Toxins, Sweating, Mindfulness is a response to an interesting brief article today in the newspaper health section about Toxins and Sweating, that discusses whether toxins are released by sweating. The answer, by the way, is no, you cannot sweat out toxins. Sweating may feel good, especially, for example, when the result of exercise, which has a million reasons for making you feel good. I know I exercised well when I break a sweat, it gives me a certain psychological gratification, and that does make me feel good. But the sweating itself is simply loss of fluid and electrolytes, which you do, of course, especially in the Summer, want to replenish. In summer I use something like water, with a little salt and grape juice or coconut water, and there is my natural Gatorade without too much sugar.
In fact there is a nationwide hysteria about “toxins”, fake toxins, really, that permeates the natural foods movement and natural medicine communities, and that is promulgated, to no small degree, by marketing folk who sell high priced stuff to “cleanse toxins.” People confuse actual toxic substances like heavy metals with the kind of gunky feeling you have after a weekend of pizza, ice cream, beer, and fou-fou mixed drinks. Fair enough, alcohol is a toxic chemical, and overeating, lack of exercise, and sugar are all dreadful ways to treat your body.
Toxins in Ayurveda and Modern Chemistry
Overeating and eating a diet rich in heavy, cold, and sweet foods like pizza and beer, or for that matter, smoothies and raw foods, produce what Ayurveda calls Ama, which is translated as “digestive toxins”, but is really a metabolism affecting gunk in the gut that manifests with symptoms like sluggishness, chronic sinus congestion, and acne, and signs such as a swollen tongue, with greasy tongue coating. While we may, in 2017, use the word “toxic” as a metaphor for strongly negative things, as in phrase “toxic relationship” used by psychologists and personal growth folk, I prefer to be clear that this is not the same thing as what science refers to as toxins, which very specifically refers to biological poisons like anthrax and botulism, as well as the venom of poisonous animals.
Toxic substances, on the other hand, in science, refers to mostly inorganic heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury, taken in via the mouth, or even poisons that are inhaled, like the chemicals in tobacco smoke, dryer sheets and perfumes that contain BPA. This is quite different from what is produced by a weekend of binge eating, or a lifetime of too much dairy, sugar, meat, and wheat.
Do Cleanses Eliminate Toxins?
The problem is when people then spend 65 bucks at Whole Foods on laxative herbs or $9 on celery juice, thinking they are going to “cleanse” or “detoxify” their body or liver. The safest way to treat any hypothesized toxins produced by constipation or your unwise diet is not with very bitter very cold purgative herbs that damage your gut, but by simply giving your body a break with some very light fasting or Kitcharee mono-diet cleanse, or with the wonderful Ayurvedic stool softener, Triphala. Adapting your diet to your dosha and to the season, while respecting that digestion is a warm process is also key. Simply stated, you feel less “toxic” when you fast, because your body is catching a break. Its good that you feel better when you improve your diet, but its not about actual toxins.
The body is a self cleaning organ, and will do its job if you just stop overwhelming it with an unreasonable diet and with lack of exercise. Take a sauna if it relaxes you, for sure, but don’t think the sweating is doing anything more than relaxing and warming you. It might be helpful, especially if you live in cold climes.
Toxins in Chinese Medicine and Buddhism
What is often missed in our hysteria about toxins is the effect of our mind and our emotions on how our body functions. I not infrequently see patients who will go to any length, even flying to Alt. Med M.D.s in distant places and spending thousands of dollars for sham treatments to treat anxiety and depression. People sometimes want desperately to believe that their emotional disorder is due to brain “toxins” rather than anything from within. On top of that it can be that they spend all this money without having first tried Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and/or Mindfulness. Its really sad.
Perhaps the largest source of toxins in our bodies that we can do anything about is our brain, what Buddhism calls Mind, which includes all aspects of consciousness from feelings to thoughts. How we respond to stressors, how much we cultivate kindness and lovingkindness, how much we deal with our body-mind’s unique set of strengths and weaknesses, emotional-psychological as well as physical is the single most significant factor in the development of the kind of toxins most Americans are referring to when they seek detox regimens.
Toxic Liver in Classical Chinese Medicine–Anger
Indeed, when we refer to Liver Depression Qi Stagnation in Classical Chinese Medicine, or Liver Excess, or Liver Qi, we are exactly NOT talking about the physical liver, we are talking about the Qi of the Liver, which refers to a complex of bodily functions the ancient Chinese associated with our Liver, but that really speaks about certain aspects of our nervous system that act pathologically when stimulated by our emotions. Which emotions increase Liver Qi Stagnation? Frustration, Intensity, Irritability, Aggression, and above all, Anger. Here we mean unnecessary and/or chronic anger. Anger as your default response, versus anger appropriate to the need to fight off a wild animal or in a boxing match.
Another words, anger issues cause our Liver qi to get “stuck.” And while acupuncture and exercise will for sure help our Liver qi to flow better, if you have problem of mind, you must deal with it at the level of the mind, which means some kind of Mindfulness practice and/ or therapeutic intervention that leads to personal growth.
In order to stop producing internal toxins from excessive emotions (what Classical Chinese Medicine calls “affect damage” –the effect of inappropriate or imbalanced emotions) we have to actually change how we react to the things we have aversion to. This in turn will modulate the degree to which our nervous system’s fight or flight response, the stress response, produces chemicals like adrenalin, that negatively affect insulin and blood pressure levels, and that has a huge negative influence on physiological functions throughout the body, from the heart and kidney to the gut and bladder. Many of our modern functional disorders like IBS, IC, and even heart disease are hard wired to our nervous system hyperfunction.
Copyright Eyton Shalom, L.A., San Diego Ca Aug 2017 all rights reserved use with permission.