Cleansing and Detoxification

     Over two thousand years ago, Hippocrates stated that the majority of diseases and infirmities come not from without, but are internally generated due to faulty pepsis, or digestion and metabolism.  Faulty pepsis leads to an accumulation of toxic residues that clog the organism in a state known as autointoxication. 
     And so, Greek Medicine developed therapeutic methods or techniques for periodically cleansing the organism of accumulated wastes and toxins.  By decreasing the toxic load on the organism through these purification therapies, vital bodily functions like digestion, metabolism, circulation and immunity can be optimized and rehabilitated. 
     Most car owners take their cars in for a periodic cleansing, like an oil change or a transmission flush.  How much more necessary it is, then, to periodically cleanse our bodies; you can always buy a new car, but you can't buy a new body.


The Six Hygienic Purification Methods

     Over centuries of clinical experience, Greek Medicine developed Six Hygienic Purification Methods.  These are:
     1)  Diaphoresis - Sweating
     2)  Diuresis - Urination
     3)  Emesis - Therapeutic vomiting
     4)  Purgation - Elimination, usually through the bowels
     5)  Venesection - Bloodletting
     6)  Derivation - Drawing out toxins through the skin
     These six methods were developed partly out of clinical trial and error, and partly from imitating the natural healing catharses of the organism.  They were in common use until the 19th century, when they started to fall out of favor. 
     When properly applied, these Six Hygienic Methods can be valuable lifesavers in medical emergencies.  But more importantly, by reducing the toxic load on the organism, they can produce dramatic improvements and breakthroughs in alleviating the chronic degenerative diseases that now plague mankind.  Because they cleanse the body, these hygienic methods of treatment are a valuable adjunct to fasts and cleansing diets. 


A Word to the Wise

     These Six Hygienic Methods work like a powerful double-edged sword:  They can bring great benefit to the body when rightfully applied, but they can also do great harm when misused, overused or abused.  Although a great many people suffer from insufficient elimination of wastes and autointoxication, it's also possible to overpurge and overcleanse; optimum health means maintaining the right balance between assimilation and elimination. 
     Each of these Six Hygienic Methods has their particular indications, or conditions for which they are necessary or helpful.  Conversely, each also has their own particular contraindications, for which they would be destructive or harmful. 
     Each of these purification techniques provokes a certain cathartic reaction by the organism that entails some expenditure or loss, to a greater or lesser extent, of its inherent energy and vitality.  Therefore, a regime of cleansing and catharsis should be followed by a period of restoration and rebuilding. 
     For all the above reasons, it's best to use these Six Hygienic Methods under the guidance of a holistic healthcare professional, who can monitor one's progress.  This is especially true if one is suffering from a chronic, debilitating condition.  Some of these methods, like venesection, are best done by a healthcare professional. 


Diaphoresis:  Sweating It Out

     Diaphoresis means inducing a sweat to cleanse toxins from the blood.  There are many ways to do this, and a wide variety of diaphoretic agents and techniques to provoke a wide variety of sweats to treat different conditions. 
     Modern medicine relies almost exclusively on the sauna for sweating therapy; this is also one of the methods used in classical Greek Medicine.  Saunas can either be wet - with steam, or dry - without.  Wet saunas are recommended for those with dry constitutions, or those suffering from dry conditions.  Dry saunas are recommended for those with wet constitutions, or suffering from wet conditions.  In general, saunas are indicated for arthritis and rheumatism, or to detoxify the body and blood.  Wet saunas are also useful to help loosen up and expel sticky phlegm from the lungs. 
     Sweating in a sauna can be enhanced in several ways.  The body can be massaged or anointed with aromatic medicated oils before the sauna to help one sweat.  A wet sauna can be enhanced by using aromatic teas or essences like Bay Laurel.  Or, a cup of hot diaphoretic herb tea can be drunk prior to entering the sauna to enhance the sweating process. 
     Modern medicine's conception of sweating therapy is too crude and mechanical.  Just turn up the heat and you sweat. 
     Greek Medicine's approach to diaphoresis is much more sophisticated and complex.  A wide variety of sudorific, or sweat-inducing, agents are used to treat a wide variety of different conditions.  To produce a sweat, a sudorific herb tea must be drunk hot; the hotter the drink, the more vigorous the sweat.  Herbal sudorifics cantain volatile oils that are released through the pores of the skin. 
     Broadly speaking, sudorifics may be either heating and stimulating or cooling and sedating.  Heating sudorifics are used for cold conditions like rheumatism and colds due to chilly drafts.  Cooling sudorifics are used to treat hot conditions like heat rashes, fevers, inflamed sore throats and colds due to hot drafts. 
     Furthermore, sudorifics may either be strongly dispersing, provoking a profuse sweat, or mildly dispersing, producing a mild sweat.  The strong sudorifics are more suited to those of a strong constitution, and the mild ones for the weak.
     Sometimes, sweating is used to hasten the eruption of rashes and pustules; sudorific herbs that do this are called discussives.  Anodynes are herbs which, through a mildly warming and dispersing diaphoretic action, ease rheumatic and muscular aches and pains. 
     Sweating is one of the gentler, safer hygienic cleansing methods of Greek Medicine, but still, it's not without its precautions and contraindications.  It's contraindicated in those who are extremely weak and devitalized, and those suffering from dehydration;  these conditions must be remedied before doing sweating therapy.  Also, those who sweat too easily or abnormally, due either to low immunity, prostration, or autonomic nervous system imbalances, should be cautious about sweating therapy. 
     Because sweating is a cathartic reaction of the organism that depletes it of some vital energy, not to mention fluids and electrolytes, it's a good idea to take some restorative measures after sweating.  A warm tea made from equal parts of Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosis) and Sage (Salvia officinalis), given only lukewarm, will stop sweating, close the pores, and replenish the body with fluids and electrolytes.  Or, a ptisan, or barley gruel may be given about twenty minutes later, spiced with Ginger and Sage to protect and close the pores.  Dress warmly or wrap yourself in a blanket to avoid catching chills. 


Diuresis:  Provoking Urination

     Diuresis cleanses the body through the blood and lymph by provoking urination.  Urination is the most direct way to eliminate excess wetness, edema and water retention from the body.  But diuresis also cleanses the organism in many other ways as well.  Here again, herbs are the main diuretic agents used in Greek Medicine. 
     Many herbs that aren't strongly diuretic still cleanse the body, through the blood and lymph, via the urine.  These herbs are called alteratives, or blood cleansers. 
     Because toxicity of the blood and lymph, and in the organs and tissues fed and drained by them, is involved in so many diseases, diuresis is indicated in many conditions: lymphatic congestion or obstruction, edema, water retention, suppressed urination, urinary tract and bladder infections; urinary stones, sand and gravel; arthritis, gout, uremia, rheumatism, rashes and skin conditions, eczema, jaundice, hepatitis, toxemia and much more.  Each diuretic herb has its own particular indications. 
     Because diuresis removes water from the body via the urine, it's contraindicated in those with severe dryness and dehydration.  Those with serious mineral and electrolyte imbalances should undertake diuresis with caution, and avoid strong diuretics altogether. 
     With diuresis as well, it's best to avoid radical or extreme flushes and stick to the mild, gentle diuretics wherever possible.  Luckily, the herbal kingdom is full of gentle, mild diuretics useful in treating just about any condition calling for them. 
     As with sudorifics, diuretics can also be divided into two broad categories.  The heating diuretics stimulate circulation and metabolism and eliminate excess Water via the urine by increasing the metabolic Fire.  The cooling diuretics have an antiinflammatory and detoxifying action on the organs and tissues, cleansing them of heat, choler and toxins, which they eliminate through the urine. 
     Diuretics can also be classified from mild to strong in their action, although this is all relative to the inherent energy and vitality of the individual's kidneys and urinary tract.  Weak, devitalized kidneys will be excessively stimulated or provoked, even by diuretics which, in someone with strong, healthy kidneys, would procure only a mild diuretic action.  And so, evaluating the inherent strength and vitality of the kidneys and urinary tract is important, and helps the physician to better gauge exactly how a given patient will respond to diuretic therapy, and to a particular diuretic agent.


Emesis:  Therapeutic Vomiting

     Emesis, or therapeutic vomiting, is the main hygienic technique for removing excesses of the Phlegmatic humor from the head, chest, lungs, stomach and upper body.  Through the gastropulmonary reflex, vomiting provokes the release of excess phlegm from the lungs and respiratory tract.  Although excess phlegm can invade any part of the body, its primary accumulation sites are exactly those which are purged by emesis. 
     The health conditions addressed by emesis are primarily those caused by excesses of the Phlegmatic humor.  These include: coughs, colds, asthma, bronchitis, poor appetite, gastric atony, watery regurgitations, lymphatic obstruction, edema, weeping eczema, chronic sinus problems, chronic tonsilitis or sore throat, type 2 diabetes, epilepsy (between attacks), and mental sluggishness and torpor. 
     Both emesis and purgation purge the digestive tract.  Emesis, or purging from the upper end, is for symptoms of fullness arising above the navel, whereas purgation, or purging from the bottom end, is for symptoms of fullness below the navel.  Although this old maxim of Hippopcrates may seem crude or simplistic to us today, it's full of natural healing wisdom, and actually works. 
     Modern medicine's main use of emesis is for emergency cases of food poisoning.  If you've swallowed something poisonous or harmful, try to induce vomiting as quickly as possible. 
     Emesis for therapeutic or hygienic purposes should be done upon arising, or on an empty stomach.  Into eight cups of lukewarm water, dissolve about one teaspoon of sea salt, to give it a brackish taste.  Drink it down as quickly as possible; heave your stomach in and out to agitate its contents; then rub the back of your tongue to vomit out what you've swallowed.  Repeat the regurgitation process until your stomach feels empty, you feel relieved, and your vomitus is acrid. 
     This is emesis in its simplest form, which is basically somewhat like a stomach washing, or lavage.  But several adjunct measures can also be employed to enhance the cleansing process.  These measures are designed to temporarily agitate, loosen, and draw out excess phlegm into the digestive and respiratory tracts for a deeper, more thorough cleansing. 
     The morning of the day before emesis, drink half a cup of olive oil.  This will start to draw out the excess phlegm. 
     The evening of that day, eat an early, light dinner consisting of wheat, rice or corn gruel with some sour cream or yogurt.  This will further provoke and draw out the phlegm. 
     Two to three hours after eating, massage your whole body with liberal amounts of olive oil.  This will further ripen the phlegm. 
     Before retiring, take a teaspoon of powdered Calamus root.  This will create a mild nausea and further loosen the phlegm. 
     The following morning, instead of water, use eight cups of Calamus and Licorice root tea, which you have brewed up the night before.  Stir in a teaspoon of salt and drink it quickly, to regurgitate it as before.  Ipecac syrup or another emetic can also be taken before drinking to enhance the vomiting. 
     Emesis is most suited to, and beneficial for, those of a Phlegmatic temperament.  As it evokes a vigorous cathartic response from the organism, it isn't recommended for those in a weak or devitalized state, or those of a delicate constitution.  Nor is it recommended for those with a nervous, colicky stomach, or those with a hiatal hernia. 
     Emesis can also be abused by those who are predisposed towards bulemia and other eating disorders.  True emesis is always done with fluids on an empty stomach, and not too often, unless specifically indicated.  It's a good way to begin a regime of bodily cleansing, fasting and purification. 
     You should wait at least an hour after emesis before you eat.  Right after emesis, you should also dress warmly to protect yourself against chills.  Emesis is best done under the guidance of a holistic healthcare professional. 


Purgation:  Cleansing the Bowels

     Purgation is the elimination of excess wastes and morbid humors in the digestive tract downwards through the bowels.  Either the purgation is done via the oral administration of medicines, or rectally, through enemas and colonics. 
     In more general terms, a purgative can be a medicine that reduces or eliminates any excessive humor by any route available.  But more specifically, purging downwards through the bowels is the main method for purging excesses of morbid yellow or black bile.  Yellow bile is eliminated mainly with oral purgatives.  Black bile is eliminated mainly through enemas and colonics. 
     Oral purgatives work by flushing out yellow bile from its source in the liver and gall bladder, and with it excess heat and choler.  Their immediate effect is to relieve Choleric and bilious conditions in the liver, gall bladder and middle digestive tract, which are the main sites for the accumulation of excess Choleric humor in the body.  With regular, continuous therapy, excess heat and choler are drawn out of the whole organism and eliminated via the bowels. 
     Greek Medicine uses a wide variety of purgative agents of various strengths,  most of which are herbs.  These purgatives not only move the bowels, but systemically, they also exert profound antiinflammatory, antiphlogistic, antispasmodic, derivative, hemolytic or detoxifying effects, depending on the agent(s) used.  By contrast, modern medicine's conception of purgative therapy is a mere mechanical emptying of the bowels.
     Successful purgation therapy means finding the right purgative for both your constitutional temperament and your condition.  Drastic purgatives should only be used for acute crises.  Beyond this, the stronger laxatives or purgatives are more suited to those of a strong constitution, and the gentler ones for those of a more delicate constitution.
     It's also possible to overdo purgative therapy.  Basically, purgatives drain excess heat and choler from the body through the digestive tract, but overdoing it can drain the digestive fire and Metabolic Heat as well, leaving the digestion cold, weak and deficient.  Within the digestive tract, the right balance must be found between digestion and assimilation on the one hand and elimination on the other.  Overdoing purgation will tip the scales too far towards elimination, at the expense of digestion and assimilation. 
     Enemas purge the bowels by flushing the colon out with water, herbal teas, or other fluids.  Whereas oral purgatives focus their cleansing action on the liver, gall bladder and small intestine, enemas purge accumulated wastes directly from the colon. 
     Since the colon is the main accumulation site for morbid excesses of black bile, enemas are the main hygienic purification therapy for eliminating excess black bile from the body.  Enemas first work on eliminating Melancholic pathologies from the colon and bowels in conditions of colic, gas, distension, bloating, flatulence, hard dry stools, chronic constipation, intestinal obstruction and so on.  Then, through the colon, enemas start to drain excess morbid black bile from the whole body in disorders like sciatica, lumbago, arthritis, rheumatism, calcification, osteoporosis, tics and spasms, neuromuscular disorders, emaciation and assimilation disorders. 
     Enemas, having a strong downwards purging action, are also indicated in many conditions characterized by symptoms with an ascending dynamic.  These include chronic, obstinate cases of hiccups, burping, belching, and acid reflux, as well as acute conditions like obstructed labor and delivery.  Because of its strong descending action, enemas are contraindicated in pregnancy. 
     The colon is like the roots of a tree.  With a clean colon, the roots are absorbing fresh, vital nutrients back into the body, but with a stagnant, toxic colon, foul toxins from old, putrefying wastes are reabsorbed.  Periodic colon cleansing with enemas is especially recommended in middle age and beyond, when bowel function declines and accumulations of morbid black bile and other toxic wastes tend to develop. 
     A course of two to three enemas are recommended at the beginning of a fast or cleansing diet to remove accumulations of waste from the colon.  With this toxic load eliminated, detoxification proceeds more completely and efficiently. 
     Enemas are best done in the early morning on an empty stomach.  In acute crises, they are done whenever necessary. 
     Pure water or herbal decoctions of various types may be used.  Coffee enemas (caffeinated) stimulate cleansing and detoxification of the liver and gall bladder.  Good teas to use include Fenugreek seed, Comfrey root and Yellow Dock.  Wormwood and Garlic are good for eliminating parasites.  Don't use harsh or astringent substances if the colon is spastic or irritable; instead, use soft emollients.
     The enema solution should be warm, about body temperature.  If the enema is too cold, it will cause cramping and constriction of the bowels.  The ideal fluid volume is three cups; if much more than this is taken, it will overly bloat the colon and overly stimulate the defecation reflex, creating a dependency on the enema that will hinder the transition back to normal bowel function. 
     In addition, it's also good to mix a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into the enema solution.  This has a soothing, demulcent effect, lessens the tendency towards cramping or spasm, and improves retention.  Mix in the oil well. 
     The enema bag should be suspended not more than two feet (60 cm.) above the rectal opening.  Lie on yoiur right side and gently insert the lubricated nozzle into the rectum.  Let the enema fluid go in gradually, in stages. 
     The enema should be retained no longer than about 15 minutes.  Do not strain excessively to retain it; if a massive or overwhelming defecation reflex comes, let it go. 
     Enemas may be psychologically problematic for those with a history of sexual trauma or abuse.  In these cases, a self-administered enema is preferrable to one administered by a physician or therapist.  A light cleansing or purification diet is usually recommended. 
     Enema therapy is typically done in a series, on consecutive mornings.  A typical course of therapy is from three to seven enemas.  A longer course, or enemas done more frequently, is done in degenerative diseases like cancer, with extreme toxicity.
     Enema therapy can be abused or overdone.  Enemas done too frequently can create a condition of dependency, whereas the true objective of enema therapy should be not only to cleanse, but also to rehabilitate and revitalize the colon. 


Venesection, or Bloodletting

     Venesection, or bloodletting, is the release or drawing out of blood from a punctured vein.  The veins are punctured, and not the arteries, as the blood pressure in the arteries is too high to permit easy control of the bleeding.
     There are many forms and methods of bloodletting, each with its own indications and applications.  Besides directly puncturing and bleeding a vein, blood can also be drawn by applying leeches, or by scarification and cupping, or making a small puncture and then sucking the blood out. 
     Bllodletting is currently out of favor with the medical establishment, and is only used in certain medical emergencies, like snakebites.  That's because bloodletting was much abused at certain times in medicine's past.  Nevertheless, donating blood is, in effect, a very general, nonspecific form of bloodletting. 
     Venesection, appropriately applied, can have valuable therapeutic effects, and can even be a lifesaver in acute crises and medical emergencies.  Basically, bloodletting has two purposes: to relieve localized congestions of blood and obstructions to its flow; and to drain excess heat and toxins from the blood. 
     Greek Medicine maintains that bloodletting is a natural process, and in harmony with natural law.  For example, a nosebleed is a natural defensive reaction of the organism to remove excess blood congestion in the head.  Bleeding hemorrhoids relieve the pressure of excess blood that would otherwise impinge on the liver or the heart, causing more serious problems. 
     Nevertheless, bloodletting does have its contraindications.  It's contraindicated in anemia, and in low blood pressure or volume.  It's also contraindicated if there are no specific indications for it; why waste good blood?
     Bloodletting also initiates a healing reaction by the organism to replace the lost blood by generating fresh, new, vital blood.  Blood reserves held in the spleen, and also in the liver, are released; and so, venesection can also relieve blood stagnation and congestion in these organs.
     Modern medicine is rediscovering the value of medicinal leechcraft.  The saliva of leeches contains a powerful blood thinner called hirudin.  Applying leeches distal to the suture site of a reconnected severed finger prevents the blood congestion and gangrene that often set in, due to the leech's drawing of fresh blood out to the fingertip and its secretion of the anticoagulant hirudin. 
     Acupuncturists in China relieve the pain, inflammation and swelling of a sore throat in acute respiratory infections by making a small incision at the endpoint of the lung meridian and squeezing a few drops of blood out of it.  Here, it's not so much the volume of blood that's drawn that's therapeutic, but rather, the point where it's drawn from.
     In Unani Medicine, venesection is commonly employed in cerebral concussions and fractures to prevent deadly traumatic inflammation and edema to the brain.  In acute cholecystitis, gall bladder surgery can often be avoided by administering purgatives and cholagogues to liquefy and move the bile combined with bloodletting on the abdomen, right over the gall bladder. 
     Bloodletting is best left to a healthcare professional with experience and training in its technique.  It shouldn't be attempted by the lay person at home. 


Derivation:  Drawing It Out

     Derivation is the drawing out of toxins through the skin by poultices and plasters of various medicinal agents.  Rubefacients draw excess blood and heat out to the skin's surface.  Discussives draw out toxins by promoting the eruption or surfacing of latent skin rashes.  Vesicants draw pus and other toxins out to the surface by promoting the formation and eruption of blisters, pustules, abcesses and boils.  Cupping is another derivation technique that utilizes suction to draw out stagnant blood and other humors. 
     In a more general sense, the term derivation refers to a very important therapeutic concept: that of diverting excess congestion away from one part of the body by drawing it out towards another distant part.  In this sense, even bloodletting is a form of derivation. 
     The derivation concept grew out of the clinical observation that, given the right conditions, the organism would naturally peripheralize plethoras of toxins and morbid humors that would otherwise threaten the vital core organs of the body, thus averting a crisis situation.  The physicians of antiquity then devised methods for activating this peripheralization process and drawing these toxins out. 
     How are toxins drawn out through the skin in derivation?  Through the principle of like attracts like.  Blistering hot medicines like Cantharides Plaster, commonly known as Spanish Fly, are applied to the skin to draw out similarly hot and caustic pus and toxins by creating and ripening blisters, boils and pustules. 
     If you want to avoid gall bladder surgery in acute cholecystitis, in addition to internal laxatives and cholagogues to purge and liquefy the bile, you apply a Cantharides plaster over the gall bladder.  This will draw the congested blood, toxins, heat and choler out and away from the gall bladder and into boils and abcesses on the skin's surface. 
     In addition to using alteratives or blood cleansers to wash away toxins and calcifications from in and around the joints in arthritis, radical breakthroughs in its treatment can be made by applying vesicant plasters to the skin surface on and around the affected joint(s).  After the blister or boil is formed, it's lanced and drained, and then dressed and bandaged, like any other wound, to heal.
     In addition to Cantharides, or Spanish Fly, the classical Greek physicians also used the resin from a vesicant plant called Thapsia (Thapsia garganica).  Thapsia is a bit gentler than Cantharides, but just as effective.