You are what you eat. In truth, you are also what you don’t eliminate.
Do you sometimes feel like you need to detoxify yourself? Wonder why you get ill so frequently? Why you seem to gain fat easily but not muscle? Science is showing us that, just as ancient and traditional cultures believe, health truly does originate in the gut.
This article contains a 3 step process to cleanse and heal your gut, and tremendously improve your health.
How’s Your Gut Health?
- Find it easy to gain fat but difficult to lose it?
- Have food or hayfever-type allergies?
- Have energy lulls throughout the day?
- Have strong food cravings for “bad” foods – sweets, carbs etc.?
- Still feel tired even when you have a full night’s sleep?
- Have a bowel movement less than twice a day?
- Often feel bloated / visually retain water (does your skin seem loose and “jiggly”), especially around the belly?
- Feel generally a bit toxic and in need of an internal cleanse / system reboot?
If the answer to any of the above is “yes” then…
Your Digestive System Probably Has A Toxic Build-Up
To understand how this happened, let’s read this definition of a toxin:
A toxin can be a food substance which the cells did not happen to eat and which, becoming superfluous, becomes a burden on the body. A toxin can also be a normal waste product of cellular metabolism. This too needs elimination. A toxin can be a foreign material which the body could never have used, but which, having gotten inside, now must he detoxified (catabolized), moved, stored or eliminated. A toxin can also be a substance which was incompletely metabolized at some point, so that it could have been used, but now has become a burden.
Remember, as humans, our source of energy for our organs, nervous system and muscles comes only from one place – our digestive system. But it’s not just our body’s cells that generate the energy from food. Beneficial microbes which line the wall of the gut also generate energy for the body’s cells. That’s if they’re working as they should.
There’s a LOT of non-food out there nowadays. It looks like food, is advertised as food, but is not recognised by the body as food!
Guess what, people? By the above definition, that counts as a TOXIN.
Remember, that’s most things that come pre-packaged, or god forbid, pre-made, in a container at the supermarket.
The Immune System
60-90% of your immune system is concentrated in your gut mucosa.
The importance of the immune system cannot be understated. Dwelling in the modern era, our city environment is full of lovely little pathogens that want to come and live in your body and invite their friends to the party.
For them, a strong immune system is a nightmare. They think they’ve found a nice new, warm home… They settle in for the night, maybe kick back on the nearest ganglion colony and open a few beers, then BOOM - the cops break the door down, crash their party and arrest everyone. They’re locked up and taken straight to jail. To the lymph nodes, then the liver, kidneys and finally thrown out to die in the great beyond.
By the way, I can’t recommend the following BBC documentary highly enough. It’s a brilliant exposition of cell activity at a microscopic level.
Bookmark it and come back to it later - you need to read this first.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
Let’s talk about allergies.
They are generally caused by something called Leaky Gut Syndrome. This often starts with an imbalance of micro-organisms within the gut. It has been estimated that there are 10 times as many micro-organisms within us, as we have cells. And many of these are in the gut.
Widely speaking, there are two types of microbes in the gut. Goodies, and baddies.
When you take antibiotics, the baddies AND the goodies get killed. However it seems the pathogenic microbes (baddies) are more prevalent generally, and/or better at surviving in harsh environments. Thus they tend to take over the gut and wreak havoc therein.
When the gut’s epithelial layer is damaged, it becomes less efficient, and can also leak undigested food particles into the bloodstream.
In case you didn’t guess, THIS IS A MAJOR PROBLEM.
Interpreted by the immune system as foreign bodies rather than nutrition, they are attacked. That attack is what we know as an allergic reaction. The immune system learns that these foods are enemies and begin to attack them, sometimes as soon as they touch the skin and before they are ingested.
An overactive immune system is like a rabid dog. Biting out at everything and anything that comes too close, it exists in panic mode.
In panic mode, it can’t do what it’s meant to.
Leaky gut is a common syndrome, and one from which I myself have suffered. However, I am well on the way to healing this, through the process I’m outlining for you.
Some of the main outcomes you can expect from this program is a massive improvement in energy levels and/or motivation and an overall increase in immune system functioning.
If your immune system was working properly, you wouldn’t have colds and flu, chronic aches and pains, or any feeling of dis-ease within your body. If you never have any of these. Great. You might as well stop reading right now (bye).
And for those interested in such things, operating with a more efficient digestive system will tend to normalise your body composition, which for many people may mean dropping some body fat.
Stage One of the Cleanse
R1: Remove (Days 1-9)
I’m interested in the causes of problems, not their symptoms. So first we must remove the cause of digestive stress, namely the toxic build-up that’s in there, and the toxic food you’re feeding yourself.
Once the digestive system has been completely cleansed, it can get to work processing all those toxins that are still stored in your fat, muscle, organ and skin cells. It never hurts to give your digestive system a rest as well.
The Clean-Me-Out-From-The-Inside-Please-Sir, Full Digestive System Cleanse.
So let’s explain days 1 to 9 of the digestive system clean-out, to ensure that any build-up in the digestive system is eliminated, or at least drastically reduced.
This consists of:
- A 3-day (largely vegetarian) pre-cleanse and
- A 5-day full no-solids cleanse consuming only liquids and herbal supplements
- 1 final day to break the fast
I like the colon cleanse from Blessed Herbs because it is made from natural substances rather than chemical ones, backed up by thousands of enthused testimonials, including my own. I first used it about 10 years ago and found it to be extremely effective. I also used it a few weeks ago and because I’m now much more knowledgable about nutrition, got even more benefit from it this time round.
My Suggested Modification of The Cleanse
According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome (an excellent book on digestive system functioning and disorders), one of the best healing remedies for a damaged gut lining is bone or meat broth. I recommend everyone drink copious amounts of this while on this cleanse.
While Dr. Natasha focuses on serious disorders like autism, ADHD and depression in her book, I believe her ideas apply to many people now who have let their digestive system get into quite a state (I’m talking about myself here too by the way – before I learned this stuff). I would say that most city-dwellers suffer to varying degrees from digestive distress. Thus most likely, her recommendation to consume bone broth is valid for you too.
While modernity touts store-bought stock as more convenient and easy to use, it rarely carries the health benefits of homemade broth.
There is a copious amount of information out there on the web about this. So I will just give you the key points:
- Enterocytes and other gut epithelium cells require collagen,
- When you ingest bone broth, it feeds the body with collagen and gelatin which are the building blocks of cells, bones, ligaments, cartilage and the brain.
I encourage you to read the references I’ve linked down the bottom for more information. But I can say that after 2 weeks of consuming different types of bone broth (chicken, beef, pork) on a regular basis, I am definitely a believer! I feel more energetic than I have in years.
Here’s the basic recipe:
- Get bones from butcher (chicken carcasses, beef bones, chicken necks & feet, pig’s feet – these are so filled with gelatin its amazing). Often they’re free or very cheap. It’s the sinewy material in and around the bones we’re looking for.
- Put bones in water, in slow cooker, or in crock pot in oven
- Add few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to help draw nutrients out into water
- Leave for 24 hours ideally (you can cook it for less but 24 hours seems ideal to extract the gelatin/collagen/good stuff
- Strain stock
- Put in fridge
- Heat & eat
3 Day Pre-Cleanse
This starts your cleansing process. It’s explained well in the detox kit. Key points:
- Cut toxic substances which acidify the body’s cells, including:
- Alcohol / cigarettes
- Stimulants / caffeine
- Starchy & refined carbohydrates
- Artificial sweeteners
- Switch your protein sources to fish, beans, pulses
- Eat lots of non-starchy vegetables
- Up your water intake
- Start to take the herbal supplements in the evening, which will improve your frequency of bowel movements
- Prepare to fast by gradually reducing your food intake so that by the third day you are eating 1/3 normal meal sizes
This is where you start to feel hungry. Sorry, but it’s true.
The Fast: 5-Day Cleanse
On the 5-day-cleanse, you consume only the herbal and fibre-based shakes that are part of the cleanse, and plenty of liquids.
- Apple juice – the cleanse kit recommends this as supposedly it helps the digestion and cleansing process
- Lemon & ginger tea – use fresh lemon & ginger and you can add cayenne pepper for extra cleansing
- Tulsi tea helps to lower the effects of both psychological and physical stress, lowers cortisol, reduces inflammatory responses, improves liver function as well as helping to fight infection.
- Any herbal tea or green tea will probably do fine, however I did completely cut caffeine and therefore avoided green tea
- Coconut water – great electrolyte replacement
- The cleanse recommends cooking a vegetable broth. This is fine, but in hindsight I would consume a bone broth with added probiotic substances to ensure you are healing the body while also cleansing it. But how can you get probiotics if you’re only allowed liquids? By using only the liquid from probiotic foods like sauerkraut. This liquid has been found to contain many more billion organisms than even the strongest pro-biotic pill.
- Take some fish oils every day (I was taking about 40g per day – 4 teaspoons, as well as 20g of a combination flax-seed and EFA oil). This helps get some fat into the body so you don’t completely waste away!
Which Pro-biotic to use? I use a probiotic called Bio-Kult, recommended by Dr. Natasha. It is a ‘therapeutic strength’ probiotic containing 14 different strains of bacteria. Many probiotic tablets have only one or two strains – if we have more types, we can encourage whatever is lacking to proliferate.
Here’s my second bit:
Warning: Read me first!
There are a few things you must know before embarking on a cleanse like this. It’s not to be taken lightly.
On days 5 and 6 you WILL in all likelihood have so-called ‘mucoid plaque’ coming out of your bowels – old compacted food that was clogging up your intestines.
Next, and this is the most important point - you will be very sensitive to the foods that you put in your body for the next 2-6 weeks, and you need to be ready to adjust your diet in accordance with what your body is telling you it needs, while you heal it.
My experience is that I have become much more aware of and interested in foods that offer true nutrition, as opposed to the refined crap that is sold as food these days. You need to commit to a repair / rebuilding process after the initial removal process.
- Will I lose weight? Yes you will. Water weight, fat weight, possibly muscle weight. But I believe you can minimise loss of muscle mass by having bone broth at least twice a day.
- Will I feel hungry? The cleanse documentation says no. I say yes. Tough titty. Deal with it!! You’re going to survive,
- Will I still go to the toilet? Obviously you’ll be peeing a lot – because you’ll tend to drink a lot of liquids to satiate your hunger. But you should adjust the number of the digestive stimulator tablets to ensure you keep regular. I had to up them to about 3 or 4 on a few days. You’ll still be going on the fifth day, and what will be coming out will be compacted fecal matter built up from months or years previous.
- Will I have enough energy to work? As you’ll see if you watch my video diary, I was mostly full of energy. In fact, more energetic than I would have been normally.
- Should I train while cleansing? Ultimately the best advice is to go with how you feel. You may feel the most vigorous thing you can do while cleansing is to go for a walk. Or you may feel that some stretching, or a jog, would be beneficial to help you sweat out any toxins the body is cleansing. This is one of the few times that I wouldn’t recommend weight training.
- Will my skin break out? Again, sorry, I don’t know the answer to this. It depends how toxic you are! My skin seemed to clear up, if anything, possibly because of the amount of liquids I was drinking.
- I don’t like how bone broth/sauerkraut taste, is there an alternative? Yes there is. Stop living inside your comfort zone. Having said that, chicken bone broth tastes better than beef, and you can liven it up with some salt & pepper.
Breaking the Fast
There are instructions in the detox kit for breaking the fast, but they’re not very detailed. I would follow the elimination diet process I’ve outlined below as closely as possible. Don’t go straight back into heavy foods, although you may feel that you want to.
When I first did this cleanse it was at a spa in Ko Samui in Thailand. One of the girls was so desperate to get back to her old habits that she broke the fast with chicken and rice. Did she poop for the next 3 days? Nope.
Start with the simplest, most digestive-friendly foods possible and gradually work up to those that are harder work. It took me almost a week to get back onto eating things like red meat and sausages, 2 weeks to even try a slice of sourdough bread (it’s the only kind of bread I eat now, and rarely), and 3 weeks to try some pasta (again, now an extremely rare option).
R2: Rebuild (day 10 onwards)
Who wants pro-biotics anyway?
Beneficial gut flora is responsible for doing a lot of cool things to help us out. Once you get into the details of this stuff, it gets pretty in-depth. However, here’s a few examples of what gut flora does for us.
- They activate synthesis of lymphocytes – a crucial group of immune system cells. In people with damaged gut flora there are far fewer lymphocytes in the gut wall, leaving it poorly protected.
- They synthesise the cells which swallow toxins, virii and bacterial debris in infected / inflamed tissues (neutrophils/macrophages)
- They keep pathogenic (so-called opportunistic) microbes at bay. These little critters often consume nutrients that are meant for us and our little friends, and then generate their own toxins which our bodies then have to deal with.
- They help keep the immune system in balance, so that T-cells do their jobs correctly, fighting the enemy
Because of this it’s crucial to supplement with probiotic foods – either a straight supplement, or actual foods with beneficial bacteria, as discussed below.
A few years ago a new craze came about in the form of Yakult and other ‘live culture’ yoghurt drinks to improve digestion. The problem was, they were absolutely saturated with sugar! Too many sugary foods and processed carohydrates increase numbers of different fungi, Candida species in particular. They can also promote population of the gut with worms and other parasites. GROSS!
In addition, commercially made dairy products which advertise themselves as containing ‘live cultures’ will not necessarily live up to their claims once the products hit the shelves.
However you can be reasonably confident that fermented food products will still contain a good level of them, as will a good quality pro-biotic supplement pill.
Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, kochumba or pickles before eating to help restore enzymes, hydrochloric acid levels and probiotics back to normal.
Regular (daily) servings of bone broth is also highly recommended to continue building the digestive system and providing nutrition without overly taxing the healing body.
R3: Re-Introduce (day 10 onwards)
Over the next 5 days to 4 weeks, you should gradually introduce one food item at a time to ensure you have a good response to it. This is to make sure you don’t start consuming something you have an intolerance of, or allergic reaction to without realising it.
The first time I ate pasta after my cleanse was 3 weeks after breaking the fast. It made me feel bloated. Not going there again for a while.
Following Dr. Natasha’s guidelines, we should:
- Avoid any foods which we have a negative reaction to (bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, water retention)
- Consume probiotic foods, like sauerkraut, before every meals, to help the digestive system function optimally
- Continue to consume bone or meat broth daily (I now have this every morning after my hot water + lemon drink, and put some sauerkraut in it. My energy levels have thus far been through the roof. Seems gross? Do you want healthy digestion or not?? Get into it)
- Gradually introduce dairy, ideally in the form of ghee or butter for cooking, from organic free range cows, and home-made yoghurt using raw milk (I buy mine at Islington Farmer’s Market)
Here was my exceptionally designed food re-introduction plan. It’s not perfect but it was a useful guide as to what to introduce every day after the cleanse.
After I introduced some foods I didn’t quite feel right with them, so I left them for a few days, then tried smaller amounts, until my digestive system had healed enough to be able to tolerate them.
Many of us spend hundreds of hours every month sat in front of a screen. As a result, there are lots of people walking around, acutely aware of what’s on their screens, but not really knowing what’s going on in their bodies… In their digestive systems and their muscles.
Ask yourself – are you guilty of losing touch with your body at times? Do you know how you respond to different foods in terms of energy levels or body composition – what effect they have on you?
The cleanse will make you increasingly aware of your digestive system’s responsiveness to food – and you may have to (sometimes radically) alter your diet to keep your body happy, or risk falling back into your old habits.
Conclusion & Debrief
Check out the last night of my fast, and morning after, just before I break my fast:
Good luck! As always, I’m right here to help if you need it!
- Colon cleanse from Blessed Herbs
- Bio-Kult Probiotic
- Cleanse & Purify Thyself, Book 1. The original cleansing book by Richard Anderson who pioneered this same cleanse. Very dense, fascinating material about why the cleanse works and what the different herbs do.
- Gut and Psychology Syndrome. By Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD
- Why Broth is Beautiful, on the Weston A. Price Foundation website. This is an very well referenced article about bone broth and its many and numerous health benefits.
- Another excellent one on bone broth from The Nourishing Gourmet
- There are a variety of different bone and meat stock recipes here, as well as a decent exposition of its benefits. Jade Institute
- Nourished Kitchen also provides an interesting perspective on bone broth.
- Another good recipe for bone broth at Balanced Bites