How Our Bodies Detox
When people think of detoxing they usually think of the liver, but our bodies detoxify and remove wastes in other ways too. We excrete waste through our skin, breath, bowel movements and urine. The liver breaks down toxins and prepares them for removal in these ways:
Skin - through sweat
Lungs - through our breath and release of carbon dioxide
Colon - through bowel movements
Kidneys - through urine
The Liver - An Overview
The liver sits on your right side protected by your right lower ribs. It does so much for our bodies and is involved in nearly every bodily function. Everything that goes through our digestive system and into our bloodstream travels to the liver where it performs about 500 different tasks as it filters the blood. The tasks include getting rid of wastes through the stool or kidneys, producing bile for fat digestion, making enzymes and proteins, making cholesterol and triglycerides, controlling blood sugar, storing vitamins and minerals and breaking down medications, alcohol and hormones. So, as you can see, our liver does a lot for us!
The gallbladder is also important for liver function. It sits below the liver and acts like a storage vessel for bile. Through hormonal signals, the gallbladder knows when fat is coming along the digestive tract and releases the right amount of bile to help break it down. Without the gallbladder, the liver will release bile into the digestive tract sporadically but it won't be tailored to what's in the intestines.
Phases of Detoxification
There are two steps that happen during liver detoxification. In Phase 1 detox, the liver starts breaking down substances into less harmful metabolites. This step can produce free radicals that can damage cells so having antioxidants in place like vitamins C and E are useful at this step. In Phase 2 detox, the liver takes those metabolites and attaches them to amino acids or sulfur molecules that make them less toxic and better able to be excreted out of the body.
Phase 2 requires sulfur, which can come from dietary sources like cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussel's sprouts, cauliflower) or the onion family (garlic, scallions, leeks) or from supplements like glutathione or N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC).
If either of these pathways slow down or the toxic load on the body is too much, there can be a build up of toxins in the body. Reducing environmental toxin exposure and supporting phase 1 and 2 detox pathways is important to help keep the liver functioning well.
How You Can Support Your Body's Detoxification
There are many things you can do to help your body detox on a daily basis. Incorporating these into your life can help your body in the detox process.
Reducing environmental exposures - This may be the most important one so I put it at the top of the list. By reducing your exposure, you're minimizing the amount that your liver has to deal with. Environmental exposures can be from pollution, indoor air, health and beauty products, our food or our cleaning products. If you don't use them already, start replacing products you use at home with non-toxic alternatives.
Cleaning products - These include dish soap, laundry detergents, and floor, bathroom, and all-purpose cleaners. They may irritate the lungs, worsen asthma, be carcinogenic, or be harmful to the environment. Make your own cleaning agents or opt for ones that use essential oils or natural cleaning ingredients. Always remember to have good air flow and ventilate when you clean. Use the EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning to learn more and choose healthier alternatives.
Health and beauty products - These include soap, body wash, lotions, makeup, hair stylers, antiperspirants and toothpaste. Harmful ingredients can have risks of cancer, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity, can cause irritation, or harm the environment. A few ingredients to avoid are parabens, phthalates and fragrance (unless essential oil based). Use the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep database to help find healthier alternatives.
Food - The food and produce we eat can be a source of pesticides so choose organic foods and produce when you can. Use the EWG's Guide to Pesticides in Produce and their Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen list to help guide you.
Inside the home - These include air fresheners, fragrances, and candles. They can contain endocrine disrupting chemicals so choose not to use them or find alternatives. Use an air purifier or have house plants to keep the air clean.
In the kitchen - Cooking utensils and non-stick pots and pans can contain harmful chemicals that are released when they're heated. Avoid Teflon and choose other materials like cast iron, stainless steel or ceramic coatings. Reduce plastic use, which can be an endocrine disruptor, by replacing food storage containers with glassware.
Go through this information, check out the EWG Guides and get an idea of what you use and have now. Don't let this overwhelm you. Pick a category and start replacing things as you use them up. Or, if you feel really motivated, tackle the whole list at once!
Plastic contains chemicals that interfere with our own hormonal systems by mimicking them. A common one you may have heard of is BPA or bisphenol A. This is found in water bottles, food can liners, and register receipts.
The endocrine disrupting chemicals are released when the plastic is exposed to temperature changes, exposure to liquids and when exposed to UV light or acid. Examples of this would be when you heat or freeze a food in a plastic container, drink a hot cup of coffee out of a plastic mug or store leftover tomato sauce in the fridge.
Replace plastics in your home with glassware or stainless steel. Look for products that say BPA-free, although some companies replace BPA with bisphenol S or bisphenol F, which can also be endocrine disruptors. Safer plastics include polypropylene/PP #5, and high-density polyethylene/HDPE #2. However, they can also leach hormone disruptors so this is why it's best to avoid plastic altogether.
Working Up A Sweat
This can be achieved either through sauna or exercise. Sweat is one of the ways our body removes toxins and heavy metals. Exercise will also improve blood flow through the liver and kidneys where toxins can be put into the stool and urine.
This practice uses a stiff bristled brush that you gently brush over your entire body. You start at your feet and work your way up to your chest with short, gentle strokes. Then continue by starting at your hands and working your way to your chest. Skin brushing stimulates lymphatic flow and blood flow, helping your liver and kidneys to filter it and remove toxins.
Our bodies detox through through our skin, breath, bowel movements and urine. The liver performs about 500 different tasks as it filters the blood. The tasks include getting rid of wastes through the stool or kidneys, producing bile for fat digestion, making enzymes and proteins, making cholesterol and triglycerides, controlling blood sugar, storing vitamins and minerals and breaking down medications, alcohol and hormones. In Phase 1 detox, the liver starts breaking down substances into less harmful metabolites. This step can produce free radicals that can damage cells. In Phase 2 detox, the liver takes those metabolites and attaches them to amino acids or sulfur molecules that make them less toxic and better able to be excreted out of the body. Ways to support detox pathways are to reduce overall environmental exposure through choosing less toxic cleaning products, beauty and personal care products, cooking utensils, eating organic produce, and avoiding plastics. Ways to promote detox include sweating and dry skin brushing.
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EWG Skin Deep Database: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/
EWG Pesticides in Food: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/
EWG Guide to Healthy Cleaning: https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/
It Starts With The Egg by Rebecca Fett - This is a great book about the risks of environmental exposures and hormone disruptors in regards to fertility. This book is a well-researched, easy-to-read book with actionable steps and helpful guides.
This website is not intended for the purpose of providing medical advice. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.