You watch what you eat, and you exercise regularly. Yet your cholesterol level is still not where you want it to be.

You watch what you eat, and you exercise regularly. Yet your cholesterol level is still not where you want it to be.

Maybe it's time you gave your body a good cleaning.

"In our daily life, we encounter a variety of chemical pollutants, including pesticides, heavy metals and elements in plastics," says Ellen Heinitz, a Grants Pass doctor of natural medicine. "Bacterial overgrowth in our digestive tract can create wastes that, once absorbed through the gut, must be eliminated through the liver."

Ridding your system of these toxins and granting it a fresh start is the physiological equivalent of collecting all the junk in your house and hauling it to the dump. According to Heinitz, the goal of a body cleanse is to optimize the liver's detoxifying capability, stimulating the elimination of toxic substances through the bowel, kidneys and skin.

She cites a long list of diseases that "seem to respond well to detoxification," including chronic fatigue, allergies, hypertension, migraines and anxiety. And she heartily recommends it for cholesterol reduction.

"It's been effective in lowering cholesterol up to 30 percent in individuals," she says.

Eagle Point resident Rick Chester, 54, did even better. He completed the three-week "body cleanse diet program" that Heinitz has developed. (She also created a modified 10-day version of the plan.)

"My triglycerides dropped 75 percent, my cholesterol 40 percent, without drugs," says Chester, a Talent pharmacist, naturopath and acupuncturist.

How does it work?

First, by eating only foods that supply the body with plenty of nutrients, proteins, fiber and healthy fats, detox patients are introducing little, if any, dietary cholesterol into their systems.

Second, the liver-cleansing herbs and detoxifying teas that patients take during the program not only give the liver a kick, but they divert it from manufacturing cholesterol, which is one of its functions.

"I am speculating a bit," Heinitz says, "but I do know that cholesterol production is a fairly labor-intensive task for the liver. It is my guess that the liver does not create as much when it is being stimulated (by the program) to make more bile salts and eliminate toxins."

For the first few days of detox, patients eat oatmeal topped with flaxseed, nuts, berries and a tablespoon of honey for breakfast. For lunch, it's cooked beans and a leafy salad. A typical snack may consist of vegetables dipped in cilantro pesto.

Why cilantro?

"It's a very effective chelating agent, meaning that it binds to heavy metals so that they can be removed from the body," Heinitz explains.

For dinner: a vegetable stir-fry served with brown rice or quinoa.

It's important to drink at least two liters of purified water a day while doing detox, notes Heinitz, who strongly advises medical supervision for anyone considering such a program. The diet evolves cyclically as the program proceeds; a physician or certified nutritionist will provide you with a comprehensive menu and recipes. He or she will also outline a course of action to complement the diet (which may include saunas) while giving you diet options to consider once the program is over.

"I had a pretty good diet and exercised a lot — the things that you're always told to do," says Chester. "To me, this program was a very incredible find."

It's a find he eagerly discusses with customers at the pharmacy that he runs.

"People don't like statins," he says. "So they say, 'What can I do for cholesterol?' "

It takes determination to get through a detox program, says Heinitz. And patients who receive strong emotional support are the likeliest to succeed.

"As we release toxins physically, many toxic emotions surface and need to be dealt with," she says. "Talk to someone who understands, either because they are going through the program, too, or because they know and love you."

Afterward, Chester wondered whether he would have achieved that svelte cholesterol count just by taking the liver herbs and skipping the diet.

"It was the totality of everything I was doing," he concludes.

His cholesterol numbers began creeping up after a while, but not to where they were before he did the program. He looks at detox as something the body may need periodically.

"Like a spring cleaning," he says.