Imagine what your home would be like if you didn't clean it for weeks on end ...
If mine's anything to go by with dogs, cats (and their regular feathered, furry and frog gifts), free-range chooks who wander indoors whenever they feel like it, plus the yard detritus and mud that stealths its way in and everywhere, it doesn't bear thinking about what state our home would get into if I didn't get the Dyson out - even then I find it hard enough to keep on top off.
It's the same for our bodies, human or horse, but here's the good news - we have our own internal Dyson installed, yay! Meet the 3-Amigos - the Liver, Kidneys and Lymph Nodes, the three amazing filtration organs which together make up the body's natural detox system. Without us even knowing, they're busying away behind the scenes like Santa's Elves, doing our natural clean-up, sorting and filtering all the bad stuff then sending it off and out forever.
Brilliant, you'd think. Trouble is, in our modern times there's a dark cloud of toxicity out there, waiting to hit us and our horses like a wrecking ball. Other than the undesirables that are in feed/forage, there's a ton of other environmental waste that gets into us whether we like it or not - don't even get me started on the plastic garbage trail in our oceans.
It’s estimated that there are literally hundreds of thousands of chemicals in the environment alone, and not to put too fine a word on it, collectively they all build up in the body and silently start to cause potentially life-threatening conditions, because the 3-Amigos simply can't cope with the onslaught of it all anymore.
Perfect preventation makes perfect practice
Disease and illness simply can't exist inside a clean, nourished, nutrient-rich body, so it makes perfect sense to practice true prevention. Performing a regular internal clean-up is a pivotal part of the process in overcoming chronic disease, because toxins can shut down a body quicker than a quick thing.
Here's why - ever been behind a door trying to get out and the exit's blocked? A perfect analogy for why detoxing is so important; toxins need to get out of the body's exit routes, but if the exits are blocked, they'll stay in the body.
We’re bombarded with toxic materials from every front, and once in the body – and be assured they’re going to come in – they're stored in tissues and cells throughout the body and affect every one of the body’s systems, including the ones that life depends on - immune, digestive, nervous and circulatory systems.
Here's the cycle. As they start to build up in the body, they begin to tax the immune system. Gut health starts to erode, becoming permeated and allowing the toxins to leak through the gut wall and into the bloodstream, causing the immune system to become locked in overdrive trying to fight the toxic overload.
The bloodstream is now overburdened with free radicals (toxic mutant cells); the lymphatic system - the body's waste drainage system - becomes blocked and sluggish; the liver and kidneys are working overtime trying to process the sheer volume of toxicity, and the exit routes - the bowel, bladder, skin, lungs - are all clogged up, forcing much of the toxic load to be reabsorbed all over again, instead of evacuated out and gone forever.
Even if we’re feeding the right feeds, maintaining good movement and managing stressors, toxic sludge in the body will still be doing its best to sabotage our best intentions to keep our horses healthy.
Simply put, the body doesn’t function well when it’s loaded with toxins - an inflamed leaky gut and worn-out immunity leads to a compromised metabolism, bringing on allergies, skin issues, laminitis, puffy-leg oedema, ulcers etc etc etc. All leading the way to chronic disease. Cue pain which leads to misery, anxiety, loss of appetite, loss of weight and condition, and eventual meltdown.
Detoxification is the first step to get health back on track and reinstate homeostasis, to help our horse function happily again.
Doing it naturally
For millions of years, plants have protected themselves against foreign invaders like mould, bugs and harmful microbes, with their own built-in defence system of powerful phytochemicals. Being a herbivore, our horses have evolved by grazing on grasses and plants, so using those same natural phytochemicals means they can also reap the same benefits for optimal immunity protection. This is where our C.A.R.E. programme comes in, and specifically our OptimaCARE clean-up programme:
So how do we do it? Detoxing deconstructed
The four primary exit routes in the body are the bowel region (large intestine, cecum, colon, rectum and anus), the urinary tract, the lungs and skin.
They each have their own areas of toxin-type responsibility, i.e. the bowel, the Mother of all Organs, eliminates fecal waste matter and fat soluble toxins; the urinary tract eliminates water-soluble toxins; skin/sweatglands - integumentary toxins (dead epidermal cells) and excess minerals; the lungs - carbonic gas and pleghm. And trust me when I say a very simple rule applies - if the bowel's blocked up, the waste that's been queuing up to get out is reabsorbed back into the body, which means the other exit routes are in trouble because they've now got to pick up the slack.
In order to get each exit clear and working properly, an effective detox must be done in the correct sequence. Everything starts with the gut - the main player, as this is where 80%-ish of the immune system is created via nutrition, and it's directly connected to the main exit route, so we start here first. After cleaning up the gut and the main exit route, the next stage is to clean up the liver - the primary detox workhorse - which sends fat-soluble toxins to the large intestine, and the kidneys which link to the urinary tract.
Finally, the circulatory systems. The lymphatics drain waste from the brain, skin and lungs, filtering it through its lymph nodes, and dumps what remains into the bloodstream, which filters itself through the kidneys and liver before heading off to restart its circular journey round the body, nutrifying on its outbound journey, and picking up lymph waste on the inbound sector.
In essence, to restore health and immunity, we have to work upstream, starting with the gut system and the main exit route, then moving on to the next organ and exit route upon which the next one relies, and so on.
Step 1 - The Digestive System, the first line of defence
This is the first place to start; it's where the whole process of digestion occurs, where the nutrients are assimilated and absorbed, and where the main waste-disposal chute resides.
The whole bowel region could be thought of as the Long Road Home. Let's not forget, though, that digestion starts from the minute the horse puts food in its mouth. Chewing releases saliva which mixes with the chewed food and forms a bolus, which travels down the oesophagus and into the stomach (foregut).
The bolus meets the stomach acid and protein digestive enzymes which trigger the washing-machine cycle; as the stomach wall begins churning, the acid and enzymes start breaking down and liquifying the bolus into a soupy mix, chyme, so it can pass easily into the small intestine.
Now we get to where the business starts to happen - the small intestine is where true digestion starts to take place. Other digestive enzymes have now stepped into the mix, busily breaking down the starches, sugars and fats, and assimilating the nutrients ready for absorption through the gut wall into the bloodstream.
Finally, what's left of the chyme, as in plant fibre, arrives at the large intestine, generally known as the hindgut region, a huge fermentation vat where billions of fibre-digesting bacteria reside in readiness to ferment the fibre. The final stage is in the small colon, where the remaining waste material is formed into fecal balls, which head off into the rectum for evacuation through the anus. Job done. Smiley face. But only in the perfect world ...
Back to those toxins. Cue digestive havoc - an invasion of negative pathogenic gut microbiota which kill off the beneficial gut bugs. Without them, the food won't be being processed properly, and the result is a mess of undigested, compacted matter being pushed into the intestines. (Just for fun those bad bugs also tear their way through the intestinal wall membrane, creating leaky gut syndrome, allowing the putrid, festering digesting matter to leak into the bloodstream and wreak its own autoimmune havoc).
This compacted waste can take much longer to travel through the intestines - the intestines are designed to ‘absorb’ so the longer this undigested waste sits in the intestines, the more it’s going to be reabsorbed and impact upon itself, until eventually the digestive system grinds to a murky standstill.
A quick blockage heads-up - there are three areas in the large intestine that are ripe for obstruction. For the cecum content to pass into the colon, it must travel through the cecocolic orifice which is just 3-4cm wide. Then, as the left ventral colon reaches the pelvic area, it narrows at the pelvic flexure, another common place for blockage to occur. Finally, because of the narrowing of the transverse colon, this is another prime blockage spot. Just a bit scary. (And another scary fact - if we took bowel contents and injected them directly into the bloodstream it would be instantly lethal.)
So there we have it. The root of where health goes bad. Of course, the nutrients in feed play a huge part as well. I know I say this a lot in this website, but in theory, a healthy body will have a strong immune system, created by a healthy gut, and won’t get sick. If the body’s sick, the immune system is sick.
The only permanent way to good health is via the immune system, and nutrition gives the immune system the firepower to keep the body well. However, the nutrition we feed to our horses has to be effectively digested, assimilated, absorbed and shuttled off to where it’s needed, and only a healthy gut system can do this. And a gut can only stay healthy, and build a healthy immunity, if those Three Amigos, the major filtration organs, are working together in sync; they all rely on each other to function like perfectly oiled cogs in a wheel.
Step 2 – Liver, Kidneys & Urinary Tract
Now we get to the two main detoxing organs, the liver and kidneys, responsible for cleaning up the body. They need to work in harmony, each playing their essential part like an instrument in an orchestra. Both have to be firing on all cylinders to sort the bad stuff from the good, before shifting the bad stuff off for elimination. The two circulatory systems, blood and lymphatics, rely entirely on these two organs for their own detoxing.
When there's digestive havoc, inflammation and/or toxin build-up in the GI tract, the movement of toxins from the liver and the GI tract ceases, and everything gets shuttled over to the kidneys. Unless that liver/GI path is clear, the kidneys end up being overloaded with toxins they're not evolved to deal with. So, once the gut and colon are cleaned up, a liver/kidney cleanse is the next stage to help restore the natural dominant detox liver/GI pathway, so the pressure is taken off the kidneys.
- The Liver - the workhorse of digestion and detoxification While the hindgut is the largest digestive organ in the body, the liver is the largest digestive gland, and it’s the workhorse of the immune system. When the liver is under too much stress it’s unable to process toxins out of the body, so they keep on moving through the system causing a ton of potential havoc. Liver cleansing alone can boost liver production and efficiency by up to 15% and is one of the most effective ways of boosting the body's own natural detoxing mechanism. The liver is responsible for performing a number of essential detoxifying functions, including purifying the blood - the condition of the blood throughout the whole body is mostly reliant on the health of the liver. The liver needs to actively clean the blood each and every day in order to support nearly every system within the body. The liver also aids in hormone production, releases glucose into the bloodstream to provide steady energy, creates ketones for brain fuel, and releases bile, the master fat digester, into the small intestine. You can see why poor liver function can create so many problems.
- The Kidneys - the body’s environmentally friendly recycling system This awesome twosome take over the waste from the lymphatic system. The lymphatics collect toxins from the brain and drain congestion from the skin and lungs, passing anything left over from lymph node filtering into the bloodstream, which takes what's left onwards to the kidneys. The kidneys filter out the non-recyclable waste and toxins, then pull water from the body to mix with the waste to make urine (why it’s so important to keep hydration levels up) and send it off to the bladder for elimination. As if this isn't awesome enough, they also manage production of Vit. D from the sun's UVA rays which is essential for bone and muscle health, and regulate blood pressure.
Step 3 – The Circulatory Systems: Blood & Lymphatics
There are two circulatory systems in the body; the blood, and its lesser-known cousin, the lymphatics. The main difference between the two are that the lymphatics lack a pump - whereas blood has the heart, there's no pump to push the lymph fluid through its system; lymph relies entirely on the activation of the entire skeletal musculature via movement, hence why a long-term stabled horse is at risk from developing lymphangitis or worse, CPL - chronic progressive lymphedema.
- Blood - literally the life force of the bodyBlood has to maintain a healthy flow round the body, to feed nutrients where needed on the outbound journey and pick up lymphatic waste on the inbound, before heading back to the liver for another clean up and starting its journey round the body all over again. It supplies essential substances and nutrients, such as glucose, ketones, oxygen and hormones, to the body's cells, while also removing the body’s own dead cells that are dying off all the time. If the blood cells aren't cleaned up and become overburdened with junk, the white army cells - the infection-busters known as lymphocytes - become depleted, which risks the body becoming susceptible to toxic influx, leading to disease and illness.
- The Lymphatics - the body's critical drainage-canal system The lymphatics are the skin and lungs clean-up crew; they rely entirely upon the lymphatic system to drain congestion and remove waste, including infection, via the lymph fluid, which then filters everything through its lymph nodes. The recycled lymph then drains into the bloodstream which heads off to the kidneys to dump the waste. Important - lymph is like butter; the warmer it gets, the softer and more fluid it gets. The colder it gets, the harder it gets. Move, get a bit warm and it’ll keep moving and clean faster and more efficiently. And another important fact - when the lymph nodes get swollen and hard, they’re doing their job - you know how when we get the beginnings of a cold, we can feel our glands swollen in our neck? This is how it should be - they’re filtering the waste, swelling up as they absorb the bacteria, viruses etc., while triggering their stored lymphocytes - remember, the infection-busting white cells - to seek and destroy. Once dead, the residual waste then floats back into the lymph to continue its journey down to the kidneys to dump it all and start again, circulating back round the body to pick up all the crap.
TaDah - detoxing deconstructed.
Detoxing is a marathon, not a sprint
Detoxing must be thought of as a marathon, not a sprint. Detoxing the system in sequence, from the inside out, helps reboot the immune system to restore homeostasis to the body. More energy, more stamina, better digestion, better balance.
In the perfect world, detoxing works best when it’s done as a regular, gentle, daily detox - we do this with a selection of gentle, yet effective, proprietary nutrient-rich, tonic herbs - see our SummerTonic, WinterTonic and SeniorTonic - Online Shop link below. Depending on the toxic overload, a detox can typically take anywhere from 1-12 months, sometimes longer, which is why once the system is cleaned up, a daily tonifying detox will continue to support the whole body on an ongoing basis as a preventative. Think of it as us taking a multi-vit every day.
An ongoing daily detox also needs to have natural breaks for the body to naturally strengthen by functioning by itself – my method of choice is 1 day per week (Sunday, so I can have a bit of a lie-in).
However, if your horse's system is heavily overburdened and needs a deeper whole-system clean, we have our C.A.R.E. range, each blend dedicated to each major organ utilising our proprietary detox tonic base with added appropriate herbal support indicated for each system. Within our C.A.R.E. range we also have our full-body, deep cleansing detox programme, OptimaCARE .
For an overall, full-body deep cleanse, our 3-stage detox programme, OptimaCARE, works in sequence from the gut upwards, fed in powder form for swift digestive efficacy, over 30 days.
With each stage fed over 10-days, and with a 1-day break between each stage, Stage 1 addresses the gut and microbiome; Stage 2 detoxes and reinvigorates the liver and kidneys; Stage 3 completes the programme with a 10-day detox of the lymphatic system. Each stage is wrapped separately for ease of use.
The synergistic combination of each stage of our OptimaCARE formula can help bring a healthy balance back into your horse's immunity, detoxing and eliminatory systems. Once the course is finished, allow a week off so your horse's body can realign, strengthen and function by itself; this will also gives you the chance to assess how your horse is.
You should now have a restored blank canvas to work with, so any presenting issues thereafter can be dealt with effectively, without having to struggle through an overburdened exhausted system.
That's it - we're pretty much done!
If you think your horse is pretty much okay, and you're happy with your feed regime (see our Feeding Our Horses section in the More ... section above), very often many of the well recognised issues, i.e. skin or respiratory, can be helped by giving your horse a targeted support by way of an appropriate 4-week tonic - see the individual health categories in our Herbal Nutrition by Condition section above.
Meanwhile, here are some other factors that might be useful to keep the toxic burden down:
- ‘Let food be thy medicine.’ (Hippocrates) Reduce toxic load via real food - natural, species-appropriate, nutrient-rich food to nourish the body.
- Balance energy Keep it flowing properly with good rest and sleep - sleep allows cells to repair damage and restore tissue, as well as being when the body tops up its levels of lymphocytes, the killer army, infection busting, white blood cells.
- Reduce stressors Get some happy time in and stressors out.
- ‘Look well to the spine for the cause of dis-ease.’ (Hippocrates again) The how, when and why of the immune system's natural response is controlled by the nervous system, and ... the spine protects and surrounds the spinal cord, through which the brain communicates with the body. The spine is designed to have a very specific structure, and any deviation directly interferes with the nervous system’s ability to adapt to, and respond to, stress. Everything we do impacts the nervous system so we need to look after it. Nerve impingement creates tension, which creates a fight/flight state, and when we wear out the adrenal glands during permanently switched-on fight/flight, we hit exhaustion.
- Teeth Teeth have a huge impact on health - numerous locations in the jaw are directly connected to the body’s organs. Each tooth socket has a ligament which holds the tooth in place; following any dental work, if toxins remain in the mouth which in our horses's case is rarely cleaned properly afterwards, this can lead to infection which affects the tooth socket, the ligament and the jawbone.
Wishing your horse the very best of health :o)
NB. The Herxheimer Reaction -feeling worse before feeling better
The Herxheimer Reaction is commonly referred to as ‘feeling worse before feeling better’. In a nutshell this can mean a rare, but occasional, short-term (as in days) detoxification reaction in the body.
As the body detoxifies, it is not uncommon to experience ill-at-ease symptoms, anything from joint/ muscle pain, itching/scratching, sweating and gut imbalances amongst other symptoms. In humans, chronic headaches are a common sign.
This is a perfectly normal - and even healthy - reaction that indicates that the parasites, fungals, viruses, bacteria and other impurities are being effectively killed off. Although it may appear that the detox isn’t working, a noticeable Herxheimer Reaction is a sign that healing is taking place.
Simply put, it’s a bit of an overload reaction- it’s basically an immune system reaction to the toxins (endotoxins) that are released from the cell walls of dying bacteria when large amounts of pathogens are being killed off, and the body isn't able to eliminate the toxins quickly enough. The important thing to note is that worsening symptoms do not indicate failure of the treatment in question; just the opposite.
I’ve only had one client who reported concernable agitated behaviour from her usually very calm, sweet, elderly chap who turned into a fire-breathing dragon and started beating up his much loved field buddy. He was half way through Stage 2 (liver/kidneys) and no doubt experiencing a bad headache and/or body aches, but understandably his owner decided to pull the plug as she was really worried at the 360-degree character change plus the potential injury risk. Other than this one instance, I’ve not had any client report any noticeable side effects at all, only very beneficial improvement.
Naturally, if your horse experiences a touch of Herxheimer's and you need some moral support, send me an email at email@example.com
Warning - Do not feed to horses during onset laminitis, as re-toxification (the process of swift detoxing which will overburden the blood supply until the toxins are eliminated) may cause a setback in the healing process.