Do you ever wonder how your body is able to get rid of the things that aren’t good for you? Maybe you’re concerned that you’ve turned toxic and this could spell trouble for your health. Without your knowledge, or even awareness, your body has effective and efficient mechanisms to expel what’s not needed and could be dangerous. That’s called detoxification.
The process of detoxification is an ongoing effort of the body to process and eliminate molecules that will burden you if they stick around and accumulate. This process, you may have guessed, is quite complex and involves several organ systems, in fact each and every cell of your body. Sometimes, detoxification doesn’t work as intended, or is overburdened, and needs your attention. So, getting a basic understanding of this function is a good start.
Who’s in charge here?
The main player in detoxification is your liver. We take in a lot of substances through our lungs, skin and especially our digestive system that must be eliminated from the body, or they will poison us in the long run. Some of the most worrisome chemicals are bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, dioxins, pesticides and herbicides, heavy metals and more. These have really no good use in our bodies, yet we are exposed to them through our environment, the air we breathe, things we touch, and many foods we eat, such as tuna high in mercury or many fruits and vegetables treated with chemical pesticides. Many of these toxins accumulate in fatty tissue and are hard to flush out of the body. They disrupt hormonal regulation, damage the nervous system, and can cause cancer, among other things. One major source of exposure to artificial chemicals for many people is the use of pharmaceutical drugs.
The liver is the main organ to chemically process many of these unwanted and potentially toxic chemicals in what’s called Phase I and Phase II detoxification pathways, so that they can eventually be excreted through the stool or urine. This detoxification process is highly orchestrated and finely tuned; it depends on the availability of numerous nutrients and enzymes to function optimally. Genetic predisposition also plays a role.
Our body also produces waste products naturally through cellular metabolism and hormone production. These naturally produced substances need to be transformed and eliminated, or they will accumulate and disrupt healthy functioning. Luckily, our tissues are supremely capable of managing these processes without your paying much attention to them.
Is your system working?
Now, how do you know that something is off and your detoxification isn’t working optimally? That’s an important question that has, unfortunately, no easy answer. If you experience chronic fatigue syndrome, chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, immune disorders (including autoimmunity), neurological, psychiatric or cognitive disorders, or have Lyme or other tick-borne diseases, etc., you are likely experiencing compromised detoxification that is, at the very least, contributing to your ill health. Also, if you are exposed to toxic chemicals in your diet or through the air, if you are overweight or have hormonal imbalances, if you digestive system isn’t functioning properly, or you are experiencing higher levels of stress than you can handle, your detoxification capacities may be overburdened and impaired.
Taking a closer look
There is a cornucopia of laboratory tests available to investigate toxin burden and detoxification capacity. They include blood tests as well as stool, urine, saliva and hair sample testing, which can all look at different aspects of this question.
In more severe cases, it’s certainly worth considering this kind of testing, but for starters it may not be necessary because, as I’m fond of saying, the proof may be in the pudding. If basic, gentle strategies to set you on the right path to optimal detoxification and elimination make you feel better after a while, we’re on to something. Many of the strategies we use in natural medicine can be used long-term. They can become part of your life practices. I will mention a few basic ones below, but for a more tailored and focused approach, I encourage you to reach out to me or to your local naturopathic practitioner.
Supporting optimal detoxification
- Lighten up—eat simple foods in moderate quantities, consider a partial fast of broth or miso soup once a week.
- Allow rest—sleeping well and fasting overnight (i.e. intermittent fasting) can give your body a break and time for detoxification.
- Fluids are key—ensure you’re sufficiently hydrated, not with beer and wine, of course, but with clean spring or filtered water.
- Tone your bowels—elimination through your stools is the foundation of any detoxification protocol. If you’re not moving your bowels regularly and sufficiently, the products of detoxification have nowhere to go and will accumulate and possibly be reabsorbed.
- Eat your fiber—most of us are not getting enough fiber in our diet. This is a main contributor to widespread constipation and other digestive issues.
- Avoid exposure—it’s easier to keep toxic chemicals out of your body from the start, rather than trying to get them out once they’re in. Eat organic, use glass and stainless steel in your kitchen (rather than plastics), use only safe cosmetics and household cleaners, breathe clean air inside and outside your home and in your car.
- Sweat it out—activities that make you sweat, including the use of dry saunas, activate your skin as an organ of elimination. Just make sure you replace water and electrolytes if you sweat a lot, so don’t overdo it.
- Supplement a little—unless you eat a super-duper diet, it’s not a bad thing to take a high-quality multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement and a few medicinal herbs that support and protect your liver. I don’t like to give specific recommendations here because everyone has slightly different needs.
I hope these suggestions will give you some ideas to get started and set you on the right path. If you are experiencing any of the health concerns mentioned above, and suspect that toxins could be part of the picture, don’t wait too long to seek professional help because addressing impaired detoxification can help you heal faster and regain your good health.
© 2020 Christiane Siebert