We hadn’t walked three steps before my friend asked his first 'health' question.
“Should I take milk thistle for my liver?”
I cringed, not because I didn’t want to answer him, but because I knew he was looking for a clean yes or no, and that wasn’t what I was about to give him. I have known this person since I was a teenager. We smoked cigarettes together in high school and drank way too much “tehila” (a cheap Israeli tequila-like substance) in college followed by greasy falafels and shawarmas made from mystery meat. That was then. These days, we talk much more about green powders, Vitamin C and, yes, milk thistle.
(Note: Whoever does the PR for milk thistle should win some kind of award or something because it outranks other herbs three to one when it comes to people asking me about it. What about dandelion or burdock?)
I cringed, not because there was no answer but because I didn’t want him to feel judged, a challenge I was finding difficult. In truth, I wasn’t judging him – far from it. However, when you’re me – The Picky Foodie – people like to tell you how “bad” they’ve been, how much they need to change in their lives (but don’t really want to), or about that one little thing that changed their lives for the better (one man talked to me about how blueberries had cured his two burger a day habit for an hour and a half.).
I wanted to tell him yes, because milk thistle can strengthen your liver, and help you clear out toxins. But a little milk thistle won’t cure addictions; it won’t counteract a bottle-a-day o’Chardonnay seasoned with cigs and anti-depressants. Most of all, I wanted to tell my friend that I wished he would quit and treat his body better.
I know. I’ve been there. I’ve done the Micky D’s and the terrible red wine, the waking up feeling like you’ve morphed into the bottom of an ashtray. And now that I don’t do those things anymore and it’s January, everyone wants to know how to “detox.”
Detoxing doesn’t just come in a bottle, though many manufacturers of those tinctures, pills and programs want you to believe that they do. When you do decide to partake in one of those one-size-fits-all prescriptions, nobody tells you that although the milk thistle et al are technically clearing out toxins and chemicals from your liver, chances are a hell of a lot more will come out. Like emotions that you have swallowed and tried to forget, feelings and memories and fears lodged deep inside your body.
When you embark on one of those detoxes, the thing is that lots of shit does come out. And I mean SHIT. You might feel worse before you feel better – a lot worse. While the physical is relatively easy to deal with – a colonic, an enema, a walk, a good cry, some liquids and a lot of rest – it is the emotional that nobody expects and that is, in many ways, harder to face.
December hits and people celebrate the end of the year by opening the floodgates of excess. Then in January we complain that we’re a little down, sluggish, that we’ve gained weight. We reach for milk thistle and that detox created by Dr-whatever-his-name-is-that-worked-for-so-and-so-who-lost-twenty-pounds-in-two-weeks.
I wanted so much to tell my friend to take the bloody milk thistle because more than anything, I wanted my friend to feel good. I know, however, that there is no magic pill. That taking milk thistle while continuing to ignore the pain of his recent breakup, and visiting that same wine bar night after night would be one hell of a long shot. In the best case, it might temporarily alleviate some symptoms, but in terms of proper, long-term healing, he would probably achieve very little.
When I finished my explanation, he paused for a moment. “So are you saying I should take it or not?”
A true detox should be undertaken with proper guidance and supervision. But for those of us short on time and resources, there are small and simple ways in which we can help ourselves.
Here are a few ideas to “detox” gently:
- If you really want to do one of those detoxes, try starting with a short one – a one-day liquid fast for example
- stop drinking / smoking – even if you don’t want to do it forever, do it for a day, a week, a month, an allotted time (how about no cigarettes after 6? No alcohol on weeknights?)
- cut out dairy, gluten and sugar for a week or a month.
- declutter -- clean out your closets, your wallet.