Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cleansing With Chinese Medicine

By Eric Aufdencamp, D.O.M., L.Ac.

Most traditions and cultures around the world employ some type of cleansing regimen for the body and spirit. Some people fast from all solid foods, while others eliminate all animal products. The duration varies greatly depending on the tradition. It may be as little as one day, or up to several weeks.

In Chinese Medicine, we use theory to advise our patients about cleansing protocols, adapted to their particular constitutional weaknesses or strengths.

Chinese Medicine theory believes good health is nurtured by respecting the cycles of nature. For example, the sun is at its peak mid-day and therefore, our digestive ‘heat’ is at its strongest during this time. That is why it is best to eat heavier meals around noon and lighter ones in the evening.

The change of seasons, especially winter to spring and late summer to fall, are ideal times to implement cleansing routines. Your body is more susceptible to illness during these times, so cleansing is an excellent method of prevention.

The therapeutic properties of food and herbs are determined by their flavor. It is ideal to include all of the different flavors in your diet.
  • Bitter, for example clears heat, inflammation and dries excess pathological moisture. Sweet strengthens the digestive system.
  • Sweet flavors, as used in Chinese Medicine, refer to the sweetness of grains, vegetables and legumes.
  • Sour is astringent and stops the leakage of body fluids.
  • Pungent flavors disperse and induce sweating.
  • Salty flavors soften hardness.
These flavors can be incorporated into your diet to balance imbalances, while any flavor used excessively or inappropriately, may create an imbalance.

Dampness in Chinese Medicine refers to an accumulation of moisture in the body and has both external and internal causes. Dampness can manifest in many different ways: yeast infections, nasal congestion, chest congestion, and skin conditions with discharge.

Foods that create dampness include: alcohol, peanuts, concentrated sweeteners and juices, tropical fruits, and wheat and dairy products. Reducing or eliminating these, will reduce the possibility that you will experience damp conditions.

As practitioners, we use these guidelines to determine a tailor-made cleansing regimen for each individual patient, which is based on their specific personal constitution:
  • Weak, cold, thin, nervous constitutions with dry skin and hair should limit their intake of bitter flavors.
  • Overweight people who have a sluggish digestive system or any signs of excess phlegm (chronic nasal congestion, yeast infections, etc.) should limit the intake of sweet foods. Sweet is a beneficial flavor for thin, fatigued, easily startled, and nervous constitutions.
  • Sour astringes and binds so use it cautiously if you are constipated. If you have acute or chronic pain, it may create more tightness in the muscles, ligaments and tendons.
  • Pungent flavors should be used sparingly in dry, nervous, weak, and thin people. Warming pungent flavors (garlic, cloves, hot peppers) should be avoided with any heat signs or inflammation. People that are dull, lethargic or overweight can benefit from this flavor the most.
  • Salty flavors are good for thin, dry, nervous people. Overweight, lethargic people and those with edema (fluid accumulation) should limit their intake of this flavor, which includes seaweeds, barley and millet.
For best results, consult your practitioner so they can customize a protocol for your constitutional needs.

Here is a general cleansing regimen:

Eat only organic fruits and vegetables preferably locally grown and organic whole grains like brown rice, millet, and quinoa. You can also eat sprouted grain bread. Only use cold pressed oils such as olive oil and flax seed oil.

Foods that are restricted:
Sugar, coffee, tea (caffeinated), white flour, refined foods, fried foods, alcohol, soy products, animal products, drugs, peanuts and peanut oil

Foods that aid detoxification:
Beets, artichokes, onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, mustard greens, beet greens, collard, kale, chard, sprouts, romaine lettuce, sea vegetables, daikon radish, turnips, figs, apples

Signs and Symptoms of detoxification:
Headaches, fatigue, dizziness, “withdrawal” symptoms, emotional processing, rash, runny nose, generalized body aches, “foggy” head.

References: Pitchford, Paul, Healing With Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition, pp. 270-276.