What Detoxing Actually Means

Updated: Jun 24

Every year, as spring approaches, I notice an uptick in social media “detox” posts.

Unfortunately, the term detox has become synonymous with restrictive diets, teas, supplements, greens powders, and “cleanses”

But as a health coach, I think it’s important to understand what it actually means to detox.




The truth is your body is incredibly well-equipped to eliminate toxins, all on its own. You don’t need a restrictive diet, juice cleanse, or expensive supplement. God designed your body to fully capable of detoxing, all on its own.

Your body’s detox powerhouses include the liver, kidneys, digestive system, skin, lymphatic system, even your lungs!


That being said, just because we have a built-in detoxification system doesn’t mean it’s always functioning optimally. Sometimes your detoxification pathways need extra support.


But again, rather then viewing detoxing as a temporary cleanse or a pricey supplement, I encourage you to the best to instead support your body’s God designed detoxification system on a daily basis through nutrition and lifestyle practices.


In the blog I will explain what detoxification is, what it’s not, what you’re even detoxing from, how the body detoxes, and the best ways in which you can support detoxification daily.

WHAT IS DETOXIFICATION?

The definition of detoxification is: “the physiological or medicinal removal of toxic substances from a living organism.

Basically, detoxification is the way in which the body goes about removing toxic substances. Despite the “quick fix” marketing around detoxing, it’s actually an ongoing process that your body does all on its own. Similar to how you take a shower or bathe, brush your teeth and wash your hair to rid yourself of external toxins, your body has to internally cleanse itself as well.


Your main detoxification organs are the liver and kidneys. But although most of the work is performed by liver and kidneys, your lymphatic system, lungs, gut and skin are also involved in the complex system of detoxification.

Altogether, these organs create detoxification pathways (pathways in which your body expels unwanted toxins) in the body.


WHAT IT’S NOT

Despite what popular media pedals, true detoxification isn’t reliant on, nor does it need, a restrictive diet, supplement, juice cleanse, or expensive protocol.


There have only been a small number of studies on “detoxification” programs in people. While some have had positive results on weight and fat loss, insulin resistance, and blood pressure, the studies themselves have been of low quality—with study design problems, few participants, or lack of peer review (evaluation by other experts to ensure quality).


A 2015 review concluded that there was no compelling research to support the use of “detox” diets for weight management or eliminating toxins from the body.

A 2017 review said that juicing and “detox” diets can cause initial weight loss because of low intake of calories but that weight gain returns once a person resumes a normal diet.


There have been no studies on long-term effects of “detoxification” programs.


Beyond that, there are some very legitimate safety and health concerns with detoxes, cleanses and detoxification programs as well,

For starters the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have taken action against several companies selling detox/cleansing products because they:

  1. contained illegal, potentially harmful ingredients

  2. were marketed using false claims that they could treat serious diseases; or

  3. in the case of medical devices used for colon cleansing, were marketed for unapproved uses.

Second, some juices used in “detoxes” and “cleanses” that haven’t been pasteurized or treated in other ways to kill harmful bacteria can make individuals sick. Adverse reactions like these are particularly prevalent in children, elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems.

Additionally, some juices are made from foods that are high in oxalate, a naturally occurring substance. Two examples of high-oxalate foods are spinach and beets. Drinking large quantities of high-oxalate juice can increase the risk for kidney problems.


Also, diets that severely restrict calories or the types of food you eat usually don’t lead to lasting weight loss and likely do not provide all the nutrients you need. Many people drawn to drastic cleanses and detox diets already have a history of dieting and already like malnourished, or nutrient deficiencies.

Detoxification” programs may include laxatives, which can cause diarrhea severe enough to lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. This is particularly concerning for(and exacerbated with) people with a history of gastrointestinal disease, colon surgery, severe hemorrhoids, kidney disease, or heart disease. And drinking large quantities of water and herbal tea and not eating any food for days in a row can lead to dangerous electrolyte imbalances as well.


When it comes to detoxing, I encourage you to stop looking at it as a temporary diet, protocol or supplement you take and instead, start looking at how you can support your body’s natural detoxification processes daily.

WHAT ARE WE DETOXING FROM ANYWAY?

Toxins fall into two main categories, internal and external.

Internal toxins include lactic acid, urea, and waste products from microbes in the gut that occur during natural metabolism.


External toxins come from outside the body and are introduced by eating, drinking, breathing, or are absorbed through the skin.

Now more than ever, we face countless exposures to external toxins like chemical compounds and environmental pollutants. This happens on a daily basis even if we try hard to limit toxin exposure.


In fact, it’s estimated to be more than 80,000 chemicals that fall into the category of food additives, food packaging, and environmental chemicals.


These are just a few examples of toxins you may come into contact with on a daily basis:

  • Outdoor air – pollutants in the air including exhaust, tobacco smoke, particles from industrial emissions, etc.

  • Indoor air – pollutants trapped in the air including mold, tobacco smoke, chemicals released from cooking, furniture, carpet, construction materials, etc.

  • Drinking water – tap water contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals (lead, mercury, arsenic), and chemicals from agricultural runoff.

  • Food – chemicals such as pesticides and heavy metals consumed through food due to agricultural practices and environmental contamination. Overconsumption of processed foods, food dyes, preservatives, drugs, and alcohol.

  • Household products – food containers, cleaning products, fertilizers, weed killers, bug spray, etc.

  • Beauty products – skincare products, makeup, deodorant, hair products, etc.

  • Chemicals and toxins in plastics- plastic containers, plastic bottles, etc.

As you can see, we can be exposed to numerous toxins throughout the day. These toxins are foreign to our bodies and can negatively impact different facets of health.


Research has frequently linked various toxins to chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases.


When our detoxification pathways aren’t functioning these toxins can begin to build and have negative health consequences. It can drastically affect our digestion, energy, mental clarity, anxiety, and especially, our skin. Since your skin is a key player in detoxification through sweating, a build-up of toxins can appear on the skin in the form of acne and rashes.


HOW THE BODY DETOXES

Now that we know the types of toxins our body’s our exposed to on a regular basis, let’s dive into how the body gets rid of them. Without going too in-depth into the science, this section breaks down each organ’s role in the detoxification process.


THE LIVER

Think of the liver as the master detoxifier. It acts as a filter removing toxins that our body produces as part of normal metabolism. The liver breaks down these toxic byproducts so they can then be filtered out through our kidneys. It also helps our body eliminate pathogens like viruses and bacteria, cholesterol, hormones, and external toxins, including alcohol, drugs, chemicals, heavy metals.

THE KIDNEYS

Like the liver, the kidneys also act as a filter. They filter waste and undesirable substances like medication byproducts and harmful chemicals out of our bodies. In addition, the kidneys keep our body in balance by regulating fluid and electrolyte balance. This is vital for maintaining your body’s pH balance, allowing your cells to perform their functions, and controlling blood pressure.


THE DIGESTIVE TRACT

One of the many roles of the intestinal tract is supporting detoxification.


The intestinal tract helps expel toxins through bowel movements. This requires maintaining proper gut health through eating enough fiber and nurturing the trillions of microorganisms living in our guts. When we eat fiber from whole-food plant-based sources this acts as bulk bushing the intestinal tract and helping eliminate the substances like heavy metals, chemicals, and excess hormones through the intestinal tract. It also supports the good gut bacteria, while helping reduce an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast.


THE LYMPHATIC SYSTEM

Lymph is the fluid that circulates through the entire body. It’s part of the larger immune system whose essential role is to protect our cells from foreign substances and eliminate them from our bodies. The lymphatic system consists of your spleen, thymus, adenoids, tonsils all connected by a web of capillaries, vessels, and hundreds of lymph nodes. This unique system plays a large role in detoxification, with its main job of transporting white blood cells (aka lymphocytes) that help fight infections and protect against harmful toxins.

THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM

Starting with the nose, the little hairs inside your nostrils create a protective barrier to help keep particles like dust and dirt out of our lungs. The mucus that coats your nose and lungs creates a second protective layer. Finally, when you breathe in oxygen, the lungs and bronchi help convert toxins into carbonic gas (CO2) which you then exhale.


THE SKIN

Think of the skin as the body’s defense system. As the body’s largest organ, the skin creates a barrier protecting us from bacteria, viruses, and chemical toxins that shouldn’t enter our bodies. The skin also allows for the detoxification process to happen through sweating.


While the liver and kidneys do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to detoxing, they’re not always able to get rid of all the toxins. What doesn’t leave gets stored in the fat. When the body sweats it can rid the toxins like heavy metals, arsenic, lead, and mercury through this secondary system.


HOW TO DETOX THE BODY NATURALLY

Although the body detoxifies all on its own, we can still support it daily to keep it functioning optimally.


Rather than going on a restrictive diet or juice cleanse, I recommend focusing on adding daily nutrition and lifestyle practices that naturally support your body’s detox pathways.

Below are 5 ways to support detoxification on a daily basis.


Keep in mind these five nutrition and lifestyle practices aren’t the only ways to support detoxification, but they’re a great place to start!


  1. Food first. My clients know I have a “food first, supplements second” mantra. Adequate nutrition plays a powerful role in proper detoxification. Eating a balanced diet is the perfect way to help fuel the organs and systems that work hard to remove toxins from your body. Focus on a whole foods based diet with a foundation in fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean protein. To optimize your way of eating to support detoxification, focus on antioxidant and fiber-rich foods while reducing added sugar and processed foods. Think colorful fruits and veggies: greens, berries, lemon, garnet yam, squash. This will help fight that free radical stress created in Phase 1 of liver detoxification High-fiber foods like greens, vegetables, lentils, and nut and seeds can also help support proper digestion and bowel movements reduce —aka removing toxins. Research shows a link between the intake of high-sugar foods and beverages and poor liver function. This adds to our toxin burden along with the 10,000 chemicals allowed in our foods and food packaging. Limiting foods that have added sugars, preservatives, and other ingredients that distract the liver from its normal function can help support our detoxification process as a whole. Additionally, focus on cruciferous vegetables. With my 1:1 clients I suggest 5 times a week, even daily. These are rich in sulfur containing compounds and support detoxification (broccoli florets, cabbage, bok choy, Brussel sprouts, broccoli sprouts,kale, radishes, rutabaga, etc).

  2. Reduce your toxin load. Avoid toxins in processed foods, soaps, shampoos, make up, skin care, cleaning products, plastic containers, pesticides and aluminum cans. Consider making a few swaps at a gradual pace. For more you can read my blog here.

  3. Stay hydrated. Your body is made up of 70% water. If not properly hydrated it’s impossible for your body to function optimally. This includes the detoxification process. Staying adequately hydrated helps flush out toxins through your kidneys which you excrete through urine. It also helps remove harmful cell byproducts like urea and carbon dioxide from the bloodstream. Once filtered from the blood, water pushes out toxins through other detox channels like breathing and sweating. I always recommend filtered to reduce exposure to chlorine, parasites, metals and hormones. Starting your day with warm lemon water is so helpful and may even stimulate a healthy bowel movement

  4. Exercise! Moving your body daily is a great way to increase lymphatic circulation and supports how your body detoxes. Low impact movement to incorporate daily to promote detoxing includes walking and yoga. Additionally, exercising intensely enough to break a sweat is like a two-for-one in terms of detoxification. You release toxins through sweating as well as supporting other detoxification pathways through increased circulation, nutrient delivery to your cells, and promoting digestion.

  5. Use supportive supplements. Once you have the proper lifestyle and diet foundations in place you can begin to add in supplemental support if needed. For starters, you can add garlic and turmeric to your meals. The key compound in turmeric, curcumin, assists the enzymes responsible for flushing out dietary carcinogens in the liver and garlic contains sulfur-containing compounds that activate liver enzymes responsible for expelling toxins from the body. Other supportive herbs and supplements like milk thistle, dandelion, yellow dock, artichoke leaf, tudca, glutathione, NAC, and reishi can be beneficial. And certain detoxifying greens like chlorella can magnify our body’s toxin elimination process. This food is classified as a chelator, which simply means it binds to and deactivates heavy metals. For example, one study found that participants who supplemented with chlorella experienced lower heavy metal levels (including mercury, silver, tin, and lead) compared to those who didn’t supplement.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

  • As you can see, our bodies are constantly in some state of detox. Since we face countless exposures to toxins on a daily basis, the body works 24/7 to cleanse itself from toxins that can negatively impact our health. Toxins can drastically affect our skin, digestion, energy, and more.

  • Our liver, kidneys, digestive tract, lymphatic system, respiratory system, and skin make up our detoxification pathways.

  • Rather than a restrictive 7-day juice cleanse, focus on nutrition and lifestyle practices that upregulated how your body detoxes daily.

  • You can give your body a boost by going back to basics. Eating more antioxidants, fiber-rich whole foods, reducing sugar, staying hydrated, moving your body, and supplementing with detoxifying greens or supportive herbs/supplements all will encourage detoxification daily. This lifestyle approach to detoxification is truly much more effective than any cleanse or detox diet. Supporting how your body detoxes daily with sustainable habits is the best way to create lasting wellness


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