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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Cleansing in the Dirty New World

Jan 05, 2016 03:22AM ● By Lorraine Gengo

In the days when clean water and other natural resources seemed unlimited—pre-GMOs and PCPs, pre-pesticides and antibiotic overuse—all our ancestors needed to do to detoxify their bodies was to eat seasonally. They would also perform simple constitutionals that would induce sweating. Today however, detoxing is an any-time-of-the-year endeavor that is imperative to health.

Since World War II, the Environmental Protection Agency has registered 85,000 synthetic chemicals and substances that are foreign to our bodies and the environment. Every year, 2,000 more xenobiotics are added to the list, increasing our exposure to chemicals and substances that our bodies do not know how to break down or eliminate.

“We’re taking in more toxins than ever since the 1950s. Where once we didn’t need to detox because our bodies could handle it on its own, the burden now is too great,” says Mary Gilbertson, a veteran registered nurse who now works as a nutritionist and certified holistic health coach.

In her 28 years of nursing, Gilbertson saw the harmful effects of this toxic burden. She maintains that the ever-increasing toxic load “is disrupting our hormones, causing mental illness, more cancers, autism and morbid obesity. It all starts at the cellular level with inflammation.”

Most of the dis-ease caused by this unwanted and unchecked xenobiotic overload can be overcome by changes in diet and lifestyle habits, jumpstarted with a detoxification program ideally overseen by a professional. It takes education and a little hard work to start feeling the benefits of turning a “dirty” body into a clean, healthy one.

“In the hospital, there wasn’t the time to educate patients; sometimes the situations were so acute, you couldn’t talk to them about lifestyle changes when the patients couldn’t breathe,” Gilbertson says.

Like Gilbertson, Lisa Gengo has both allopathic education and training in alternative and complementary medicines. Gengo once worked as a physician’s assistant in cardiac surgery, but now practices medicine in Norwalk as a both a naturopathic doctor and a certified functional medicine physician. She believes that a doctor is a teacher. “The patient does the work. I meet them where they are, but they’ve got to be willing to take the credit,” she says.

The Mechanics of Detoxification

The major organs of the body involved in detoxification are the liver (removes impurities from the blood), the kidneys (recycles water and eliminates waste), the lungs (gets rid of carbon dioxide) and the skin (excretes toxins through sweat). The lymphatic system has an immune function as well as an excretory function. The largest organ of the body is the skin; it is a key player in detoxification. These are the pathways in our bodies through which detoxification occurs on a daily basis. The idea behind any detoxification program is to help support and promote these basic functions.

Each individual is genetically predisposed to use certain pathways better than others, according to Gengo, which is why a detox protocol has to be individually tailored. “You can test which pathways are weak and which are strong, and you can take supplements to support weak pathways,” she says. “Any protocol where everyone goes on the same plan should be suspect.”

The body has an innate wisdom about how to deal with toxins that enter into it. It takes them out of the bloodstream, where they can freely roam the body and cause more serious damage, and sequesters them in the tissues. Most commonly, toxins are stored away in fat, but also in bone, brain and heart tissue. What happens when a person detoxes is those toxins are put back into circulation, therefore there’s a potential for damage to occur.

Gilbertson says that while most people are able to go through a detox program, she’s especially careful with certain groups—namely the very young, the very old, and people who are morbidly obese. The latter group has a potentially greater toxic burden stored in fat.

“You’re going to be more careful with children because they eat a lot more toxic stuff and they have smaller bodies,” she explains. The elderly are more likely to have compromised liver and kidney function. That’s not to say she wouldn’t work with such patients. Gilbertson speaks about a patient with liver cancer who had a very good outcome after following a customized detox protocol.

Because toxins are released back into the bloodstream, it’s common to experience physical, mental and emotional reactions. On the physical side, patients may experience muscle and joint pain, headache and flu-like symptoms during a detox. Supplements that support the organs of elimination can combat some of these negative side effects. Also, it’s important that the practitioner is making sure that the patient is defecating, urinating, sweating and avoiding stress as much as possible.

One common pitfall of detoxing is known as the Herxheimer reaction. This is when the immune system reacts to either a die-off of pathogens or to toxins re-entering the bloodstream. If you’ve ever had the flu and experienced feeling worse in the late afternoon, you were feeling the effects of Herxheimer. According to Gilbertson, a patient may have a strong reaction like this around day three or four of a detox, which she doesn’t necessarily consider a bad thing since it shows that the detox is working. Gengo, however, feels it’s a sign that a patient should proceed more cautiously with treatment, especially if trying to eliminate Lyme or candida.

Mental and Emotional Purging

The mental and emotional components of detoxification should not be overlooked. It is a good idea to line up someone who’s a good listener to be around for the emotional purging.

Gengo related a personal experience of detoxing after 9/11 exposure as a volunteer. Along with firefighters and other first responders, she participated in a protocol that included taking niacin and alternating rounds of light cardio exercise and sauna treatments for five hours every day for an extended period. The day came, she said, when her emotions reached a breaking point.

“I was anger looking for a reason. It was all these mixed emotions that welled up and came out, and once it did it was done. That’s what the team was looking for,” she says.

Two Takes on Methodology 

Both Gilbertson and Gengo think it’s important to look at patients’ blood work to see their current toxic burden. They also take extensive health histories to determine where and how toxins are gaining access to their patients’ bodies. The warm-up to every detox is getting rid of vices—such as weaning off of caffeine, alcohol, sugar or cigarettes.

Gilbertson begins all her patients on a two-week elimination diet; they abstain from the seven most allergenic and inflammation-producing foods: wheat, dairy, soy, sugar, corn, eggs and peanuts. During the first week, she teaches them “how to shop the rainbow”, seeking out the fruits and vegetables that activate the antioxidant system that combats free radicals.

That first week, patients are asked to engage in gentle exercise that is just enough to produce a mild sweat, such as yoga, walking or a rebounder trampoline. Gilbertson also suggests saunas, Epsom salt baths, and dry skin brushing to aid in circulation and to invigorate the skin. After the two-week detox diet, they go on a four-week clean-eating diet. She bolsters her patients’ immune systems with probiotics, fish oils and vitamin D, as well as other herbal supplements as needed on a case-by-case basis.

Gengo’s approach is similar, although she usually starts her patients out with homeopathy along with an elimination diet. She agrees that lowering stress levels is also important. “If you’re serious about detoxing, you can’t be working like a crazy person,” she says. “Stress itself creates a toxic internal environment.”

Lisa Gengo, ND, practices at Full Circle Medicine, 8 Knight St, #205, Norwalk. Connect with her at

Mary Gilbertson’s Prescription 4 Wellness is located at 238 Monroe Tpke, Ste C4, Monroe. She can be reached at See Community Resource Guide
listing, page 66.

Lorraine Gengo, LMT, is an experienced journalist and practitioner who provides ayurvedic massage and marma point therapy to patients at the New England Institute for Neurology and Headache and High Quality Home Therapy, in Stamford.

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