Detoxing isn't easy and it isn't fun. But what exactly is detoxing, and what can a detox do for you?
We aren't talking about the kind of detox programmes frequented by those dealing with drug or alcohol addiction. "Detox", in the spa world, is a holistic health term that refers to the elimination of toxins from your body. It involves the employment of specific treatments and therapies in order to improve your wellbeing, help you to feel healthier and often kick-start a new diet and exercise regime for a better you!
A little history lesson
Holistic detoxification and body purification ideas are based on the Ancient Egyptian and Greek ideas surrounding "autointoxication" (the notion that food that enters the intestine rots and produces harmful toxins) and the "humoral" theory of health. The humoral theory claimed that the body was made up of four main substances, or humors -- black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood -- that needed to be balanced to promote health. An imbalance, surplus or deficit of these humors was said to negatively affect both physical health and personality.
Modern medicine has effectively put paid to the humoral theory, but holistic detoxification through physical treatments, dietary restrictions, fasting and the use of naturopathic and homeopathic preparations remain popular health regimes.
Your body has an excellent detoxification system that helps you to naturally get rid of harmful or unwanted substances. Your colon, liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph and skin all work to keep everything running smoothly. However, if your diet is high in sugar, fat, caffeine, and alcohol then your natural detoxification system can struggle to keep up.
Giving your body a helping hand with a detox and a period of abstinence can kick-start a whole new regime, giving you the confidence to change your lifestyle, get active and get healthy! If you are a regular detox-er, then you'll know that taking some time out to assess what you put in your body, as well as indulging in some pampering, can be a truly refreshing and rejuvenating experience.
How to improve your diet
Many of us like a glass of wine after a long day at the office, or a relaxing gin and tonic come Sunday afternoon. But drinking over the recommended two or three units per day, binge drinking, or persistent alcohol misuse can leave your body struggling to keep up. Not only can excessive alcohol consumption put a strain on your liver, but it can be detrimental to your skin too. Alcohol dilates your blood vessels and depletes your body's store of vitamin A, which acts as an anti-oxidant. Excessive alcohol use can result in skin disorders including chronic capillary dilation (a permanent flush of the face) and acne rosacea.
Espresso, latte, cappuccino; filtered, instant, powdered, ground -- it's no secret that over the past few decades us Brits have taken to coffee consumption like ducks to water. But whilst the debates about the addictive properties of caffeine rage on, this diuretic can leave your skin dry or spotty, and over-consumption can even lead to muscle tremors, headaches and mood swings.
Sugar and fat:
Cutting out the obvious sugars and saturated fats from your diet is a great start to a new, healthier regime. But for a serious detox-er, cutting out all unnecessary fats and sugars is the key.
Keep your eyes peeled for barley malt, corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, maple syrup, molasses and the unlikely-sounding turbinado –- these are all sugar disguised as something else. Fats are a similar problem. It's important to have some "good" fats in your diet (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated), but the saturated fat content of some foodstuffs that may seem healthy can often be gigantic!
Keeping an eye on food labels and avoiding pre-prepared and pre-packaged foods in favour of making your own is the safest way of avoiding unnecessary fats and sugars.
Detoxifying spa treatments
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian lifestyle practice centred around the harmonisation of a person's "dosha". The dosha, in a similar way to the Ancient Greek humors, is based around the elements of earth, air, fire and water. The three doshas are: vata (air and space), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (earth and water). It is believed that an imbalance of these three elements causes both physical and mental illness. Ayurvedic therapy usually includes a nutritional consultation, exercise and massage focusing on marma points, which are similar to acupressure and reflexology points.
Colonic hydrotherapy (also known as colonic irrigation) is a controversial treatment that isn't for the faint hearted. Colonic hydrotherapy involves several gallons of water being passed through the colon via a tube inserted into your bottom, essentially "flushing" out your bowel.
It is claimed that colonic hydrotherapy can benefit people who suffer from a range of ailments, from allergies to Multiple Sclerosis. Whilst most medical professionals do not concur that there are any specific therapeutic benefits of colonics, the holistic community claim the treatment can result in improved wellbeing, with many recommending regular treatments during detox.
Lymph is a pale liquid that forms an integral immunity-boosting system running parallel to your blood veins. The lymphatic system feeds cells and removes toxic products, bacteria, cholesterol and viruses to the blood which, in turn, shuttles this waste to the liver, kidneys, skin, colon and lungs for removal. Unlike blood, lymph does not have a pump to assist its movement around the body. Instead, lymph relies on the pulsation of blood and the contraction of muscles through movement.
Manual lymphatic drainage is widely recognised as a positive accompaniment to a detox programme. By manually stimulating the lymph through gentle stroking massage you can achieve a good level of toxin removal, along with a reduction of fluid retention, increased skin hydration and accelerated healing.
The ancient Chinese method of cupping is also claimed to stimulate the lymphatic system. A vacuum is created by air through heat in a glass cup that is placed on the skin. As the air cools the vacuum pulls up the skin, which results in an acupressure effect. It is believed to increase the removal of toxins by the lymph and encourage the flow of Qi (life energy) around the body.
Yoga practitioners believe the presence of free radicals in our bodies causes illness. A free radical is a dysfunctional molecule that is missing an electrode, making it very unstable. This instability causes it to try and take electrodes from surrounding molecules, resulting in an increased degeneration of cells. Yoga practitioners believe this development of free radicals is caused by the accumulation of toxins.
Yoga is said to promote breathing, digestion, circulation and excretion -- speeding up the body's natural detoxification process and encouraging better health.
Other spa treatments
If fully-blown detox treatments aren't up your street, you can still feel transformed and, for a short period at least, a little thinner, with some refreshing and rejuvenating spa treatments.
Body wraps are a great boost to a new health regime. Whilst the loss of inches may only last a short time, it can be a wonderful boost to your confidence and outlook, spurring you on to make some positive changes.
Exfoliation sloughs away dead skins cells, improving skin tone and texture, improving the circulation of oxygen to the surface of your skin, allowing products to be more easily absorbed and leaving you looking radiant.
Mud treatments are very popular amongst spa aficionados, and a rasul, hammam or serail treatment is not only relaxing and fun, but also gives your body a nice mini-detox. Slathering yourself in mud and enjoying the beneficial minerals either alone or with a friend or partner is a great way to begin a detox, or a fantastic reward at the end!
Whatever you do, and however you do it, make sure you detox safely, and if in any doubt, talk to your doctor before embarking on your road to a better you.