

Unlike our ancestors, we also live in a world (over)saturated with chemicals.

For example, within a mere 25-year period—between 1970 and 1995—the volume of synthetic chemicals that were produced in the U.S. tripled from about 50 million tons to approximately 150 million tons (2)! Of course, it is much more today.

As of 2018, there were over 86,000 chemicals available for commercial production and use in the U.S.—with an estimated 40,655 chemicals in commerce (3).

Unfortunately, modern Americans are inflamed… Remember: Toxins are stored in our body fat. These toxins create inflammation in the body that can negatively affect metabolic health, contributing to insulin resistance, diabetes and/or overweight/obesity (4). Accumulated toxins in the body can also stoke other chronic inflammatory states, including rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, infertility, Alzheimer’s and cancer (5).

I would argue that…

intentional cleansing on a regular basis is essential for optimal health. 

For me, personally, mindful detoxification through my food choices and lifestyle practices is a way of life—it is not a fad, a quick fix way to lose weight, or a temporary intervention.

That said…even a short-term cleanse can help reduce the body burden from our daily overexposure to environmental toxins, including pesticides, GMOs (genetic modified organisms), xenoestrogens, plastics, medications, pharmaceutical injections, heavy metals (via our food, water, air, pharmaceutical drugs, cigarettes and vaping) as well as a myriad of synthetic chemicals in our personal care and household products (6, 7).

Keep in mind: many chemicals are considered endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), meaning that they interfere with our natural hormone balance and function. Exposure to EDCs can contribute to health problems, including fertility issues, overweight/obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and autoimmune disease (8, 9).

Xenoestrogens, in particular, are problematic. Xenoestrogens (e.g, bisphenol A, synthetic fragrance) are man-made chemicals that act like estrogen in the body. Chronic xenoestrogen exposure can create a state of estrogen dominance in both women and men. Xenoestrogens are linked to reproductive dysfunction, which can affect fertility, pregnancy, and fetal development in women and can result in low sperm count or poor sperm quality in men. Being in a chronically estrogen dominant state is also associated with an increased risk of hormone-dependent cancers, like breast cancer, as well as ovarian and uterine cancers. Here is a list of common everyday sources of xenoestrogens.

Signs that indicate it’s time for a cleanse…

How does toxicity manifest in the body?

Signs that your body may be overwhelmed by toxins and will likely benefit from a cleanse:

    • Fatigue / Exhaustion
    • Weight gain and/or redistribution of weight caused by chronic xenoestrogen exposure. In women, this can manifest as carrying more weight around the hips, buttocks and thighs; and, in men, think “man breasts” and more fat deposition around a man’s hips.
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Brain fog
    • Headaches
    • Food sensitivities or intolerances
    • Seasonal allergies
    • High blood pressure
    • Muscle aches
    • Joint pain
    • Frequent colds
    • Poor sleep
    • Digestive distress: constipation, bloating and gas (flatulence)
    • Persistent skin conditions: acne, itchy skin, rashes, rosacea
    • Hormonal imbalances and fertility issues
    • Intolerance to fragrance
    • Multiple chemical sensitivities

Understanding your organs of detoxification

One of the main purposes of a cleanse is to support our organs of detoxification. These include the following…and I’ve included tips on how to best support each:

–Liver (Cleansing site for all toxins and converts harmful substances to excretable forms). One of the hardest-working organs in your body, the liver helps support metabolism, immunity, digestion, and vitamin storage, especially Vitamin A and iron (10). The liver is a primary organ of detoxification. In addition to cleansing your blood, the liver is responsible for filtering out toxins, like alcohol, medications, and other harmful substances, from your body. Acting like a “transformer”, your liver converts harmful fat-loving substances to a water-soluble form for eventual excretion (11).

How to support: Remove inflammatory foods, such as processed foods, refined carbohydrates, processed oils, high sugar foods. Abstain from alcohol. Include cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, arugula, bok choy), which support the liver’s ability to clear chemicals from the body. Eat dandelion greens or drink dandelion root tea to help detoxify the liver. Consider supplementing with milk thistle, which aids the liver in eliminating toxins, and/or turmeric, which supports healthy liver tissue.

–Kidneys (Urine). The kidneys are an extension of detoxification that takes place in the liver. Like a sieve, the kidneys filter your blood, keeping it free of waste products and excess fluid. Your kidneys are responsible for processing and separating out byproducts your body makes naturally (e.g., acid, urea, metabolic waste); heavy metals (e.g., mercury, lead) that you may ingest; and any medications you take into what eventually becomes urine (12).

How to support: Hydrate well with clean, filtered water. No water filter? Try drinking water from glass bottles (versus plastic).

–Skin (Sweat).  Your skin helps detoxify your body through sweat.  Working up a good sweat has been an age-old practice of cleansing or “purifying” the body in many native cultures around the world. Studies suggest that sweating—by way of heat or exercise—can help eliminate heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury (13, 14, 15). Sweating can also help release hormone-disrupting chemicals from the body,like Bisphenol-A, also known as BPA (an industrial chemical and xenoestrogen used to manufacture polycarbonate plastics for a wide variety of consumer products) and some PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, man-made organic chemicals that have been linked to adverse health effects, including cancer (16, 17, 18).

How to support: Sauna. Steam. Vigorous exercise.

–Colon (Poop). The large intestine comprises most of your colon. Its detoxification role involves reabsorbing water from waste material; storing solid waste; then, moving waste material toward the rectum, where it is eliminated via stool (19). Regular elimination of solid waste (poop) ensures that toxins are not recirculated in the bloodstream.

How to support: Increase fiber intake; in particular, dark leafy greens. If you have digestive issues, try eating cooked leafy greens (versus raw greens, like salads). Or, try blended greens—raw or cooked—in a smoothie or warm “soup”. Other high fiber, antioxidant-rich foods include low-sugar fruits (berries), seeds (hemp, flax, chia) and nuts (not recommended if you have digestive issues). If you include animal protein, eat a smaller portion (3-4 oz.), stick with mostly fish and lean cuts of poultry, and choose high-quality—meaning organic, grass-fed and grass-finished meats, or wild-caught, low mercury fish.

–Lungs (Breath). The primary organ of the respiratory system, your lungs transport oxygen throughout your body. The lungs play an important role in detoxification by filtering out carbon dioxide, allergens and airborne toxins.

How to support: Engage in mindful deep breathing: Inhale 4 counts; hold 4 counts; exhale 4 counts. Avoid mucous-producing dairy foods. Avoid foods to which you are intolerant as this stimulates mucous production.

–Lymph (Internal watery fluid). A watery fluid that flows throughout the body, lymph delivers proteins and nutrients to your blood. Lymph plays a role in detoxification by helping dispose of cellular debris, such as viruses, bacteria and cancer cells. Your liver and digestive system produce 80% of your lymph (20).

How to support: Move your body every day. (p.s. A sedentary lifestyle promotes swelling, a common symptom of lymphedema, where lymph fluid is blocked and begins building up in nearby soft tissue.). Dry skin brush: use a natural stiff bristle brush to brush your skin in a circular motion from your feet to your heart, then from your neck to your heart. Get a massage or do a self-massage.







1  CDC/National Center for Health Statistics. Obesity and Overweight. Jan. 5, 2023.

2   Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Institute of Medicine. Identifying and Reducing Environmental Health Risks of Chemicals in Our Society: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2014 Oct 2. 2, The Challenge: Chemicals in Today’s Society.

3  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA Releases First Major Update to Chemicals List in 40 Years. Feb. 19, 2019.

4  Jackson E, Shoemaker R, Larian N, Cassis L. Adipose Tissue as a Site of Toxin Accumulation. Compr Physiol. 2017 Sep 12;7(4):1085-1135. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c160038. Erratum in: Compr Physiol. 2018 Jun 18;8(3):1251.

5  Parke DV, Parke AL. Chemical-induced inflammation and inflammatory diseases. Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 1996;9(3):211-7.

6  Nessa F, Khan SA, Abu Shawish KY. Lead, Cadmium and Nickel Contents of Some Medicinal Agents. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2016 Jan-Feb;78(1):111-9

7  Broadfoot, M. E-cigarettes expose users to toxic metal such as arsenic, lead. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Feb. 2022.

8  Paterni I, Granchi C, Minutolo F. Risks and benefits related to alimentary exposure to xenoestrogens. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Nov 2;57(16):3384-3404.

9  Comhaire, Frank H. and Decleer, Wim A.E.  Chapter 8 – The Effects of Environmental Hormone Disrupters on Fertility, and a Strategy to Reverse their Impact, Editor(s): Ronald Ross Watson, Handbook of Fertility, Academic Press, 2015, Pages 89-97.

10  Kalra A, Yetiskul E, Wehrle CJ, et al. Physiology, Liver. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan

11  Grant DM. Detoxification pathways in the liver. J Inherit Metab Dis. 1991;14(4):421-30.

12  National Kidney Foundation. How Your Kidneys Work.

13  Sears ME, Kerr KJ, Bray RI. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic review. J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012:184745.

14   Sheng J, Qiu W, Xu B, Xu H, Tang C. Monitoring of heavy metal levels in the major rivers and in residents’ blood in Zhenjiang City, China, and assessment of heavy metal elimination via urine and sweat in humans. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2016 Jun;23(11):11034-11045

15  Yaghoobi, Bianca. “The Original ‘Forever Chemicals’.” UC Davis Biotechnology Program. 3 March, 2021.

16  Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Birkholz D, Lobo RA. Human excretion of bisphenol A: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012:185731.

17  CDC. National Biomonitoring Program. Bisphenol A (BPA) Factsheet. Apr 7, 2017.

18  Genuis, S. J., Beesoon, S., Birkholz, D. “Biomonitoring and Elimination of Perfluorinated Compounds and Polycholorinated Biphenyls through Perspiration, Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study”, International Scholarly Research Notices, vol. 2013, Article ID 483832, 7 pages, 2013.

19  Kahai P, Mandiga P, Wehrle CJ, et al. “Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis: Large Intestine.” [Updated 2023 Aug 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-.

20  Cleveland Clinic, Lymph. 8/22/23.

Hi, I’m Kathryn Matthews. As a Board Certified Functional Health Coach, I help clients reclaim their energy, vitality and well-being. I want you to feel empowered about taking charge of YOUR health! To learn more, see About Kathryn.

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