Healthy Living the Expat Way – Part I The Thailand Detox

Expat Health Series 1 - Thailand Detox

Healthy Living the Expat Way – Part 1

The Thailand Detox

By Anne O’Connell

Global Living – Issue 9 | Nov/Dec 2013

In the first installment of Anne O’Connell’s new three-part series on Healthy Living the Expat Way, she travels to the island of Koh Samiu in Thailand to experience an eight-day fasting detox increasingly popular among expats and tourists.

During a recent, out-of-the ordinary getaway, the phrase ‘early to bed, early to rise’ took on a whole new meaning for me. Each morning at 7 a.m. there was a knock on my bungalow door, which I opened to a broadly grinning Tong, whose bright and cheery greeting was always: “Good morning! Watermelon or pineapple today?” It was the perfect way to start each morning of the eight-day fasting detox I had committed to on the beautiful island of Koh Samui in Thailand.

The Detox

The Thailand detox has become very popular among expats and tourists alike, who often travel from other parts of Thailand and Southeast Asia – and sometimes from even greater distances – for ‘the cleanse’.

“Many of our guests, who are predominantly expats, come back every year, especially if they have an inner awareness of what their body needs,” says co-founder of Health Oasis Resort, Mel Loverh. “They search for it, they value it and they will travel long distances for it. They’re the ones who value it the most of anyone because expats tend to have a higher level of stress.”

During my week, I met several Brits, some of whom were expats, some were not; a fellow Canadian who listened to my expat stories dreaming of the day she would break away; an American screenwriter from Florida; and a few folks from Australia – one an expat who had been living abroad for a year and was a yoga teacher studying naturopathy after a long and stressful career in advertising.

I initially began my research for this article with the intention of interviewing Debbie Nicol, an Australian expat living in Dubai who had just completed her fourth ‘cleansing’ at Health Oasis. I also interviewed the owners, Loverh and Dr. Manta Darnswat, and was so intrigued by the process that I decided to do the program myself and experience it firsthand.

Many people do the detox for weight loss but, according to Loverh, “It’s really more of a tool towards raising your vibration and self-awareness than for weight loss or anything else. The weight loss is an added benefit.”

I also asked Nicol about her passion for the detox in order to delve a little more deeply into one’s motivation for so many return visits.

“I have now gone to detox at Health Oasis – a small and very basic ‘village-type’ setting right on the beach – four times,” said Nicol. “Some people detox yearly for three days, others do it more often and for longer. For me, I allow my body to tell me when it needs it,” she said. “My first one had a purpose to ‘unstick or unblock’ me – I had no idea or expectation for the additional benefit of weight loss,” Nicol continues. “However, when I had such great results, I promised myself to change my lifestyle and to watch what I eat more, as it really is about changing your habits. I knew I’d be back if I could keep that weight off.  I did two trips in six months, then the third was 18 months later, and this recent one for the 10-day ‘Total Transformation’ program followed 26 months after.”

Co-founder, Dr. Manta, is a doctor of Chinese medicine, specializing in naturopathy, and her partner and husband, Loverh is an herbalist specializing in western, Chinese and South American herbs. Health Oasis is licensed by the Thailand Department of Health as a Traditional Medicine Hospital, which was very reassuring for me.

I chose the ‘Nurture’ program, and the schedule was filled with daily yoga and massage, which I took full advantage of, along with the less pleasant ingesting of a psyllium/bentonite mixture that promised to grab onto all the nasty toxins in my digestive tract, colon and bowel and help move it forward to elimination. The psyllium shake alternated every hour and a half with a battery of minerals, herbs and antioxidants. Each day was punctuated with either one or two colonics. This was my least favorite part, but the thought of how thoroughly it was cleansing my insides made it tolerable. I was also promised that at the end of the eight days, I would be given a flora implant that would enter my colon and replace the good bacteria, which would have been flushed out right along with the bad.

Dr. Manta is like a den mother watching over her brood, bringing out various potions and concoctions to ease particular physical (and sometimes emotional) reactions (both can be triggered by the release of toxins as your body relieves itself of the burden) – or, to just lend an ear, give advice on healthy eating or share insight into the realm of holistic healing.

I loved that everything was taken with lots of freshly made fruit and vegetable juices, unlimited water (actually three liters a day was recommended), herbal tea and vegetable broth.

My bungalow was right on the beach, and kayaks sat at the ready any time I wanted. I swam in the oxygenated pool, and availed myself of a nightly herbal steam. I got used to seeing the goats grazing under my balcony and watching the old man walking his miniature pony down the beach just after sunrise. It was idyllic.

“Every year I escape to a magical place for one or two weeks,” said Sofie Skjold Halkjær from Denmark who had been at Health Oasis the same week as Nicol. “I do it because I have no choice, my body screams for it. I’ve learned to listen to my body, which is very sensitive. At first, I was stressed about how many things I had to do during the day but, after I calmed down, I really enjoyed it and will come back.”

Halkjær is a mother and stepmother trying to juggle the needs of a combined family and a new business, as well as her own personal needs. She believes her time away and the detox process is both a physical and emotional release and, when complete, allows her to return to her family refreshed. “I am able to re-connect to the kids and create a flow in the family again.”

Halkjær talked about her initial stress levels, along with an upset stomach and fever blisters. I personally had no adverse reactions other than a little light-headedness on day two from low blood sugar, which was alleviated easily by drinking more juice. What I did release was eight pounds! However, above all else, I felt better than I had in years.

According to Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., a nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic, in a Q&A on Nutrition and Healthy Eating, “If you’re considering a detox diet, get the OK from your doctor first. It’s also important to consider possible side effects. Detox diets that severely limit protein or that require fasting, for example, can result in fatigue. Long-term fasting can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Colon cleansing, which is often recommended as part of a detox plan, can cause cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting. Dehydration also can be a concern.”

Fortunately I didn’t have any of these symptoms; however, my friend, an Aussie living in Thailand, had most of them but still came out on the other side feeling great.

“Cleansing reactions indicate a healing crisis at work and do not last, unless we stubbornly resist,” says Loverh. “Healing crises are part of the body’s natural detoxification mechanism, bringing each layer of toxins to the surface and flushing them out as the original cause of the problem is rebalanced.”

“Our bodies may not always be equipped to handle the volume of modern, environmental pollutants and toxic substances,” says Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, in an article from the Natural Health Research Institute, a not-for-profit division of Citizens for Health, founded in the U.S. in 2002. “This problem may be exacerbated by the fact that the refining of many of our foodstuffs has caused them to provide considerably less of the nutrients that are essential to the detoxification process.”

I just knew that I had what Bruno refers to as ‘toxic overload’. As I learned about the process, and heard more anecdotal feedback from people who had done the detox, no amount of western medicine’s skepticism could dissuade me. I believed, as Bruno indicated, that my body needed a little assistance.

The benefits

The benefits vary from person to person. Nicol shared that, in her experience, she has seen multiple benefits.

“Everyone has different reactions according to our differing needs,” said Nicol.

“The benefit of my first detox was the shock factor to actually see what I had done to my body over the years … and that becomes evident with the colonics. That spurred me on to respect that which I’ve been given by nature, and to understand its mechanics, and to realize it’s only as good as the care I give it.”

Nicol went on to explain that the second benefit was the feeling of peace that you get. However, her ‘peace’ came in disguise.

“I always have good days and bad days, like the day my energy was so low I could barely walk from my room; surrendering to that was actually a form of peace,” she said. “I am usually rewarded the next day with huge amounts of energy. I’ve seen many different reactions to detox – from high energy, to crying, to breaking out in blemishes, to sweating. Having said that, the uniqueness of Health Oasis is the closeness you forge with others and the support we give each other. It may be as small as a comment like ‘It will pass’, or a chat about how it affected you. You learn a lot about each other in a short time, yet if you prefer to stick to yourself, that’s okay too.”

Concerns and solutions

The biggest concerns that seemed to permeate all the negative articles on the benefits (or lack thereof) of detox programs revolve around not getting enough nutrients, not monitoring for any adverse reactions, eliminating the ‘good’ bacteria along with the bad, and the possibility of perforating the bowel during colonics.

These are all worth exploring, and each issue was addressed in the orientation upon arrival, when the process is thoroughly explained and any questions or concerns are answered.

In developing the program, Loverh and Dr. Manta recognized the potential downside of fasting, so they introduced a battery of herbs and supplements to counter the loss of nutrients. Spirulina, which is organically grown and provides over 100 vital nutrients (amino acids, vitamins, enzymes and essential fatty acids), is taken twice a day, as well as a liquefied mixture of 22 herbs taken five times a day.  The mixture includes herbs such as dandelion (good for the kidney), juniper, parsley, myrrh, cayenne, ginger, St Mary’s Thistle, rhubarb, rosehips, hawthorn, Siberian ginseng, turmeric, and angelica, to name a few.

“These are applied and held under the tongue to ensure proper absorption into the body. It’s more potent and direct, with no side effects,” said Loverh. “Taking tablets is less efficient because, when you’re fasting, your digestive juices take a break, so the tablets don’t get broken down. Most of the good is lost in ‘elimination’. The shake is mixed with juice to sustain your blood sugar level so your body doesn’t go into crisis mode.”

The little pink basket that was assigned to me on day one also included guarana for extra energy, chlorophyll to accelerate blood cleansing, colloidal silver to boost the immune system, and ocean trace minerals.


I felt confident that the all-natural process that had been developed by Loverh and Dr. Manta over the past 20 years of documented experimentation, with a scientific approach to fine-tuning ‘the cleanse’, could only be good for me and cause me no harm. And, I was thankful that ‘the basket’ came with a very detailed schedule of what to take and when, with plenty of staff on hand to clear up any confusion.

According to Loverh, fasting is a form of healing that affects every part of you, from the physical to the emotional and mental – and even spiritual. It provides a feeling of clarity, working on an emotional level, and makes your organs work in a more efficient way.


Health Oasis was founded by Loverh and Dr. Manta in 1997 as a healing center, health community and alternative school that welcomed any practitioner who wanted to live on the grounds and contribute whatever healing modality was their specialty.

“You were meant to fulfill yourself and be inspired to live a balanced life with everyone contributing their expertise,” recollected Loverh. “I had no idea it was going to get popular. It was my personal practice, nothing else, and I studied the different healing modalities for my own benefit.”

Sixteen years later, it has evolved into a cleansing and detox holiday escape mostly for expats living in Asia, but also attracting tourists from the U.K., Australia and even as far away as the United States. When the resort first opened, the guests were predominantly female (90/10) and now the mix is about 50/50.

Programs are three, five, eight, and ten days or longer. “The repair you’ve done in 10 days will change your life,” claims Loverh. “The change is deep, dramatic and irreversible. Once you’ve taken this step, you can’t undo the good that’s been done.”

Staying healthy

Loverh emphasizes that the secret to staying healthy after ‘the cleanse’ is not to be too strict and deny yourself. If you do and then you cheat, you feel terribly guilty. He advises guests to empower themselves to let go occasionally, and to take responsibility for their choices without being ignorant. “The inner conflict is a worse energy than the bad food or habit could ever be,” he says.

“The measure for me,” says Nicol, “is when I get back on the airplane headed home and look at the bread roll and think – I don’t need that. That tells me I’m feeling a lot more respect for my body.”

The selection of spas and detox facilities throughout Thailand are absolutely endless, from the rustic, family-operated Health Oasis to the five-star luxury of Absolute Sanctuary, both located on Koh Samui. There are also many options in Phuket, Chang Mai and even Bangkok, if you prefer the big-city atmosphere.

Although my eight days were up, I could have continued. I felt refreshed and clear-headed. Armed with my ‘after-fast eating plan’, I headed home to Phuket with a whole new attitude towards living healthy in my expat world. I will not scold myself if I give in to temptation but will regularly include a fruit-fasting day to re-set the clock and also look forward to my next fasting detox.

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