Detoxification and Clinical Level Selfcare

Apr 29, 2024

By David Crow, L.Ac.

Detoxification practices and products are extremely popular, but are generally done without any guiding medical principles.

In order to make detoxification more effective, we should have a clear idea of what we are trying to detoxify. As currently done in popular culture, cleanses of various types lack any clear diagnostic basis or specific medical goals. Instead, they are based heavily on marketing of products and the premise that the body is overburdened with toxins that need to be removed, but what the toxins are, how they got there and how to remove them effectively is poorly understood.

The starting point for a successful detox program is to first determine whether the toxins are from external sources, or internally generated. If they are from external sources, what are they, how did they get there, and what is the best method to remove them? If they are internally generated, is it because of a hyperfunction of metabolism such as inflammation from an overactive immune system, a hypofunction of metabolism such as underactive thyroid, from a deficiency of elimination, or a combination of all these? Once we have a better understanding of these issues we can then determine an effective treatment strategy.

One exercise we can do to help us approach detoxification in a more holistic and balanced way is to consider what toxins actually are, physiologically. In my clinical practice I find that most people who do repeated cleanses, flushes, purges and fasts don’t know what they are trying to remove from the body, but are simply following the latest trend and using the newest product that is reputed to do something for the liver or colon. We can find guidance from both classical medical systems such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, as well as Western allopathic medicine.

Ayurveda and the Concept of Ama

Ama is a concept from Ayurveda that refers to undigested waste material. This is primarily related to mucus that accumulates in the digestive tract from faulty digestive functions, which then migrates to other parts of the body and becomes pathogenic, such as accumulating in the joints. The Pancha Karma detoxification methods of Ayurveda are based on removing this type of toxin, and can give us valuable insights into how to effectively remove these waste products. Sometimes popular detox practices and products can relieve symptoms of ama accumulation, but it tends to be temporary and can further weaken the underlying deficiency of digestive power that is causing the problem. Ayurveda also helps us to detoxify more effectively because it is balanced with rejuvenation therapy, which is almost always needed.

Chinese Concepts of Elemental Toxins

In traditional Chinese medicine environmental factors are described as causing toxicity in the body. These are not same toxins as we think of in popular detox programs, such as heavy metals or pesticides, but are instead the accumulations of excess heat, cold, dryness, dampness and wind, which may be coming from external, internal or combined sources. Each of these toxins is diagnosed and treated according to its manifestations, which mimic those of the outer elements.

Cold and damp toxins, for example, are seen as fluid retention with hypometabolism, heat will be felt as burning sensations, and wind will be migrating pains. Each of these is treated using different classes of herbal medications and therapies, which are specific for each type of toxin. Many times, people attempt to treat these symptoms using common detox methods such as liver, gallbladder or colon cleanses, which can aggravate the condition because the body is already too cold and depleted.

Toxins Measured by Blood Tests

If we want to elevate our detoxification to a clinical level, we need to understand the most common forms and causes of toxicity according to modern physiology, which we can do ourselves using tests available from different labs. When we look at biochemical markers in the blood, we may discover information that not only helps us target toxins effectively and address underlying causes, but also prevent doing harm to ourselves. The following is a short list of the most important medical toxins that we should know about and the tests that show us their levels.


Inflammation is the primary form of toxicity in the body, but it has countless causes and manifestations. In order to effectively reduce inflammation, a comprehensive diagnosis is needed to determine where it is coming from, where it is primarily located, and the best way to deal with it. It is from excess acidity in the upper GI tract, or deficient hydrochloric acid secretions in the stomach? Is it from Long Covid affecting the lungs, heart or nervous system, or lingering pro-inflammatory immune responses from vaccines? Is it from microbial infection, or from overstimulated autoimmune activity?

There are several important tests we can get for ourselves that will give us a preliminary overview of how high the inflammation is and what might be causing it. If white blood cells are high it could be infection; if eosinophils are high it could be allergic; autoimmune markers may be high; C-Reactive Protein elevation has been found to follow Covid infection or vaccination. All of these markers are valuable tools to assist us with our clinical level selfcare, and to help us determine what detoxification method is best, and if medical intervention is necessary or not. If we are educated at this level, working with allopathic doctors becomes more of a partnership, and the outcome more positive.


Many people follow popular detox programs to assist with detoxification from various addictions, with mixed results. In many cases, detoxification becomes the new addiction. In order to achieve genuine freedom from addictions, all the body systems need to be rebalanced and rejuvenated, so that no cravings or dependencies remain, which cleanses alone cannot do. In the case of pharmaceutic addictions and dependencies on medications such as opioids, steroids, antidepressants and many others, popular detox programs can create serious adverse reactions, especially if people stop medication too rapidly. This is one of the most complex detoxification issues in modern society, that requires a high level of medical understanding to accomplish safely and effectively.


Low density lipoprotein (LDL) is an arterial toxin that must be kept under reasonable levels for long term health. Unfortunately, the statin medications that are used to treat it have extremely dangerous side effects, and the risks often outweigh the actual need. When LDL levels are high and a person is being told they must go on statins, it is a complex situation that requires specialized detoxification that needs to be addressed on a case by case basis. The standard forms of detox can sometimes be helpful, but they need to be augmented with more holistic treatments to address the underlying causes most effectively.


Glucose becomes a toxin when it is not effectively regulated by insulin, leading first to prediabetes and then diabetes. This is monitored with the Hemoglobin A1C test. Detoxification practices and products used in popular culture can have positive effects on this type of toxin, but without a broader medical understanding of glucose metabolism repeated cleanses can actually complicate the underlying endocrine disorder of the pancreas.


Creatinine is a waste product of muscle metabolism that is removed by the kidneys. If the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) decreases, the creatinine levels increase; this is the progression of Chronic Kidney Disease. It is important to have a clear understanding of what is happening in the kidneys before doing extended or intensive detoxification, because even though there may be a genuine need, detox also can be harmful for the kidneys. When kidney function is poor, even things as safe sounding as juice cleanses can be problematic.

If we have a deeper understanding of these important principles of detoxification we will be able to avoid many unnecessary problems and achieve better results according to our individual needs.

I invite you to learn more with this free mini course Demystifying Detoxification.


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