February is officially the shortest month of the year and also happens to come after the most indulgent ones – December/January or the ‘holiday period’. These two factors, although purely psychological, are the reasons that many people think it is an ideal time to begin a detox program. February can be seen as a time to set the precedent for one’s year-long health goals and in essence, be a fresh start to the upcoming year.

However, detox in the past has been typically hard, with harsh effects that come with clearing the liver, skin and kidneys of the whole year’s accumulated toxins in a short time. It was thought for so long that more equals more when it comes to detox, more laxatives, more extreme diets, higher doses of liver herbs and abstinence of… well…everything. This approach can be effective, but often leaves patients feeling traumatised, starved and hesitant to repeat the process ever again, not to mention the rebound gluttony that is inevitable at the end.

However, we now know that detox programs do not need to be so extreme. There are ways to subtly detox the body in a way that nourishes it and leaves your patients feeling like they can achieve their goals of obtaining a healthy body naturally. Liver formulas don’t have to be harsh to be effective. They can include nutrients that support detox, nurture the body and reduce symptoms such as inflammation at the same time. The liver is the major detoxification organ, and with support for healthier functioning can improve a person’s sense of wellbeing in a relatively short period of time. A good liver formula not only supports liver functioning directly, but also helps decrease effects of detoxification such as inflammation, gastrointestinal bloating and discomfort and lack of energy. There are herbs that address all of these areas as outlined below.

Milk thistle is a very effective and well-known liver herb. Evidence exists that milk thistle may be hepatoprotective through a number of mechanisms: antioxidant activity, toxin blockade at the membrane level, enhanced protein synthesis, anti-fibriotic activity, and possible anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating effects. It also enhances glucuronidation and protects against glutathione depletion.Milk thistle has been shown to stimulate the regeneration of hepatocytes damaged by oxidative stress, restoring lost detoxification capacity over time, including in people with liver damage related to alcohol and chronic hepatitis. It is one of the only substances in the world that is successful in helping the liver to achieve regeneration.2,3

Curcumin and other curcuminoids found in turmeric extract have been shown to reduce inflammation and pain, while enhancing healing and antioxidant defences, and supporting liver function and circulatory health. Numerous clinical trials have confirmed the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and analgesic properties of curcumin.4,5

Schisandra has been associated with improvements in liver function in people with hepatitis.6 Studies also support its adaptogenic effects against physical stimulus and ability to increase physical working capacity. It has been shown to increase physical endurance, mental performance, and support immune function by acting on the central and sympathetic nervous systems, as well as the endocrine, immune, respiratory, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems.7

Licorice supports healing in hepatitis patients as glycyrrhizin suppresses the production and expression of hepatitis B surface antigen. Licorice has significant antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimutagenic activity, and appears to be highly effective at scavenging for reactive oxygen species, reducing oxidative damage, as well as for decreasing levels of several pro-inflammatory substances, including COX-2, typically increased in people with H. pylori infection.8-10 Licorice root has also traditionally been used to relieve stomach ailments including gastritis and dyspepsia (indigestion). Therefore, licorice has many facets to its healing properties11

Lastly, Panax ginseng is known to be a potent healer in Traditional Chinese Medicine as the root of the plant contains beneficial compounds called ginsenosides that have adaptogenic activity. These compounds help the body to adapt to physical or mental stress by reducing fatigue, enhancing performance, and helping the body to return to normal more quickly.12,13,14

The initial energy levels of a patient in a detox program tend to be low and their body is more stressed due to the side effects of increased toxin excretion as well as the changes to lifestyle and diet. In short, many individuals feel worse before they feel better. Symptoms can include exhaustion, irritability, achiness, flulike symptoms, diarrhoea, rashes, sweats, chills, insomnia, and more. This has been called a “healing crisis”, Herxheimer reaction, or herxing.

Caffeine withdrawal can also produce symptoms such as headache, fatigue, decreased energy/activeness, decreased alertness, drowsiness, decreased contentedness, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and feeling foggy/not clearheaded.

Panax ginseng can help the body cope with the stress of the detoxification by improving energy levels and reducing the effects of stress. Panax ginseng has also been shown to increase the activities of antioxidants in the body such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase as well as inhibit production of inflammatory cytokines in the liver.15,16

*References available upon request