Detoxing has become a buzzword in the health and wellness industry, with many people believing that it is necessary to rid their bodies of toxins. Done incorrectly or to the extreme, detoxing and cleansing can result in dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, impaired bowel function, and gut microbiome disruption. Products that are too harsh or work too fast can lead to low blood sugar, brain fog, muscle pain, decreased productivity, and fatigue.
But there are several alternative ways to support the body's natural detoxification processes. These include regular exercise, which can help facilitate toxin elimination through sweating and respiration, increasing hydration, eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, adding fiber, using specific gentle herbs, and getting enough sleep.
But before we delve into these, let’s talk about what detoxing is.
Time for Some Spring Cleaning?
Before we dive into the science of detoxing, it is essential to understand what detoxing is. Detoxing refers to the process of removing toxins from the body. Toxins are substances that can harm the body, such as chemicals, pollutants, heavy metals, and just the accumulated junk of the natural body/cellular processes that might not be efficiently moved out.
The body has its own natural detoxification system, which includes the liver, kidneys, and lymphatic system. When we're in good condition, these organs work together to remove toxins from the body. Interestingly, if you sit a lot, your lymphatic system can get sludgy and create inflammation that shows up as a puffy face, dimpled skin, swollen ankles, and bloat around your middle. In addition, your liver can accumulate excess fat trying to store/protect the body from toxins it can't recognize. And your kidneys can become overwhelmed if you're not drinking adequate water.
Is Detoxing a Myth?
One of the common misconceptions about cleansing and detoxing is that you don’t need to do either because your body does them naturally. To some extent, this is true, but only if you're eating the perfect diet, exercising regularly, getting at least 25 grams of fiber a day, and drinking at least 64 ounces of water every day (not including juices, coffee, tea, beer, and wine.) Is that you, boo? There's no shame. In truth, very few of us have the time to live up to that standard all the time, and that’s why our bodies need some help.
The Science of Detoxing
The liver is the body's primary detoxification organ. It is responsible for breaking down toxins and removing them from the body. The liver does this by converting toxins into water-soluble compounds that can be excreted in urine or bile. The kidneys then filter these compounds out of the blood and excrete them in urine.
What are the signs that your liver is not working at its best?
- Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice)
- Abdominal pain and swelling.
- Swelling in the legs and ankles.
- Itchy skin.
- Dark urine color.
- Pale stool color.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Nausea or vomiting.
We also know that liver function declines as we age, so providing nutritional and supplemental support for our elimination system is important to ensure we live long and healthy lives.
Your kidneys work to filter your blood. Our blood can grow quite dirty when we eat many processed foods that are so common in the American diet. Most animals in the animal kingdom fast themselves regularly to clean their blood which naturally gives the hard-working kidneys a day off. Most humans have forgotten this. As we get older, our kidneys seem to become smaller, and we lose some of our filtering units called nephrons. For people with high blood pressure, medications can also tax the kidneys and impair their proper function. Even acetaminophen is known to poison both the liver and kidneys with chronic use, leading to premature death.
The lymphatic system is our body’s waste management system. It is responsible for removing waste and toxins from the body's tissues. Poor lymphatic function also contributes to cellulite and swelling – these can be our visual red flags that our system is out of order. I'm sure you've experienced a swollen lymph gland, but most people aren't aware of extensive the lymphatic system is. It's not just a nodule or two; it's a multi-organ system with a vast network of vesicles and nodes weaving throughout the body. Our muscle movements are the pump of our lymph, a fluid made up of white blood cells. These white blood cells help remove toxins and waste from the body's tissues. The waste products and destroyed bacteria are flushed into the bloodstream, cleaned by the liver or kidneys, and then excreted in our urine and poop. If the lymphatic system becomes sluggish or congested, it can lead to a buildup of toxins and waste in the body. This can cause a variety of health problems, including fatigue, headaches, and digestive issues.
5 Tips to Support Detoxing and Cleansing Naturally
There’s no need to wait for a crisis or ignore your body’s needs because – well, you know, out of sight, out of mind. Neither strategy is a good one. Instead, here are some simple lifestyle modifications that can help ensure your natural detoxification functions are working at their best.
While the body has its own natural detoxification system, there are some things you can do to support it. Of course, diet and exercise while cleansing are important considerations, and here are five tips to support your body while it lightens up:
1. Stay Hydrated
Drinking more water than usual helps flush toxins out of the body. Adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to your water first thing in the morning is also helpful. Lemons are rich in vitamin C and a natural antioxidant. So start your morning with a full glass of water before you get out of bed!
2. Fiber, Fiber, FIBER!
Did I mention fiber? Fiber is essential, especially during cleansing and detoxing. Dietary fiber has been shown to increase the activity of antioxidant and detoxification enzymes in the liver, alter bile acid pools, and support the microbiota that helps generate secondary bile acids. Soluble fiber, in particular, helps clear excess estrogen in both men and women by reducing the amount absorbed in the colon. It also helps clear estrogen-mimicking toxins, which are gaining more attention because they are so harmful and prolific. These toxins are often stored in our fat cells; when they are released, fiber helps sweep them away quickly. Fiber also supports the liver and kidneys, enhances the gut’s barrier function to the liver and kidney from proinflammatory debris in the bloodstream, and keeps the gut microbiome in good shape for long-term benefits after a cleanse.
3. An Herbal Support Program
A key part of a cleanse and detox program is to flush the waste in the bowel system; however, nobody wants to do this, double over and clinging to the toilet. You should be able to safely cleanse your system and continue your daily life without a hiccup. Several herbs are well-suited to supporting your cleanse/detox effectively together. Turkey rhubarb, cascara sagrada, and senna pod are natural laxatives that help stimulate the colon and promote bowel movements. Psyllium husk is an added source of soluble fiber that helps bulk up stool and promote regularity. From Traditional Chinese Medicine, slippery elm is used for gentle gut support, and cape aloe is also known for its soothing properties that help reduce inflammation and irritation in the digestive tract. To ensure the gut's microbiome is protected, barberry has antimicrobial properties that help support healthy gut microflora. Easing into an herbal program and then maintaining it with ample water and exercise helps you slowly and gently move out the sludgy byproducts of digestion and cellular waste. (If you have a medical condition, speak with a knowledgeable health support practitioner before starting any cleanse program.)
The body needs to move every day. One of my favorite free websites is DAREBEE, with pages of simple movement routines up to extended workouts, all of them you can do at your home or office. Movement moves lymph which takes out the cellular trash.
Walking is a simple and effective way to detox your body. It is low-impact and can be done almost anywhere.
Jogging is a bit more intense, promotes sweating – lots of sweating - and improves blood flow to the liver and kidneys.
Swimming is a full-body workout that encourages the elimination of toxins.
And many people like yoga, but remember, there are many forms, and some are really intense. Yoga involves stretching and breathing exercises that help to improve circulation, promote relaxation, reduce stress, and help you sweat without the intensity of other exercises. If you're looking for a workout routine to try, check out this yoga flow for detoxification by Yoga With Adriene. See how you feel!
A new approach to fitness that has shown great promise, especially as a support for improving blood flow and detoxification, is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) HIIT. It involves short bursts of intense activity followed by periods of rest. Try applying the idea of HIIT to walking, swimming, running, cycling, and even shopping!
5. Dry Skin Brushing
An Ayurvedic technique that is very popular in Europe, brushing your dry skin with a brush gently exfoliates the skin, promotes collagen formation within the skin structure, and stimulates the lymphatic system. Stimulating lymphatic flow throughout the body helps remove cellular waste and toxins while simultaneously improving the appearance of your skin. Here's a YouTube video from Teresa Tapp, who introduced me to dry skin brushing that explains an easy/quick daily routine. We recommend a natural bristle brush. You want to brush from your extremities toward the lymph nodes; avoid the face and breasts with the body brush. Teresa's secret was seven brush strokes in each area. You can use a softer brush on the face and gentle strokes upward if you have inflammation or puffiness in your face or eye area – both are external signals you need a good spring cleansing.
How Often Should You “Clean House?”
There are many opinions about how often to cleanse/detox your body. Some people like to start each season with a week-long cleanout. Other people like to take a “cleanse day” once a week. And some people love to follow the Sculpt N’ Cleanse program which you can use for up to three months for a full body cleanse and reset. The best schedule is the one that works for you and your lifestyle! Experiment a bit and see what feels natural to you and what fits comfortably into your schedule. Remember the overall objective is to support your body’s natural elimination systems.
Kieffer DA, Martin RJ, Adams SH. Impact of Dietary Fibers on Nutrient Management and Detoxification Organs: Gut, Liver, and Kidneys. Adv Nutr. 2016 Nov https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5105045/
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NIH https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/detoxes-and-cleanses-what-you-need-to-know
Your Detox Organs Need Dietary Fiber https://askthescientists.com/qa/dietary-fiber-and-detox-organs/
Want To Help Your Body Detox? Make Sure You’re Eating This Key Nutrient
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Lisa Moretti is a Certified Health Coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN), the largest nutrition school in the world. She was at the top of her cohort in 2015. She's been involved in the natural health and supplement world professionally since 1981. Some product recommendations result in a small affiliate payment from amazon.com.