Detoxification and disease prevention

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Detoxification and disease prevention- Western cleanse VS. Ayurvedic Perspective Dr. Atousa Mahdavi


Western alternative medicine routinely suggests and attempts to ride the body from toxic substances that are introduced to the human body by various environmental means such as food, water, air and soil. The general idea suggests that most food contains contaminants: ingredients deemed unnecessary for human life, such as flavor enhancers, food coloring, pesticides, heavy metal toxins and preservatives. Other toxic substances are also found in household goods such as cleansing agents in detergents and cleansers and even in deodorants and air refreshers as well as insecticides.

Air and water is constantly polluted by environmental pollutants and manufacturing and industrial waste as well as human waste. This is more pronounced and due to technological advancements in industrialized nations and also as a result of industrialization and modernization of food, farming and agriculture. In recent studies even traces of pharmaceutical substances are found in drinking water that is not filtered. In addition, there is also toxic radiation from the ozone layer and the green housaffect.

The western alternative medicine perspective on detox suggests that Build-up of toxins in the body is a precursor to several chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart diseases, and even cancer.  To prevent the risk of these illnesses we need to regularly eliminate toxins from the body. This idea is shared by the Ayurvedic perspective in that in Ayurveda the concept of detox predominantly in panchakarma is also used in both prevention and treatment of disease. Ayurveda differs from western perspective in its concept of Ama which is a bi-product of metabolism directly as a result of malfunctioning digestive system. Ama is formed through poor dietary habits and low digestive fire. So, the concept of environmental toxins in the modern world is not seen as the main contributory factor in formation of Ama in ancient Ayurveda as at the time of Ayurvedic scriptures there was not such thing as environmental toxins as it is in today’s modern world.

An Ayurvedic cleanse aims to reset the digestive fire, allowing it to rest and strengthen. By detoxifying and resting the system, cleansing also supports the body’s natural ability to remove built up toxins. A full Ayurvedic medical cleanse, called panchakarmainvolves five detoxifying treatments, including massage, oleation, fomentation, purgation, herbal therapy and other treatments and methods such as sound therapy, yoga and meditation. It is highly individualized, depending on the needs, age, digestive strength, immune system and other factors of the person. This intense panchakarma cleanse should only ever be conducted under the guidance of an Ayurvedic practitioner. Usually patients are to follow certain guidelines at home for several days before and after Panchakarma treatment.  Traditionally, Ayurvedic cleansing would be done at the changing of the season four times a year.

Panchakarma   treatment in Ayurveda refers to five therapeutic measures (procedures) to be undertaken for complete detoxification of body. The panchakarma includes Ayurvedic therapies such as Vamana (Medicated Emesis), Virechana (Purgation), Nasya (Nasal Instillation), Raktamokhshan (Blood Letting) and Basti (Enema). Panchakarma treatments are mainly indicated for elimination of toxins from the body and they are done methodically and consecutively in a clinical setting most of the time as a residential program for a set duration anywhere from one week to 3 weeks or longer.

Western Detoxification (sometimes called body cleansing) is a type of alternative medicine treatment which aims to rid the body of unspecified “toxins”, accumulated substances that have undesirable short-term or long-term effects on individual health. Activities commonly associated with detoxification include dieting, fasting, consuming exclusively or avoiding specific foods (such as fats, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, juices, herbs, or water), colon cleansing, chelation therapy, dry sauna or infrared sauna and the removal of dental fillings. This varies from Ayurveda in that these treatments are not done with the systemic approach that is methodical and done in a clinical setting but rather haphazard and done separately and many times are done in the same fashion for different individuals with the same condition or different conditions and are not tailor made or individualized as it is in Ayurveda.

The treatments such as dry or infrared Sauna, detox herbs, Detox juicing and cleansing, Enemas and Colonics are some of the detox treatments used in western cleanses or detox. These treatments though similar to some of the ayurvedic panchakarma treatment, are usually not done in any particular order and do not follow a system but rather done in a generic and generalized rather than individualized fashion. Administration of herbs to cleans the Liver, kidneys and Colon, though similar to ayurvedic herbs, is often done according to signs and symptoms present pointing to the organ involved or in need of cleansing. These herbs are chosen according to the condition only not the constitution or the nature of the patient which is not the case in Ayurveda where the herbs are chosen based also on the nature of the patient or their ayurvedic constitution.

Any of the western modalities or methods of cleansing can be administered to any one with similar signs and symptoms and they are not necessarily individualized or tailored made to be unique for the individual. For example, any individual will be asked to attend infrared sauna sessions irrespective of their unique make up but only based on their condition. In Ayurveda individuals are treated based on their Dosha or Ayurvedic constitution (Bio-elemental dominance), as well as the condition, which makes the choice of detox treatment in Panchakarma or herbal remedies individualized. For example, not everyone would be suited to receive a Vamana treatment or the same types of Basti or enema even if suffering from the same condition. The panchakarma treatments and medicinal herbs used in the remedies or therapies are highly individualized according to the person’s constitution or nature as well as the nature of the condition or disease.  In ayurvedic Panchakarma, there is also a process of preparing the individual before their detox program called Poorva Karma and also a home care post therapy called Pashchata Karma, which is not done in western alternative detox methods.

Though over all we see both similarities but also differences as mentioned. In conclusion, although the western approach to detox can be effective and helpful, it lacks the intricate and methodical system in Ayurveda where the treatments are chosen not only based on the condition but also the individual unique constitution and nature and with prior preparations and post-care home therapy. In the recent past naturopathic clinics have started to offer more individualized cleans and detox programs in treating different health conditions making their protocols more systematic and individualized resembling the Ayurvedic approach in Panchakarma.  Never the less the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda seems to have influenced the western approach to detox and cleansing.


1.      Ayurveda and Panchakarma by Sunil Joshi

2.      Ayurveda and Marma Therapy by Dr. David Frawley, Dr. Subhash Ranade, Dr. Avinash Lele

3.      Principles of Ayurvedic medicine by Dr. Mark Halpern

4.      The ACP Evidence-Based Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine by Bradley Jacobs, MD.


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