I’m currently about half way through a course on detoxification in the body (how appropriate to start right after the holidays, huh?!) and I’m learning a ton. It’s a requirement for the functional nutrition program I’m doing and I was a little bummed because I thought it was going to be a drag…but I actually am loving it! I’m learning a ton and am fascinated (as I continue to be the more I’m learning) at how the body takes care of itself.
Detoxification is quite the buzz word in the wellness industry right now. Everyone is selling something that will help you rid your body of all the things! I never got into the whole “detox” thing, but now that I’m learning more about it, I can see why it’s so important. Toxins are impossible to avoid – both exogenous (from outside the body) and endogenous (made inside the body) – regardless of how healthy you are. Thankfully, our bodies are equipped with systems that work to help the body process and eliminate these toxins, without us having to buy the latest and greatest new detox product.
As I said, toxins are everywhere..Besides being exposed to toxins in our environment (exogenous) that come from things like furniture, cleaning products, pesticides, food toxins, beauty products, and drugs, there are also toxins that are generated as byproducts of normal metabolic processes and biochemical reactions within the body (endogenous). Regardless of whether they come from inside or outside the body initially, once they’re in there they must be processed and then excreted. Eliminating these toxins from the body is critical to good health. It’s all great for the body to break down and process the toxins, but it doesn’t do us much good if we can’t get them out.
Nobody wants a body full of detox by-products floating around in it!
As amazing as the body is at always leaning toward healing, it has a lot on its plate and reality is that we all tend to be a little hard on it from time to time. There are things we can do to help support our bodies with detoxification – great news, given the load toxins place on our bodies and systems (whether it be from involuntary or voluntary exposure). We know it’s important to be mindful of how we treat our bodies and what we expose them to, but I believe it’s just as important (maybe even more so) to be mindful of we can help support the processes.
There are 5 channels of detoxification in the body: kidneys, skin, lungs, bowel (colon and large intestine), and the mind. Here is a list of simple things to do to support each of the 5 channels:
- Eat more fiber! Obviously, the bowels are a major elimination pathway…literally! As important as detoxification is for health, if your bowels aren’t moving properly (like, at least every. single. day.), you need to address that issue first before you start working to support detoxification. Increasing your fiber intake is one of the easiest ways to get things moving. Even if you haven’t any bathroom woes, increasing fiber intake (particularly by increasing your daily intake of fruits and veggies) is an excellent way to support your body’s natural detoxification processes and ensure the toxins are getting out of the body.
- Drink clean water and LOTS of it! In the words of my instructor: “the best solution to pollution is dilution!” A toxin becomes toxic when it reaches a certain concentration – drinking 2-3 litres of filtered water every day will keep toxins diluted and also help the kidneys flush them out. Herbal teas such as dandelion root, nettle, and sarsaparilla also support detoxification in the kidneys. Whether it’s herbal tea or just water, be sure to drink clean, filtered water. Tap water can contain many different chemicals that add to the toxic load of the body. You can support kidney detoxification before you even drink the water by making sure it’s clean before it gets in there!
- Sweat it out! Sweating is a way to eliminate toxins from the body – when we sweat, toxins are released through our pores. Obviously exercising is a great way to get your sweat on, but spending time in a sauna is also an excellent way to promote sweating and support detoxification through the skin. Some compounds that are released in sweat include: bromide, chlorine, copper, urea, antimony, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickle, amphetamines, and PCBs (would you have even thought these are regular toxins in our bodies??!). Just another reason to move your body…and convince your husband/wife that you guys “need” a sauna…lol!
- Take a deep breath…actually, take a few of them! Breathing deeply strengthens the breathing muscles around the lungs. The lungs detox a lot of the end products of metabolism and the stronger the lungs, the better and more efficient detoxification in the body. Here’s another argument for moving your body – exercising will make your lungs stronger. But if hours of cardio isn’t really your thing, don’t worry….yoga is a way to learn to use the full capacity of your lungs. Deep breathing is a part of any yoga practice, so find a class that suits you and get ‘er done! To kick start your deep breathing habit, here’s something to try: inhale for 5 seconds, hold it for 20 seconds, exhale for 10 seconds (adjust the times as needed, keeping the same inhale-hold-exhale ratio).
- Get more sleep! Usually, there is a direct correlation between sleep and stress levels…the more sleep we get, the less stressed we are (and better we can deal with stress). Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system (our fight-or-flight response) and when we are in fight-or-flight mode, liver detoxification shuts down (that’s a BIG deal since the liver is the body’s filter of everything!). The body perceives any stress (physical, emotional) as a danger and if the body thinks it has to “save” us from something, it isn’t going to worry about detoxing! Besides this, stress hormones become toxic to the body over long periods of time, adding to the toxic load. Life is stressful and we ALL need to make a concerted effort to reduce how often we feel stressed – detoxification of the mind. Anything you can do to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (getting into rest-and-restore mode) will help support your body’s detoxification systems. Gratitude journaling, yoga, forest bathing, meditation, and socializing are great ways to go from fight-or-flight to rest-and-restore.
One more thing I think is important to note is that even though the skin is a channel of elimination, it is also a “channel” into the body. It’s a bi-directional pathway in that it can release toxins through sweat, but also easily absorbs chemicals through our skin. This is really important to remember when you’re slappin’ on all those beauty products every morning (many women apply over 100 chemicals to their body every morning, right after cleaning their skin in the shower!). On that note, I’ll leave you with one last little tidbit for you to think about:
- Ditch the drugstore deodorant! Regular deodorant/antiperspirant products block sweat pores…and that goes against what we just learned about detoxification and elimination! It not only blocks toxins from getting out, but also allows them to get in. Regular deodorants contain aluminum (among other chemicals) that you are rubbing wicked close to your lymph nodes on a daily basis. The jury is still out regarding how this might increase your chances of developing breast cancer, but there’s no question your skin is absorbing these chemicals and adding to your toxic load. That was reason enough for me to make the switch to natural (aluminum free) deodorant….and, I (finally) got the rest of my family to make the switch, too. There are LOADS of natural deodorant products available – this is our favourite, my daughter uses this one and my youngest son likes this one). It may take trying a few before you find the best one for you, but it’s totally worth the effort.