How to do a Safe and Effective Spring Detox

Dr. Kimberley O'BrienBlog, Food, Health Leave a Comment

Although spring isn’t yet officially here, with the sunny skies and warmer temperatures we’ve been experiencing lately, it feels like it has already arrived! 

Spring is one of my favourite times of the year.  Not only does it bring an exciting energy of growth, renewal, and change, but it’s also a very important season in regards to our health!  As a Naturopathic Doctor, I often guide my patients through a gentle spring detox to help them balance their hormones, release toxins, and kickstart their metabolism coming out of the winter months.  


spring detox

Winter is a time of preservation and maintenance whereas spring is a time of cleansing and renewal.  As the snow melts and new life sprouts up through the earth there is growth and transformation all around us!  In ancient Chinese Medicine theory, spring is the time of year in which liver function and detoxification are most active.  This is one of the many reasons why spring is the best time of the year to do a cleanse or gentle detox (which are terms that I use interchangeably). 

When I discuss detoxification with my patients, I’m often asked whether detox programs and cleanses are truly necessary.  After all, aren’t our bodies equipped to manage day-to-day detoxification on their own without added powders and supplements? 

The answer is yes… our bodies are fabulously equipped to handle day-to-day detoxification! However, the stipulation is that we must be eating the way that our ancestors ate; foraging for berries, leafy greens and eating wild-caught meat and fish; sweating daily through exercise or saunas, sleeping 8 hours every night, drinking plenty of filtered water and avoiding exposure to synthetic chemicals and heavy metals. 

Unfortunately, as I’m sure you can relate, this isn’t always easy in our modern world! There are over 80,000 chemicals registered for use in the United States alone and each year approximately 2000 more are added for use in food, cosmetics, cleaners and other products.  In the 25 years between 1970 and 1995, the amount of synthetic chemicals produced in the U.S. tripled, from about 50 million tons to approximately 150 million tons annually!

The moral of the story is that unfortunately these chemicals are everywhere.  They act as preservatives in our food, pesticides and herbicides on our produce, stabilizers and colouring in our cosmetics, fire-retardants in our furniture and mattresses and contaminants in our water supply.  These synthetic chemicals also make up most of the ingredients in conventional cleaning products and they even sneak their way into pharmaceuticals.

What’s most concerning is that many of these chemicals are considered “hormone disruptors”, meaning that they interfere with our natural hormone function and can often lead to health concerns.  This is especially true in regards to the chemicals in plastics, which mimic estrogen in the body and can lead to conditions related to estrogen dominance.

Should you do a detox?

How do our bodies cope with these chemical exposures?

Many of the chemicals that we are exposed to on a day to day basis are fat-soluble, which means that they dissolve in fat and are stored in our fatty tissue.  Fat-soluble toxins are more challenging for our bodies to process and remove than water-soluble toxins because they hide away and accumulate in our fat cells and tissues.

Fat-soluble toxins are most easily excreted either through sweating or via liver detoxification and subsequent excretion by the bowels.  Water-soluble toxins are more easily excreted via the kidneys.  It is important to support each of these detoxification pathways during a cleanse to support the elimination of both water-soluble and fat-soluble toxins.

Since many toxins are stored and accumulate in our fat cells, it’s important that you support liver function and detoxification whenever you begin a weight loss regime.  If you don’t support your body in processing the chemicals that are released as you burn the fat in which they were stored you may experience symptoms of increased toxicity like headaches, loose stools, water retention (puffiness) and acne or skin rashes.  Since these chemicals can affect hormonal function, you may also struggle to lose weight if you are not concurrently supporting liver detoxification.


Physical symptoms that indicate it’s time for a cleanse:

Here are just a few of the many symptoms that you may be experiencing if your body needs help with detoxification:

  • Headaches
  • Bloating
  • Acne, eczema or skin rashes
  • Gallstones or difficulty digesting fats
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Sensitivity to smells, also known as multiple chemical sensitivity
  • Fatigue
  • Low sex drive
  • Hair thinning or loss
  • Poor concentration or memory
  • Slow metabolism and weight gain
  • Women: Breast tenderness and/or irregular or heavy periods

Please don’t think that you need to wait for these symptoms to arise before doing your first cleanse!  This is the prime time to start performing your “annual maintenance” through a gentle spring detox.  

Continue reading below for my guidelines to a safe and effective spring detox!

How to do a safe and effective spring detox - A naturopathic doctor-designed guide

There is a right way and a wrong way to detoxify!

It’s quite likely that when you think of detoxification programs that you conjure images of juicing, water fasts and laxative herbal teas. This is NOT how I recommend approaching your cleanse! 

Detoxification should be a gentle and gradual process that leaves you feeling energized.  If you have done a detox program in the past where you have experienced diarrhea, headaches, fatigue and irritability, it’s likely that you were pushing your body too hard and not providing it with the support that it required throughout the process. 

My formula for a safe and effective spring detox:

What’s the best way to safely and effectively complete a spring detox?  The process is a lot easier than you may think!

To complete a safe and effective spring detox, we simply need to provide your body with support to metabolize toxins while also decreasing your exposure to chemicals and inflammatory foods.  

Here are the most important guidelines to follow:

  • Consume a diet rich in vitamins, minerals and nutrients that support detoxification.
    • Your diet during a spring cleanse should be rich in colour and nutrients that support and replenish your body on a cellular level.  Your meal plan should consist of plenty of brightly coloured vegetables, nutrient-dense leafy greens, cancer-fighting cruciferous veggies, juicy berries, nourishing seeds, free-range lean meats and wild fish. 
    • Select organic produce and grass fed organic meats as much as possible to avoid pesticide and herbicide exposure.
  • Avoid inflammatory foods, which include:
  • Choose fiber-rich foods that will bind to toxins in the digestive tract and help them to be excreted from the body effectively.
  • Drink at least 2-3 liters of filtered water per day to clear water-soluble toxins via the kidneys.
    • Herbal teas are also great options!
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine during your cleanse, both of which produce additional stress on your liver.
  • Ensure that you are sweating daily via exercise, hot baths or saunas to help excrete fat soluble toxins though the skin.
  • Enjoy at least 8 hours of sleep per night so that your body has adequate time for cellular renewal and repair.
  • Decrease your environmental exposure to synthetic chemicals and pesticides by choosing organic produce and choosing natural cosmetics and cleaning supplies.
  • Optional Boost: Nutrient and herbal supplementation to further support liver function and the elimination of toxins.  Due to the potential to imbalance phase 1 and 2 liver reactions (see below) I suggest consulting with a naturopathic doctor for a safe, personalized and targeted treatment plan.
What to eat on a detox

Detoxification – A 2-Step Process

Detoxification is a 2-step metabolic process, consisting of phase-1 and phase-2 reactions that occur within your liver. Phase 1 reactions cause chemicals, hormones and toxins within your body to become more reactive, which enables them to combine with nutritional compounds during phase 2 that make the toxins easier for your body to excrete.  It’s very important to balance both phases of detoxification to prevent the build-up of unhealthy phase-1 metabolites, which can cause you to feel ill and wreak havoc on your overall health.

Nutrition is also a safe and powerful way to support phase-2 detoxification reactions and to avoid the accumulation of toxic phase-1 metabolites.  Incorporating foods that support phase-2 reactions into your diet is essential and during your detox I suggest aiming for 3-5 servings of the veggies on the list below per day.  A nutrient-dense diet is essential and provides the framework for any successful detoxification program!

If you choose to supplement your cleanse with nutraceuticals or herbal medicine it’s very important that you place an emphasis on supporting phase-2 reactions.  I have seen several patients who have purchased store-bought detoxification formulas that primarily support phase-1 reactions, leading to them feel unwell and have an unpleasant experience with cleansing.  Remember that your spring detox should not leave you feeling ill!  For personalized support and a targeted (and safe) supplement protocol I suggest that you consult with naturopathic doctor for a professionally designed protocol to support your health goals.  

The list below highlights some of the foods that best support phase-2 liver reactions and prevent the accumulation of reactive intermediate phase-1 toxins.

how to do a detox

Foods that Support Phase 2 Liver Detoxification

  • Broccoli and broccoli sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Collard greens
  • Bok choy
  • Radish
  • Turnip

These vegetables all belong to the cruciferous family and they are rich in compounds called glucosinolates, which are some of the most important nutrients to support phase 2 liver detoxification.  If you experience gas upon boosting your intake of these vegetables or if you have thyroid concerns, it’s best to consume these veggies cooked or lightly steamed.

Garlic and onions are also fabulous foods to include while you detox because they are rich in sulphur, which is required for your body to make glutathione.  Glutathione is regarded as a “master detoxifying” compound in your body and it’s very important to support it’s production during your cleanse!  In my practice I often give my patients an additional boost by helping them to support glutathione production through targeted supplementation and support.

What’s wrong with water fasts and juice cleanses?

I am not a big fan of juice cleanses and water fasts because these diets do not contain any fiber.  Additionally, they can present challenges due to the blood sugar concerns that often arise in people who experience adrenal fatigue or hypoglycemia.  

Fiber is important because it is what enables toxins to be bound and excreted from the digestive tract once they have been processed by the liver.  If there is no fiber available to bind to the metabolized toxins, your body will either reabsorb the toxins into your bloodstream or you may experience unpleasant diarrhea in order to eliminate them.  This is NOT what we want and this approach can leave you feeling more ill and lethargic then when you began your cleanse! 

My approach to spring cleansing with my patients almost always includes a healthy, whole food diet that is full of fiber, antioxidants and nutrients.  If you prefer to do a liquid detox diet instead of a food-based diet, I suggest that you blend your fruits and veggies so that you retain the fiber in your drink instead of removing it by juicing.  You may also consider adding fiber in the form of ground flax or chia seeds to your diet to replenish the fiber lost in juicing.  

Are juice fasts healthy?

The best sources of fiber during your spring detox:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Chia seeds
  • Ground flax seeds
  • Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and black beans.

Fiber helps to promote bowel regularity, however it’s important that you also increase the amount of water that you consume by 2-3 cups per day otherwise you may instead experience constipation.

How long is my spring detox?

A gentle spring detox can be anywhere from a few days to several weeks long.  In fact, you could live like this everyday and your body would thank you!  Incorporating many of these strategies into your day-to-day life post-cleanse is something that I highly recommend as a gentle daily-detox.

With patients I typically structure their spring detox to be 10-21 days in length.  This is a manageable time-frame that allows long enough for you to make plenty of positive changes in your health and for you to experience significant improvement in your energy levels, skin clarity, mood and digestive function without feeling overwhelmed.  By following the above guidelines you will likely find that you are feeling so good by day 7 that you are happy and eager to continue for longer than you had originally planned!

Create a vision for what you want to accomplish - goal setting

Spring Cleaning

Think of a spring cleanse for your body as you think of spring cleaning in your home.  You do the dishes, clean the bathrooms and vacuum the floors regularly throughout the entire year.  Yet, you are probably surprised by how much dirt has been hiding in crevices and behind the furniture when you do your annual or semi annual deep clean!  Your body is no different!  Treating yourself to an annual “spring clean” is a health practice that will keep you feeling light, energized and vibrant throughout the year.

The Elimination Diet Meal Plan

For a delicious dietary-based cleanse that does not require any additional supplements, I suggest my Elimination Diet Meal Plan online program.  I personally use the 11-Day Elimination Phase of this diet as a gentle dietary “reset” at least twice per year and the majority of my patients have also completed this diet.  The program is structured so that it also enables you to identify whether you have any food sensitivities, which are also a cause of the fatigue, bloating, digestive upset and skin concerns that you may be experiencing.  If you find that you feel amazing on a cleanse but that your symptoms and fatigue return as soon as it ends, this program is for you

Take advantage of a limited time discount on the Elimination Diet Meal Plan by entering the coupon code SPRINGDETOX at checkout for 10% off.

I also offer personalized, naturopathic-doctor designed detoxification protocols to deepen and accelerate your cleanse.  Please contact my office for additional details and to set up your consultation!

Spring is a time of rebirth, renewal, and growth and it’s the perfect time to focus on YOU and your health!

Have you ever done a detox?  If so, how was your experience?  Please leave your questions and comments below!


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Elimination Diet Spring Cleanse

About the Author

Dr. Kimberley O'Brien


Dr. Kimberley O'Brien is a Naturopathic Doctor in  Nelson, BC with expertise in the treatment of digestive disorders, fatigue and hormone imbalances.  She is the founder of Healthy Life Redesign and creator of the Elimination Diet Meal Plan and the Real Food Recharge online programs.  Her mission is to help you own your health and live a life you love!

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