You deep-clean your home—maybe even your car and work space—but what about your body?
Dr. Christina Youngren, ND, adjunct faculty at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences (SCNM), said she advises patients to deep-clean their bodies through a 21-day cleanse at least once per year; this gives the major organs a much-needed break.
“We bombard our bodies all year and cause organs like the liver, gallbladder and kidneys to take on a lot of work,” Dr. Youngren explained. “By committing to a 21-day, high-nutrient, mostly plant-based diet, we get rid of all the top allergens and let our bodies rest.”
A 21-day hypoallergenic cleanse can lead to huge improvements in digestion, sleep, immune function, mood, energy, skin health, hormone balancing and even brain function. It may also tremendously decrease inflammation.
“The biggest benefit of the cleanse is typically improved digestion, followed by better sleep,” Dr. Youngren explained. “[NDs] think of the gut as an important part of immune function because the gut is like a ‘mini brain.’ Once it’s healthy, digestion improves, energy improves, the immune system improves, and overall outlook on life improves.”
One man in his mid-thirties who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, double-vision and numbness in his hands and feet experienced incredible results after completing the cleanse, Dr. Youngren said. The man was about 30 to 50 pounds overweight, but after the 21 days, he lost 12 pounds, had no signs of rheumatoid arthritis, his double-vision resolved, and the numbness was gone in his hands and significantly less in his feet.
Dr. Youngren added that even simple improvements people experience can make a significant difference in their lives. “A student who had bad acne found her skin condition completely resolved [following the cleanse],” she explained “Even if you’re mostly doing the right things, that little tweaking can lead to a huge benefit.”
How do I cleanse?
Some of the top foods to avoid during the 21-day period include dairy, eggs, sugar, wheat and gluten, soy, peanuts, corn, specified forms of processed meats and even certain vegetables. Many people don’t recognize how vegetables in the nightshade family—tomatoes, chilies, eggplants and peppers, for example—can sometimes negatively affect the body, especially in people with autoimmune disorders, according to Dr. Youngren. Patients who commit to the cleanse will also avoid caffeine, which can sometimes pose a challenge.
“Initially, the hardest part is giving up the calorically dense foods we are used to eating—usually some form of carb and protein,” Dr. Youngren said. “The ‘quick fixes’ like crackers and bagels are high in carbohydrates and low in fiber, which convert more readily to sugar that feeds our brain so we feel full. Unfortunately, this satiety is not long-lasting, and we’re soon reaching for another carbo-loaded snack. Our brains must adjust [to the hypoallergenic diet], then it is smooth sailing from there.”
Dr. Youngren explained two phases of adjustment people often go through during the cleanse. The first few days of phase one can be challenging because the body craves sugar and caffeine. But after three to four days, the body has adjusted, and the next step involves avoiding the quick-fix, carbohydrate-based items. Around the seven to 10 day mark, she advises patients keep plenty of snacks around, such as veggies and nuts. The brain will be adjusting at this point and cause the patient to feel like he or she cannot get enough calories.
After approximately 10 days, patients experience the relief of phase two. The brain has fully adjusted, and people actually find they feel much better on a plant-based diet, according to Dr. Youngren. By week two of the cleanse, all patients give up animal protein (with diabetics as an exception due to the need to stabilize blood sugar). Patients should also consume the doctor-recommended protein drinks containing all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals to support the organs and help their bodies go through this cleansing process.
“Taking [food items] out of the diet is so important because it can help you identify the things to which you’re not responding well,” Dr. Youngren said. “These foods can sometimes be a large factor in why patients are not optimizing health. I highly recommend cleansing once or twice per year – the benefits are long-lasting."