Flowers are blooming, farmer's markets are packed with seasonal produce, and the sun is shining. Thanks to Mother Nature at this time of year, you're also able to pack more activity into your days with ease due to extended sunlight hours. This is the perfect time of year for us to unwind and destress from a long hard winter and shortened spring!
The fiery element that powers this bright time of year sets a tone of energy, vitality and growth. Summer simply is time to thrive—and this active season also lends itself well to detox both physically and emotionally. To bolster the most benefits, you must focus your attention on your heart and your small intestine, two organs that really shine during the summer months.
The Heart's Connection To Detox
You may not think of your heart as a detox organ, but it actually plays a very signification role in this process. Your heart works in tandem with your liver, pumping vital nutrients throughout your entire body. With each beat, it completes the critical job of regulating your circulation, allowing the detoxification process to receive these necessary nutrients. Highly active in the summer, this four-chambered muscle—the strongest muscle in your body—provides the energy and messages needed to coordinate your organs to work in harmony.
To dive deeper into the process, about 3,000 gallons of blood is pumped to your lungs each day where the blood then absorbs oxygen. After returning to the heart, it's pumped throughout the body, allowing it to disperse oxygen and vital nutrients. Incredibly, your heart can keep going seemingly endlessly so long as it has the oxygen it needs. However, if your lungs are impaired and/or your liver is overly stressed, problems with this system surface. In fact, if your liver isn't functioning properly, the blood supply—up to 70 percent of it—can become blocked and thwart the circulation and oxygen fueling process.
I'd guess it comes as no surprise that smoking and an artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising diet are both quite detrimental to the heart. Another negative factor that's all too common these days is stress. Every time you become tense, the rate and rhythm of your heart are affected, which disturbs the blood and oxygen flow, causing the blood vessels in your wrists and ankles to become constricted. One way you might be able to identify that this is occurring is that your hands and feet feel unnecessarily cold. In time, a lowered supply of oxygen to your heart can produce secondary symptoms that include angina, heart palpitations, irregular beats—and even potentially a heart attack.
The Breakdown On Homocysteine
Escalated levels of the potentially toxic amino acid called homocysteine can also make you a likely candidate for cardiovascular disease by damaging blood vessels and contributing to plaque buildup. Having a higher-than-normal amount of homocysteine in your body can actually become so dangerous that studies have found it can equal the danger to your heart that smoking and high cholesterol causes.
Homocysteine is the metabolic byproduct of a methionine breakdown, an amino acid found in animal protein. In ideal functioning, homocysteine passes through a detoxification process known as methylation, where it is converted to the nontoxic amino acid cysteine. But this process can only operate properly if vitamins B12, B6, and folic acid are readily available. Having low amounts of these critical B vitamins (particularly B12, which is mandatory for the conversion process and the production of folic acid), consuming an overabundance of animal protein (meat, dairy, eggs), and drinking a lot of coffee all can aggravate normal functions and cause homocysteine levels to climb. The result may be frustrating forgetfulness, cloudy thinking, and other Alzheimer's-like symptoms frequently associated with the aging process—regardless of your age. For those with the MTHFR genetic variation, do make sure your B12 and folate are methylated.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, when the "fire" of your heart becomes out of balance due to impaired kidneys— which are a water element—being unable to keep the heart cool, it produces hot flashes, night sweats, and palpitations. You also begin to experience emotions such as feeling uneasy, irritable and restless, and may also experience insomnia and even upsetting nightmares. You might notice that your cheeks are flushed, the tip of your nose is noticeably red and/or any other areas of your skin seem to have a redder pigmentation than usual. Your tongue can also be a gateway into the health of your heart. Analyze the color and texture, keeping in mind that a pink, moist tongue is ideal. Paleness could indicate anemia and if your tongue appears to be coated, that might be a red flag for digestive issues.
Digestion And Detox
The vital nutrients that the detoxification process so heavily depend on are made readily available to your body through your 23-foot long small intestine, which links your stomach to your large intestine. With help from enzymes in the pancreas and bile from the liver and gallbladder, the small intestine pulls useful elements—such as glucose, fatty acids, and the muchneed amino acids—from the food you eat. It then digests and absorbs nutrients and ships them off to the bloodstream, where they are carried to the liver. They're then either used or stored in the form of glycogen, which reverts to the original substances (glucose, fatty acids, or amino acids) as needed to nourish the whole system.
Keeping the small intestine clear is vital for the overall health of the body. If your intestinal lining becomes coated with mucus, nutrient absorption is greatly diminished, and your immune system suffers, resulting in increased likelihood of food allergies and illnesses, as well as fatigue from the rise of white blood cell production. Having an impaired digestive tract causes the loss of essential building blocks, resulting in dull, brittle hair, skin and nails, indigestion, uncomfortable bloating, excess gas, stomach pain, and constipation.
In fact, your small intestines are the critical stop for digestion and overall good health. To function optimally, your digestive system needs pancreatic enzymes, the enzyme ptyalin—found in saliva—and hydrochloric acid (HCL)—produced in the stomach. HCL plays a critical role in the process and could even be considered one of the most important chemicals in the body. When it's missing, protein can't be broken down properly into amino acids, hindering the maintenance and building of muscles. These non-metabolized proteins begin to decay and enter the bloodstream, resulting in toxic waste making its way through your system, and stress being placed on your lungs, kidneys, skin and bowels. Also, when HCL production is low, the opening to your small intestine doesn't function normally, causing lowered levels of bile and your bowel to slow, resulting in constipation. From there, a domino effect occurs, causing harm to the optimum operation of your pancreas, liver, and gallbladder.
Keep Your Levels Up
So, what causes HCL levels to plummet? The two most likely contenders are stress and a poor diet which lead to deficits of iodine, salt, and zinc—the mineral precursors of HCL. Plus, if you're upset, highly stressed or continually on the go, or you tend to drink liquids with your meals, frequently drink carbonated beverages (including mineral waters) and eat your meals in a rush, you may be causing reduced levels of HCL in your body.
As you can see, these two summer-loving organs are directly connected to the detoxification process and overall functioning of your body. To love these organs, take time to slow down and enjoy the season, being conscious to mindfully reduce your stress levels and not over-schedule yourself. And, as always, nourish yourself with a diet that's full of grass-fed, lean protein or clean vegan protein, organic fruits and veggies, heart-smart fats like olive oil and macadamia nuts, and say "no" to processed and/or fried foods.
Happy, healthy summer!
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Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS
Visionary health expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, has always been a trendsetter. With millions of followers nationwide, she has the uncanny ability to pinpoint major health concerns and provide solutions years ahead of anybody else.
Highly respected as the grande dame of alternative health and award-winning author of 30 books, she single-handedly launched the weight loss/detox revolution in her New York Times bestseller The Fat Flush Plan. A Connecticut College and Teachers College, Columbia University graduate, Dr. Ann Louise was recognized as one of the top ten nutritionists in the country by Self magazine and was the recipient of the American Medical Writers Association award for excellence. She has been a popular columnist for First magazine since 2003.