January Detox?

This is an article I wrote when I was a senior intern at acupuncture school, over ten years ago - it still pretty much sums up what I think about 'detoxes' and 'cleanses' and I hope you find it useful! -Kirsten


The flurry of the holidays has died down, and even here in California there is a certain dreariness to the months of January and February. The days are still short, it's cool (or downright cold), we're probably all broke and a little bloated after overindulging in every way through the month of December.

A question I am often asked is "should I 'detox'?" Many people feel that their bodies are clogged with toxins, and that some tough love is in order. Fasting, gallbladder flushes, high colonics, herbal 'cleanses' and other methods are all popular. I would wager that sales of those products, many touting weight loss benefits, peak at this time of year. So what does Chinese Medicine have to say about 'cleansing'?

In Chinese Medicine we view the body as an interconnected and balanced system. The digestive and eliminative system is analogous to a pot on a stove. Food goes in the pot, and the fire underneath cooks it, producing steam that rises up. In an ideal situation, the fire burns hot but not too hot, and there is the right amount of food in the pot, with the right amount of moisture to produce lovely, fragrant steam. (as a side note, the Chinese character "Qi" or "vital force" is of a rice pot with steam rising out of it.) When we have overloaded or underloaded the pot, or if the fire is sputtering, or burning out of control, we have an imbalance, and uncomfortable symptoms result.

The body has its own mechanism for restoring balance. In western terms this is called homestasis, or self-regulation. In the acupuncture clinic we facilitate this with herbs and acupuncture, but most important is letting the body return to its own natural balance. If we suddenly empty the pot, it can all too easily be scorched or cracked. And scrubbing it out with clorox is similarly too radical a solution. Personally I feel many of the more 'radical' detox methods contain an element of self-disgust. We feel we have overindulged so we punish ourselves by starving or taking harsh herbal brews that keep us in the toilet, contemplating our sins.

The student of Chinese Medicine views the body as something to be treated gently and with love and respect. Alright, fine, you say. But what do I do about feeling maxed out after 3 weeks of canapes and candy canes?

Acupuncture and herbs can both be used by your practitioner to ease symptoms like constipation, bloating, gas and heartburn. At home, try digestive herbal teas like mint, ginger, citrus peel and fennel seed, or hawthorn berry tea, a tasty and traditional remedy for digestion, especially helpful for fatty foods.

Dietarily, it is important that your body have nourishment to continue its work. To ease the burden on your digestive system as you recover from a period of overindulgence, one of the best foods is congee: traditional chinese porridge. Usually made with rice, it can be made with any grain or legume, and can be quite convenient when you use a slowcooker. (A great book about using congee as medicine is Bob Flaws' The Book of Jook). Slow cooked whole grains,  proteins like fish and chicken, and steamed vegetables are all nourishing, easily digested foods that will feed your body without taxing it. Foods to avoid are cold and raw foods, including vegetables like salads. Many people are surprised at this advice, but salads and raw veggies are actually quite hard to digest. We are not herbivores like cattle. Our bodies have to 'cook' the vegetables once they are eaten. Many patients find they have more energy and less digestive problems when they switch to cooked veggies. Steering clear of heavily flavoured foods is restful for your system, and of course artificial and processed foods are always best avoided.

In the end, remember that January is just a month like any other. Certainly it is an opportunity to 'start fresh,' but so is every day, every moment, every breath.

ess in gezunterheyt/eat in good health

Subscribe to have new blogposts delivered to your email!

* indicates required

Detox Your Skin Part II: Three ingredients to avoid

I've been sharing lots of information about the toxic ingredients in conventional cosmetics and skin care products this month - it's a big part of the reason I started to make my own skin care products, and if you're reading this, you're probably considering making your own or purchasing natural options like Angelica & Peony. In an earlier article, I suggest 4 easy swaps to make that would eliminate many of the most dangerous chemicals from your daily routine. On last week's TCMTalk, I covered three of the nastiest chemicals that are found in many products, and wanted to share that info with you here on the blog (watch the episode here).

Some facts: (I'm trying a new thing where you can tweet info directly from the article - click the birdie to tweet!)

  • @@The average woman uses 12 products containing 168 chemicals every day@@
  • @@Less than 20% of the chemicals in American personal care products have been assessed for safety by the industry@@
  • @@Only 11 chemicals are banned for use in skin care in the US, compared to 1, 328 in the EU@@

Do we have to prove to a scientific certainty that a chemical is dangerous in order to want to avoid it? NO! There are completely safe and natural alternatives - what is the risk in NOT exposing ourselves?

The Gruesome Threesome (these are just a few of the chemicals found in common products. Check out SafeCosmetics.org for more information on this issue and the science behind this article)


Where are they found: this family of chemicals is found in shampoos, lotions and washes that contain water, where they act to prevent microbe growth

What's the concern: reproductive and hormonal disruption, cancer link.

Extra ick factor: @@Parabens are found in the urine of virtually all US adults, and at higher concentrations in women@@ Parabens have also been found in breast cancer tumours and inbreast tissue. They cross through the skin and into the body.

BHA and BHT:

Where are they found: used as a preservative in makeup, skin care, shampoos, deodorant, sunscreen

What's the concern: endocrine disruption and organ toxicity. both the European Union and Environment Canada concluded that there is a strong link to endocrine disruption and toxicity in mammals and banned or restricted these chemicals.


Where are they found: listed under many names including phthalate, DEP, DBP, DEHP and fragrance. Under US regulations ‘fragrance’ can be listed on products without the ingredients specified, and generally contains a variety of chemicals that you don't want to come in contact with. In general avoid products that list ‘fragrance’

What's the concern: Cancer and reproductive harm. The male reproductive system is especially vulnerable, and baby boys can be exposed in the womb or through breast milk.

There’s more if you can stand it - check out Chemicals of Concern from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for an ingredient breakdown

Check out my article for how to start swapping your conventional skin care for non-toxic alternatives. It’s easier than you think!


Subscribe to have new blogposts delivered to your email!

* indicates required

Put your skin on a detox regimen - starting on your bathroom counter

Your skin needs a detox. Moisturizers, makeup, exfoliants, anti-perspirants, eye creams, body washes... the whole gamut of personal and beauty products that we happily pick up at the drugstore - or even the health food store, is populated by an unsavory cast of characters that are impacting your body even while they plump, hydrate, exfoliate or deodorize.  

The issue of dangerous ingredients in personal care products is one that's always resonated with me. It bothers me that these products primarily target women, affect our hormonal systems and cycles, as well as causing cancer, and often do all this by preying on self-hatred and unrealistic beauty standards. Break free! give your body and your spirit a break by lowering the toxic load on your body and detoxing your mind from social constructs of beauty!

You can read in-depth on this issue at Skin Deep - the database of skin care ingredients and safety produced by the Environmental Working Group. You can get active on this issue by visiting Breast Cancer Action, whose 'Poison Isn't Pretty' campaign aimed to stop the Personal Care Products Council from giving breast cancer survivors and those in treatment 'gift baskets' laden with cancer causing ingredients.

Here's my 4 step skin detox to give your bathroom this month. Denise Cicuto of Cicuto Acupuncture and I will be talking about natural skin care on TCM Talk all February, so join us on Periscope live on February 11 or 26, and comment here with any questions about non-toxic alternatives, your fave products or Chinese medicine and your skin! #getyourglow #tcmtalk

Subscribe to have new blogposts delivered to your email!

* indicates required

TCM Talk for February: Radiant, Natural Skin Care!

Did you know that the average woman in the industrialized world is directly exposed to hundreds of carcinogenic, hormone disrupting and skin and organ harming chemicals every day? With virtually no oversight, cosmetic and personal care companies, especially in the US, are able to use a toxic cocktail of ingredients in products that are applied directly to the body, where they immediately affect our whole systems.

There are alternatives! With savvy product choices, dietary changes, alternative treatments and big doses of self-love and acceptance, we can break out of the skin care toxin trap and get our glow naturally!

Join Denise Cicuto of Cicuto Acupuncture and I for TCM Talk, our Periscope channel where you can join us for live discussions, demos and Q&As, focusing all February on radiant, healthy skin, naturally.

On February 11 at 4 pm PST, we'll be talking about detoxing your skin care, showing you how to use natural daily routines to get beautiful skin without the junk, and how acupuncture and herbs can help tackle serious skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, acne, rosacea and more.

On February 25 at 4 pm PST, we'll answer viewer mail about natural skin care, Chinese medicine for skin issues and whatever else you want to know - so please send questions! Comment here, ask on social media, or email TraditionalChineseMedicineTalk@gmail.com.

Find recordings of all our broadcasts, as well as links to everything we mention on the show, on our Pinterest Board, bit.ly/periscopepins.

Follow TCM Talk on Twitter and Facebook, and send us questions or ideas for future shows!


Subscribe to have new blogposts delivered to your email!

* indicates required