Slowly but surely Spring has arrived. The dark days of Winter are finally behind us.
Spring is a time of renewal, of growth and movement, of fresh air, sunshine and rain. It is an excellent time to shed some of the more sluggish habits of Winter, clean our spaces and let in fresh air and light, change our diets into a plant centric direction, to stretch and move like Nature is doing all around us.
In Chinese medicine, the organ of Spring is the liver. It’s job is detoxification and movement. It processes foods, drugs, environmental toxins, hormones, emotions and helps us eliminate unwanted substances. We can enhance the liver’s function by doing a cleanse.
Cleansing can take many forms from just avoiding certain foods, drugs and alcohol to fasting.
Studies on fasting and short courses of caloric restriction (5-7 days) have found that if a person between the ages of 50-70 years old does it for one week twice per year, it can increase their life span by 15 years. How is this possible?
Cleansing can increase autophagy, which could be thought of as cellular Spring cleaning. It is a physiological process where the body clears out damaged cells and other debris, recycles what is useful and filters out what is not. It is induced by fasting (in as little as 24 hours), calorie restriction, exercise and a ketogenic diet. Autophagy has been shown to improve health in many ways including preventing neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It has also been shown to boost immunity.
Intense cleanses, such as fasting or extreme calorie restriction are not for everyone, especially if you are pregnant or growing or on certain medications or have an eating disorder. However, everyone can benefit from reducing sugar, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods and increasing their vegetables.
Spring vegetables are naturally high in nutrients that enhance detoxification and support the liver: young spring greens, parsley, asparagus, radishes, artichokes. Challenge yourself to eat 5-9 servings of assorted vegetables per day. A serving is ½ cup, so it is not as hard as it sounds. A big salad for lunch or stir fry for dinner can be three or more servings. See how many different vegetables you can eat in a week. Sorry, potatoes and corn don’t count, but different varieties of lettuce do! If you don’t tolerate raw vegetables, make a soup or steam them.
And move!! If you’re unable to get out and exercise, wave your arms overhead, march in place. If you can’t do it for long periods, do it for five minutes several times per day.
Don’t forget to drink water. Just like washing your clothes, it is important to rinse!!
Every time I do a cleanse, I think to myself, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” The hardest part is starting. See if you can get a friend or family member to join you.
Enjoy the feeling of renewal. Headaches, crankiness, gas often show up in the beginning. But this is your body getting rid of the debris. It will go away in a week or so. Your cells will light up, like washing your windows. Happy Spring!!
By Dr. Jennifer Means ND, LAc