How Chinese Medicine Addresses Detoxification

It seems that every other time that you enter a health food store the sales associate recommends that you use a detox to cure all that ails you. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), detoxification herbs are only employed when specifically indicated. Toxins in TCM are considered "Heat" generally, and many of the herbs used to clear Heat are cold herbs. Long-term use may disrupt the Yin-Yang balance of the body and damage the Spleen energetic organ system. Often, simply supporting and nourishing organs responsible for eliminating toxins is a much safer and effective way to promote excellent health.

Lymphatic Detoxcentral-river.jpg

The lymphatic system consists of a myriad of delicate vessels found in almost every tissue of the body containing blood vessels. These vessels perform essential functions including the removal of waste products produced from cellular metabolism. The proper function of the lymphatic system is vital for proper immune system performance. This vital system is often overlooked in detoxification programs. The lymphatic system is often referred to as the ‘back alleyway’ for trash removal of the body.

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Liver Detox

The liver is actually considered a gland, and performs a large number of vital tasks including storing vitamins, producing cholesterol, and synthesizing fatty acids from sugars and amino acids. As a detoxifying organ, the liver dilutes toxic substances such as metabolic waste, pesticides, and alcohol, with less toxic substances before sending them to be excreted from the kidneys. The fact that the liver is negatively impacted by toxins and alcohol is well recognized in our culture. In Chinese medicine, a more common imbalance associated with the Liver energetic organ system is Liver Qi Stagnation which may be marked by anger, frustration, gynecological diseases, or stress

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Skin Detox
The skin is the largest organ involved with detoxification. Air conditioning is a recent phenomenon. Traditionally, people have had more opportunities to sweat. In our comfortable air conditioned cars, offices, and homes, it is unusual for us to perspire. One of the more efficient ways to eliminate toxins is through a good sweat. While a swift walk or hike would do the job, there are diaphoretic herbs that produce a good sweat also. These are most useful at the onset of a cold or flu to release pathogens to the surface; they would include catnip, elder, ginger, and lavender. It is worth noting that toxins play a big role in the pre-mature aging of the skin and can depredate the tenacity of the dermal layers. 

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Kidneys and Detoxification
In Chinese medicine, the proper function of the Kidney System can be maintained or repaired with tonic herb formulas taken over time. In western herbalism, kidney herbs typically refer to potent diuretic herbs that will stimulate the kidneys directly such as dandelion. While sometimes useful, over-stimulation of the Kidney energetic organ system according to Chinese medicine can further damage the system and weaken the kidneys rendering them even less efficient in their ability to eliminate. The kidneys and bladder are vital in the elimination of the toxins from the liver. The Kidney energetic system in Chinese medicine typically suffers from deficiency rather than excess

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Large Intestine Detox

This obvious route of elimination is well recognized and appreciated. While natural laxative herbs such as cascara sagrada and senna are widely available, it is more important that the large intestine is able to perform on its own. There are many herbs that heal the walls of the intestine such as aloe and marshmallow. Other herbs are vital in restoring the necessary 'Large Intestine Qi' so that the bowels have the energy necessary for peristalsis such as bitter orange. There are actually a multitude of strategies that can help restore proper bowel movements naturally. TCM often includes oily herbs such as black sesame seed, blood building herbs such as mulberry fruit for dry bowel movements, and bitter herbs such as gentian to stimulate bile flow and begin the myriad of digestive events that must occur for a healthy digestion


A well thought out natural herbal body detoxification program can be safe and beneficial. In many cultures spring tonics were utilized as a once-per-year cleansing. In the last 50 years we have been exposed to man made toxins and synthetic pesticides those previous generations never had to cope with. It is now imperative that we utilize these natural herb remedies to realize our full health potential. Increasingly, pharmaceutical medicines are a source of toxicity for us; it is even in our drinking water.

Toxins and foreign substances in our tissue can lead to premature agingdisease, and pain. Natural herbs for detoxing can be beneficial if your body is not independently eliminating toxins efficiently, or you have been exposed to a large amount of toxins; these would include pesticides, air pollution, plastics, pharmaceuticals, cleaners, solvents, alcohol (in large quantities), preservatives, food coloring, heavy metals, chemicals, hair dyes, etc.

Detoxification-type herbs must be respected because they are designed to 'remove fire toxins' from the body according to Chinese medicine. In order to remove fire toxins, you must utilize very Cold herbs typically. Eventually, these energetically Cold herbs can cause a Yin/Yang imbalance in the body and can damage the Spleen energetic organ system. In some cases a 6 week course of detoxification is beneficial before patients begin tonic herbal therapy

Our body does an amazing job of eliminating toxins all by itself. It is only when the body becomes overwhelmed with a large quantity of toxins, or an especially potent toxin, that it is unable to perform the various functions of elimination. The body is wise, and initially attempts to store toxins in fat cells far away from vital organ systems. This is why people often become ill when losing weight rapidly. The less desirable scenario exists when the toxins circulate in the arteries or are lodged in organ tissue or muscle tissue. Often, toxins act as free radicals; these unstable molecules bounce about and create tissue damage.

Some herbs are called 'blood cleansers'; this is a bit of a misnomer. Organs are ultimately responsible for cleansing the blood, and there are specific herbs that act to strengthen and/or stimulate those organ systems. While the lungs are an important organ for eliminating carbon monoxide, for the purpose of this article they are not included in the systems below.

Detoxification using herbal remedies is an age old practice that was often performed once a year in the spring time. Back in the day, foods that could be stored without refrigeration were on the heavy side with salted meats, grains, but not many fruits and vegetables. The traditional winter diet tended to require a detox in spring, and many of these detoxes were in the form of spring green herbs that were early to emerge after the freezes passed; these would include cleavers, dandelion, chickweed, plantain, and poke (poke weed is toxic if not prepared correctly).

These days, we face different detoxification issues. Modern agricultural methods and international shipping opportunities provide produce year round, but at the cost of our consumption of pesticides and the production of more pollution. Therefore, a yearly detox is still necessary, but for different reasons. An herbal detox would best be performed in a season other than winter as the herbs used to remove 'fire toxins'  tend to be cold in nature.

Acupressure Detox Points with Photos

Acupressure is another way to detoxify the body using specific acupuncture points that release toxic heat accumulations.

Acupressure Directions

Liver 2 is located on the dorsum of the foot, on the crease of the junction of the first and second metatarsal bones.

Large Intestine 11 is a major heat release point and is located in the depression at the end of the transverse cubital crease. With the thumb pointing up, follow the top of the arm to the elbow joint.