If early fall finds you overweight, congested, sneezy, itchy, breaking out in rashes, clearing a scratchy or sore throat and/or feeling generally “meh”, doing a fall cleanse can be an effective way to reboot—and bolster—your immune system.
After all, we reset our clocks (Daylight Saving Time) in the fall…why not our bodies?
What is a cleanse?
A cleanse can help improve the quality of your skin, your organs and your overall health—even your mood, considering that an estimated 90% of serotonin, a neurotransmitter (a.k.a., the “happy” chemical) that promotes good mood and well-being, is made in the digestive tract (1).
One important benefit of doing a cleanse? It can help reduce your toxic load.
Toxins are harmful substances that build up in the body over time. Toxins can also manifest energetically, as toxic emotions that undermine your health. For example, feelings of guilt, shame, anger, self-loathing, regret, bitterness and/or resentment may show up in the body as aches, pains, digestive problems, or food addictions.
An accumulation of toxins—whether physical, environmental or emotional—can affect the body in many ways: bloating, acid reflux, chronic constipation or diarrhea; poor sleep; cravings; belly fat; weight gain; low energy, brain fog; frequent colds; seasonal allergies; anxiety and/or depression.
A cleanse supports and enhances your natural detoxification pathways—the liver and the gut, as well as the kidneys, lungs, skin and lymph—organs that allow your body to eliminate waste and toxins through pee, poop, breath and sweat.
So…What Are These “Toxins”?
Every day, we are inundated with toxins: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the buildings where we live and work, home lawns and gardens, the personal care products and cosmetics we use. And, certainly, not least of all, the foods we eat (as well as the materials in which our foods are packaged ) contain chemicals and additives that alone—or in combination—cause irritation and inflammation, contributing to chronic health conditions and diseases.
The smorgasbord of toxins we consume includes: pesticides; insecticides; fungicides; preservatives; additives (to enhance color, smell, taste and texture); synthetic hormones (e.g., birth control pills, conventional hormone replacement therapy, conventionally raised meats); antibiotics (in our food supply or when overused); chlorine; bisphenol-A (commonly found in plastics); phthalates (chemicals used in plastics, solvents and synthetic fragrances); household cleaners; laundry detergents; carpet chemicals; and heavy metals, including such as mercury, arsenic, fluoride and lead.
Did You Know…? Toxins Contribute to Weight Gain
As of 2020, over 350,000 chemicals and mixtures of chemicals have been registered for commercial production and use globally (2). This is up to three times as many as is commonly estimated (3)!
Of the hundreds of thousands of man-made chemicals, an estimated 1,000 (likely much, much more) may have endocrine-acting properties (4). Some of these hormone-disrupting chemicals, including plastics and pesticides, are classified as obesogens, because they can interfere with the hormonal system that controls our metabolism and weight.
Obesogens can contribute to weight gain, increase the fat cells you have, and even change how you experience hunger (it can interfere with the hormone that signals you are full, causing you to overeat)—even when you’re eating right and exercising.
The good news: we have a highly effective detoxification system in place—organs (liver, kidneys, large intestine, lymphatic system and sweat glands) that work as a team to rid the body of toxins.
The bad news? When our detoxification organs get overwhelmed—often through our food choices and lifestyle habits (e.g., processed foods, refined carbs, excess sugar intake, poor sleep, drinking alcohol)—toxins continue circulating and create (or worsen) inflammation in the body.
The Role of Inflammation
When our ability to detoxify properly is impaired, the end result is a body that is inflamed. This can manifest in many ways. The suffix “-itis” is used to describe inflammation of a specific body part. For example, this time of year, fall allergy sufferers experience rhinitis (inflammation of the nose) or sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses). Other forms of “-itis” include arthritis (inflammation of the joints), dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina), prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland), and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums).
As an immediate response to infection, irritation or injury, inflammation is a good thing. This type of acute inflammation is short-term, localized and characterized by redness, swelling, heat or fever, sometimes pain and/or loss of function. Inflammation is the body’s way of signaling the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue (e.g., cut finger, sprained ankle) and to defend itself against foreign invaders, like viruses and bacteria; for example, experiencing a sore throat(5).
On the other hand, chronic inflammation is problematic.
When inflammation is persistent, it produces a low level of continual inflammation throughout the body—and can contribute to chronic diseases, like overweight/obesity, Type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases (e.g., lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), heart disease and cancer (6).
Symptoms of chronic inflammation can present as (7):
–Insomnia: difficulty falling and/or staying asleep
–Digestive problems: bloating, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, acid reflux, etc.
–Weight gain / obesity
How YOU Can Benefit from Doing a Fall Cleanse
1. You help tame fall allergies.
As someone with severe ragweed and mold allergies, I am highly motivated to do a cleanse every fall. I find it especially helpful in reducing the severity of allergy symptoms, such as an itchy throat, congestion, post-nasal drip, headaches and sinus infections. Typically, ragweed allergy sufferers will not experience relief until the first frost. Mold is another culprit. In addition to thriving indoors in moist, damp environments (bathroom, basement), mold abounds outdoors in dead leaves and decaying plant matter, releasing mold spores into the air and triggering reactions in those sensitive to mold (like me!).
Produced by your immune system, histamine is a compound released in response to a “foreign invader” (e.g., allergen). Its role is to cause an immediate inflammatory response in the body: sneezing, runny nose, itchy throat, headache, etc. Certain foods also contain histamine or cause you to release histamine when you eat them. If you are an allergy sufferer, eating histamine-rich or histamine-triggering foods is like adding gasoline to the fire; it can make allergy symptoms feel even worse.
A cleanse can help tame allergies because you will be taking a break from histamine-provoking foods, like alcohol; dairy, including aged cheeses and yogurt; nuts (especially peanuts, walnuts and cashews); cured meats; chocolate (sorry!); certain spices (e.g., curry, cayenne, chili, etc.); and citrus fruits, as well as caffeine (coffee and tea), which can block the enzyme that breaks down histamine (8).
An estimated 15% of Americans suffer from ragweed allergies (9). Nearly half of ragweed allergy sufferers also experience oral allergy syndrome (OAS), where the proteins in some raw fruits, vegetables and nuts are similar to the proteins found in pollen (10). This confuses the immune system, which then attacks the “invader”, causing a cross-reactivity allergic reaction, such as redness, swelling or itchiness of the lips, mouth or throat. During ragweed season, be mindful that certain foods, like cucumber, zucchini, white potatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew and bananas, may trigger OAS (11). While I can eat most of these foods without consequence, I discovered that eating a banana (in the fall) triggers uncontrollable sneezing fits!
If you are sensitive to mold, especially during the fall, you may also want to avoid chocolate/cocoa, coffee and some tree nuts (e.g., pistachio, almond, walnut, coconut and Brazil nut), all potential sources of mycotoxins, which are naturally occurring toxins produced by certain molds (12, 13).
Personally, this is the time of year—from the beginning of August to end-October (or the first frost)—that I stop drinking coffee and alcohol altogether. I am also mindful of avoiding foods like pork and citrus; while these foods are low in histamine, eating them “liberates” histamine from tissue mast cells, triggering symptoms similar to an allergic reaction in those who are sensitive. For me, this manifests as an immediate headache, rashes or feeling itchy, and weight gain (if I eat pork).
2. You strengthen your immune system
Remember: 80% of your immune system is in your gut.
Early fall is a perfect time to do a cleanse, which can help boost your immune system.
A cleanse eliminates foods that suppress your immune system; one main culprit is sugar.
Sugar is not limited to what tastes sweet, like candy, dessert or the white powdery stuff you stir into your coffee.
“Sugar” includes any wheat or flour-based foods (e.g., bread, pizza, pasta); refined grains (e.g., cereal, granola bars); processed foods, which are often high in added sugars; artificial sweeteners; excess fruit consumption; starchy foods (e.g. French fries, mashed potatoes); and liquid forms of sugar (fruit juice, sodas and coffee drinks, like that pumpkin spice latte); and alcohol. Studies have shown that sugar suppresses the immune system, while increasing inflammation in the body (14).
A seasonal cleanse, like my whole foods-based 7-Day Body Reset Cleanse, emphasizes getting adequate, restorative sleep (non-negotiable!), drinking plenty of caffeine-free fluids, eating nutrient-dense foods and gentle daily movement, all of which support immune health.
3. You boost your energy—naturally.
A cleanse can be a gateway to mindful eating and drinking, especially, if you are plagued by fatigue and low-energy.
Do you rely on refined carbohydrates, like pizza, pasta or sandwiches, for an “energy boost”? Athletes do, you may rationalize. But eating these types of refined carbohydrates, as well as “white foods” (bread, rice, potatoes), pastries and processed foods can make you feel sleepy. This is because foods high in flour and sugar are considered simple sugars that cause your blood sugar to quickly spike, then plummet. Your short burst of energy is followed by an inevitable energy crash.
Caffeine also steals your energy. Whether it’s just one cup or a constant infusion of coffee throughout the day, caffeine raises the level of the stress hormone cortisol (15). Caffeine can disrupt sleep and leave you feeling groggy and exhausted in the morning.
Metabolizing toxins and the process of digesting food are other energy-robbers. If your liver is working overtime to break down toxins (e.g., alcohol, sugar, medications, chemicals from personal care products and the environment), you will feel sluggish. The process of digesting food also requires energy: a Mayo Clinic study found that the transit time—from eating to elimination via stool—in healthy subjects averaged 53 hours (16)! Reducing your overall toxic load enables your body to have more energy.
When a cleanse, like my 7-Day Body Reset Cleanse, removes inflammatory and hard-to-digest foods, as well as stimulants, like coffee, tea, energy drinks and even chocolate, you are virtually guaranteed to experience a natural boost in energy.
4. You get your bowels back on track.
In my practice, bloating, gas and constipation are common complaints.
The chemicals we ingest through the food we eat (for example, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, antibiotics) and the food packaging in which they are served or stored can contribute to digestive distress. Take bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical used to harden plastics, like food storage containers. BPA has been linked to increased inflammation in the gut and colon and is a risk factor for IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease (17). High levels of poly- and perfluoroalkyl (PFAS), chemicals used to line pizza boxes, fast food wrappers and takeout food packaging, have also been linked with intestinal inflammation (18).
A cleanse is an excellent way to reboot your bowels.
Replacing processed foods with organic (as much as possible), nutrient-dense and easy-to-digest foods, including adequate fiber and healthy fat, can go a long way towards relieving bloating and constipation. So, too, can drinking lots of water, eating in a relaxed manner (versus under duress or on-the-run), engaging in consistent gentle movement and being mindful of relaxing both body and mind every day.
5. You lose weight.
Let me be clear: a cleanse is NOT a quick fix “diet”. You will not drop 25 pounds in a week! Many people will, however, naturally release weight on a cleanse because they are removing allergenic and/or inflammatory foods for a period of time.
Hidden food sensitivities may be a reason that you’re hanging onto extra weight.
When you eat foods that your body is unable to tolerate, this activates your immune system. And when you keep eating those foods, to which you are sensitive, your immune system will constantly be “on”, creating a state of chronic inflammation in your body. As a result, you can end up with unwanted belly fat and weight gain.
In addition to weight gain, food sensitivities can be at the root of post-nasal drip, bloating, gas, aching joints, migraines, acne, mood swings and more.
A cleanse typically removes common allergenic and gut-irritating foods (e.g., gluten, grains, processed foods, dairy, sugar and artificial sweeteners), which reduces inflammation, enabling the body to release weight more easily.
Food as Medicine
Our everyday food and lifestyle choices can significantly contribute to—or reduce—our toxic load. A cleanse is not about just drinking “cold pressed” juices or “superfood” smoothies from your favorite juice joint for a week—and expecting instant “feel better” results.
A cleanse is about taking a mindful approach to your food and lifestyle choices. By committing to a whole foods-based cleanse, like my 7-Day Body Reset Cleanse, you can jumpstart healthy eating habits and, in the process, look and feel better.
To help the body eliminate toxins more efficiently, a cleanse typically focuses on:
1. Removing trigger foods that create inflammation and/or hormone imbalance in the body. Common trigger foods include (but are not limited to): sugar, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, alcohol and caffeine.
2. Eating anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense, easy-to-digest whole foods.
3. Modifying lifestyle habits to include proper hydration, gentle exercise, relaxation, rest and quality sleep.
4. Optional: Taking supportive supplements, like a high-quality probiotic.
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15 Lovallo, William R. PhD; Whitsett, Thomas L. MD; al’Absi, Mustafa PhD; Sung, Bong Hee PhD; Vincent, Andrea S. PhD; Wilson, Michael F. MD. Caffeine Stimulation of Cortisol Secretion Across the Waking Hours in Relation to Caffeine Intake Levels. Psychosomatic Medicine: September 2005. Vol. 67, Issue 5, pp. 734-739.
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