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Everyday Approaches to Detoxification


by Pamela Miles, Integrative Health Consultant and Reiki Master 


The body may have been designed as a self-cleaning oven, but it comes with no warranty and no user’s manual. It makes sense that supporting the system’s natural ability to detoxify itself can help maintain optimal health and manage body weight, and clients often seek guidance in this area. Ayurveda, the ancient medical system of India, offers both perspective and simple, non-invasive detoxification strategies that easily integrate into daily routines. 

According to Ayurveda, much of what the body needs to detoxify is undigested food. In fact, Ayurveda recognizes poor digestion as the beginning of pathology. Food that is not digested is said to become toxic in the body, and the toxins migrate to the area of constitutional weakness. Strengthening the digestion overall supports the body’s ability to detox.

Panchakarma, the branch of Ayurveda devoted to rejuvenation, is a complex body of knowledge that includes detoxification practices. Although panchakarma treatment is highly individualized and requires an expert practitioner, especially when there is a medical diagnosis, understanding some of its basic concepts can be useful to health care practitioners and motivating to clients. And some of the simpler lifestyle practices are as relevant and accessible now as they have been for thousands of years.


According to Ayurveda, the digestive cycle peaks twice in each 24-hour period. The daytime peak occurs between 10 AM and 2 PM, the time of day when pre-industrial societies ate their largest meal. During the nighttime peak (10 PM to 2 AM), the same digestive fire is said to detoxify the system, provided the stomach is empty.  Optimally, the largest meal would be taken midday, the evening meal would be light and before dark, each meal would be followed by 15 minutes of rest, and with lights out at 10 PM.

We can’t assume that our clients are in bed by 10 PM or that they go to bed with empty stomachs, so we need to inquire about their habits and do what we can to help them make gradual changes. People who eat at night may have very good reasons for doing so, such as a late work schedule. Anyone who hasn’t eaten well during the day is particularly vulnerable to late night snacking. And a lot of emotional eating happens at night.

Regardless the reason, entering the kitchen at night ravenously hungry and without a plan is an invitation to overeat. We can help clients identify foods they like that are light and won’t wreak havoc with their digestion when they eat late, and suggest they post a list of wise choices in the kitchen. Sometimes the best we can do is harm reduction, guiding clients who need a snack before bed to avoid eating sugar, oily, cold or fried foods at night and to choose calming, easily digested foods such as hot milk with a pinch of turmeric, ginger and, if needed, a touch of a sweetener such as agave, gradually weaning them to smaller, earlier snacks.

Educating clients about the importance of protecting the body’s ability to detoxify and helping them to devise strategies to overcome their individual hurdles takes time, but it’s time well spent. People who avoid night eating even once often sleep better or find they like awakening with an empty stomach, which motivates them to continue. They may also feel less stiff upon awakening, and more likely to stretch or exercise. This simple change, introduced not specifically for weight loss but rather as a lifestyle choice to improve longevity and well-being, often leads to other healthful behaviors.

A program of detoxification as deep-acting as panchakarma requires a highly expert, individualized approach, especially in the presence of pathology, when patients often need to be strengthened before starting any cleansing process. However, Ayurveda offers many guidelines to aid digestion that can be safely followed at home. For example, cold stops the digestive process, so it is generally advised to avoid cold food or drinks at any time, but especially in the evening, the start of the cooler part of the daily cycle, when digestion is weakest.

Ginger is a botanical widely used in Ayurveda and supported by a growing body of research evidence. There are many ways that ginger can be brought into the diet. Powdered or fresh ginger root can be added to food while cooking. Ginger tea can be made by adding ginger extract to a mug of hot water or by pouring boiling water over grated fresh ginger; sweeten to taste with agave to improve digestion and settle the stomach.  Even candied ginger is beneficial when used in moderation to avoid too much sugar.

Another Ayurvedic botanical used to support digestion/detox is triphala, an intestinal toner made from three fruits. Traditionally, powdered triphala is steeped and the very bitter beverage drunk at night on an empty stomach, but triphala tablets taken at night or first thing in the morning are also effective and easier for most people. Individuals need to find their own dosage, lowering the dose if the bowels become loose, and taking more as needed, perhaps while traveling, when the bowels tend to tighten. Because triphala is an intestinal toner and not a laxative, it can be safely taken for long periods of time without creating dependence. Some herbalists suggest going off any botanical from time to time.

Detoxification is a critical part of the digestive/metabolic cycle, one that gets too little attention in a culture that literally eats on the run or in the car. The wisdom and practices of Ayurveda offer pragmatic solutions that are accessible even in today’s rushed lifestyle.


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