every day detox: simple practices to reduce your toxic burdenFeb 23, 2023
Every Day Detox:
Simple practices to reduce your toxic burden
We live in an increasingly toxic world. Over 5 billion pounds of chemicals are released into the atmosphere every year by chemical plants in the United States alone.1 Many of these compounds are known endocrine disruptors and negatively impact hormone messaging systems in the body. With enough toxic exposure, our detoxification systems become overburdened and are unable to effectively eliminate these compounds. Symptoms of toxin overload include headaches, fatigue, brain fog, acne, rashes, bloating, gas, constipation, muscle aches, joint pain, sinus congestion, difficulty losing weight, dark circles under the eyes, bad breath, and others.
The main organs of detoxification, called emunctories, include:
- Liver: Neutralizes toxins and prepares them for removal from the body.
- Kidney: Filters waste products from the blood
- Lungs: Eliminate gaseous waste, help maintain proper pH balance in the body
- Bowels: Remove waste from the body through bowel movements
- Skin: Releases chemicals through sweat
When you hear the word “detox,” you may think of intense protocols involving sweat lodges, coffee enemas, and green juice fasts. While there are certainly benefits to short-term, intensive programs… it’s best to live in a state of daily detoxification. Here are simple habits that you can incorporate into your daily routine to support the body’s detox processes and promote optimal health.
Michael Pollen said it best: “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.” Food is foundation! I recommend a whole foods diet rich in brightly colored vegetables, healthy fats, and clean protein. Eat foods that come from a farm, not a factory. Read labels on packaged goods and avoid anything you can’t pronounce. Colorful fruit and vegetables are loaded with polyphenols and anthocyanidins - these are antioxidants that prevent damage to cells and help clean up toxin buildup. Brassica family vegetables (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips and collard greens) enhance liver detoxification. Aim for 2-3 servings of Brassicas per day. Vegetables are also an important source of fiber. Fiber acts as a toxin binder and promotes regular bowel movements - greatly boosting detoxification through elimination.
While eating 100% organic is the best way to minimize unnecessary chemical exposure in food. However, eating 100% organic can be a bit expensive. Each year, the Environmental Working Group releases a list of the “Dirty Dozen” (crops that contain the highest levels of pesticides) and “Clean 15,” (foods with lower amounts of pesticide residue). It’s okay to eat items in the “Clean 15” group that are conventionally-grown.
Avoid gluten - it is not only pro-inflammatory and an anti-nutrient, but gluten-containing grains are also heavily sprayed with RoundUp. Glyphosate, the main chemical in RoundUp, is pro-carcinogenic and an endocrine disruptor (negatively affects our hormones). It has been linked to liver disease, reproductive issues, birth defects, and it impairs our gut microbiome.
While what we eat is important, how we eat also has health implications. Always practice good food hygiene - eat in a calm, relaxed environment. Take a few deep breaths before a meal to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for “resting and digesting”). Chew food slowly, savoring the flavors. Eat with minimal distractions - keep mealtime screen-free.
Staying adequately hydrated is also essential to optimal health, and allows for proper kidney filtration. Aim for 1/2 your body weight in fluid ounces of filtered water per day, more if you exercise or drink caffeine. You can add a pinch of high-quality sea salt (pink Himalayan works great) for mineral support.
Moderate daily physical activity stimulates healthy circulation of blood and lymph, decreases stress hormones and inflammation, and boosts the immune system. The lymphatic system is a network of tissues & vessels that help the body get rid of toxins and waste products. Lymph is pumped through the body when our muscles contract. Move your body every day!
Dry Skin Brushing
Another great way to activate the lymphatic system is through dry skin brushing. This is a great practice to do after you undress for a shower. Using a natural bristle body brush, lightly stroke your skin from your extremities towards your heart in a gentle sweeping motion. Take care not to press too firmly; lymph vessels are located just below the skin and are stimulated best with light pressure. A regular skin brushing practice can reduce the appearance of cellulite and is a great exfoliant too.
Alternating hot and cold showers greatly increase circulation of blood and lymph. Cold water is stimulating, causing blood vessels to constrict. Hot water is relaxing and makes our blood vessels dilate. This change in water temperature effectively pumps the blood bringing oxygen and nutrients to areas of the body that are stressed or damaged. It promotes the removal of metabolic waste, by-products of inflammation, and other toxins. To take a contrast shower, start with 3 minutes of hot water, then switch to 30 seconds of cold. Repeat 2 more times. Allow the cold water to hit your chest (lungs), abdomen (digestive system), and lower back (kidneys). Always end with cold water!
Regular sauna use has been shown to promote the elimination of harmful chemicals including pesticides, heavy metals, flame retardants, and other toxins. Sauna also promotes relaxation and decrease inflammation.
Castor Oil Packs
Castor oil packs are a remedy from old school naturopathic medicine that greatly supports the liver and increases circulation to the abdominal organs. A thin layer of castor oil is rubbed over the belly and heat is applied for about 30 minutes. The oil is absorbed into the lymphatic circulation to provide a soothing, cleansing, and nutritive treatment, promoting bile excretion from the gallbladder and supporting the health of the GALT (gut-associated lymphatic tissue). The regular use of castor oil packs reduce bloating and cramping and promote daily bowel movements. Many people find they sleep better after this therapy. It’s important to buy organic castor oil in glass, not plastic. Castor oil can leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates and parabens from the plastic bottle.
Emotional stress not only increases inflammation, but keeps the body in sympathetic “fight or flight” state. Detoxification is most effective in a relaxed, parasympathetic state. Slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the Vagus Nerve, which fosters relaxation and curbs inflammation. Deep breathing also assists in lymphatic drainage of the abdomen. Here are two simple breathwork practices to try:
- 4-7-8 Breath:
- Breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds
- Hold the inhale for 7 seconds
- Breathe out through the mouth with a “whooshing” sound for 8 seconds
- Repeat 3 more times
- 4 Square Breathing:
- Breathe in the nose for 4 seconds
- Hold the inhale for 4 seconds
- Breathe out through the mouth with a “whooshing” sound for 4 seconds
- Hold the exhale for 4 seconds
- Repeat 3 more times
Optimal detoxification requires a large amount of energy. Getting a sufficient amount of restorative sleep facilitates physical, mental, and emotional well-being, and supports the immune system. Adequate sleep lessens the stress hormone cortisol, reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, boosts memory and creativity, and improves inflammation. The brain’s own detoxification system, known as the glymphatic system, cleans up metabolic waste products while we are sleeping. This may explain why cognitive function is impaired (and why we feel so groggy!) when we are sleep deprived.
Aim to be in bed by 10 pm. Each hour of sleep you get before midnight is equivalent in quality to two hours of sleep after midnight. Make sure your bedroom is as cool, dark, and as free of electronic devices as possible. Install blue-light blocking apps on all devices and use them after the sun has set. Blue light negatively affects our melatonin production and can disrupt our circadian rhythm, preventing our brains from detoxing properly. Avoid backlit screens for at least 30 minutes before bedtime. I also always recommend turning your phone onto airplane mode and leave it charging as far away from your bed as possible (ideally in another room). It’s amazing how many of my patients report improvements in the quality of sleep with this simple fix.
While the bulk of this article is on ways to eliminate the toxins already in our bodies, it’s just as important to reduce additional toxin exposure. Common sources of every day chemical exposure are in our homes in the forms of personal care & cleaning products. Use a barcode scanner like “Heathy Living” from the Environmental Working Group to check for toxic chemicals in the products you use at home.
Toxins are everywhere, but we can do so much to help our emunctories remove them from our bodies and decrease our overall toxic burden. Eat lots of vegetables, drink plenty of water, move your body daily, and use the practices and lifestyle recommendations described above to optimize your daily detox.