Detox 101: How the Body Detoxes Itself

There’s always something in the health and wellness market promising to be the latest detox product. But with all the noise of what may or may not work, how much do you know about the processes of detoxification in the body?

Detoxification is one of the most important aspects of optimal health. Our bodies are constantly detoxifying, but there are certain things we can do to assist these processes. Let’s go over the different detoxification pathways and systems in the body that govern elimination and how best to support them.

What is Detoxification?

Detoxification is an essential process that helps your body rid itself of toxins. The lymphatic and circulatory systems clear out individual cellular debris while other organs play a more substantial role in 'cleaning' your whole body. The liver, kidneys, digestive system, lungs and skin are critically involved in detoxifying things on a bigger scale. In essence, these body systems work together to ensure good health by removing unwanted substances from within.

Your Body's Innate Detoxification Systems

human anatomy

Your body is a master of detoxification. It has inbuilt machinery that allows it to continually interface, process, transform and eliminate waste products, pathogenic material and toxins. All without you knowing (and often while you sleep!).

The major organs that are involved in detoxification are as follows:

The Liver

Your liver plays an important role in the body's detoxification process. This organ is capable of performing up to 500 essential functions, helping your body function optimally. The liver filters and purifies the blood, deactivating any harmful substances present. Examples of these compounds can come from additives in food, drugs, alcohol, prescription medications, hormones and environmental toxins.

Not only does the liver convert substances into waste materials that get eliminated via the kidneys and intestines, but it also transports nutrients via your bloodstream to reach different parts of the body. The liver stores vital nutrients such as iron and vitamin A. The liver also has other functions related to metabolism including breaking down fats, carbohydrates and proteins for energy production. When functioning properly, it helps maintain overall health by keeping harmful substances out of the body’s internal environment.

The Kidneys

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are considered the ‘gate of vitality', and it's not hard to see why. Your kidneys are responsible for quality assurance of your blood, electrolyte balance as well as maintaining your blood pressure. Furthermore, these incredible organs have sophisticated filtration apparatus that help eliminate metabolic waste from bacteria, medications and cellular debris. Drinking plenty of water and being kind to your adrenal glands is one way to help these precious organs work for you over your lifespan.

The Gastrointestinal System

The complexity of your digestive tract is truly remarkable. This is where the absorption and utilisation of nutrients happens, and is also an exit route for harmful toxins. It all begins in the mouth when you chew and break down food into smaller pieces, which are then carried to your stomach. From here, a series of mechanical and chemical processes take place, which changes the pH and structure of the food so it can be transported to the small intestines, bloodstream, liver and finally your colon. 

Here, food particles are further broken down into absorbable pieces with the help of digestive microbiota. Finally, whatever is undigested is combined with any toxins and eliminated via the bowels. Keeping this machinery running will help ensure your body can effectively remove by-products and metabolic waste, which improves your health.

The Skin

Our skin (integumentary system) is a vitally important organ of elimination. The skin is constantly interacting with the external environment, while at the same time is responsible for the excretion of toxins. The act of sweating is hugely important, and something that plenty of us avoid in modern life, with frequent access to air conditioning. 

Profuse sweating, such as from intense cardiovascular exercise or spending time in a sauna has been shown to improve detoxification, boost brain function and support weight loss. Sweating helps our bodies flush out pollutants like phthalates and heavy metals. Allowing your skin to do what it does naturally is another way to support your detoxification processes.

The Respiratory Tract

Your respiratory system, including the lungs and bronchi, eliminate toxins from your body, mainly in the form of carbonic gas and phlegm. Essentially, the very act of breathing is detoxifying! Your lungs are hard at work processing 11,000 litres of air per day. It's easy to see how living in highly polluted metropolitan cities or cigarette smoking could interfere with your lungs' ability to properly eliminate toxins from the body! Look after your lungs, practise deep exhalations and monitor the quality of the air in your local environment.

Why is it important to support detoxification?

Detox drink with fruit

How toxic a substance can be is determined by the degree to which it causes damage to your body. In other words, toxins are poisonous substances and low or high exposure can cause harm in various ways. Examples of common toxins are heavy metals, pesticides and pollutants, carbon monoxide, GMOs, food additives as well as several other chemicals that we are often exposed to on an everyday basis.

Taking steps to avoid overexposure to toxins, as well as introducing dietary and lifestyle measures to enhance your body's natural ability to purify and detoxify will help improve your overall health and vitality.

Detoxifying The Body - FAQs

What are the benefits of detoxing?

Detoxing can have numerous benefits for your body and overall well-being. It can help rid the body of accumulated toxins over time from exposure to environmental pollutants, processed foods, alcohol, drugs, or other sources. This can lead to improved digestion and elimination of waste as well as an increase in energy levels and improved mental clarity.

How long does it take for the body to detoxify?

Detoxifying your body isn't a one-size-fits-all process. Your weight, degree of exposure to toxins, and other factors are crucial to consider when calculating how long it will take for you to detoxify. Fortunately, you can expedite the natural detoxification processes by nourishing yourself with clean foods that help aid in this effort. Often, it helps to work with the advice of a trusted health provider if you need extra support.

How can I limit my toxin exposure?

Overexposure to toxins can negatively impact your body and hinder your body's ability to detoxify. Here are some effective ways to reduce your exposure to pollutants and toxins:

  • Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of filtered water throughout the day (aim for 2L/day for adults) to support every elimination organ (kidneys, liver, bowels, skin, lungs)
  • Choose organic foods, free from chemical pesticides
  • Use green cleaning products and purify the air in your home to improve air quality
  • Bring some plants into your home which can help to naturally detoxify the air, bring fresh oxygen into the space and promote a healthier environment.

Article References

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Henderson, K. N., Killen, L. G., O'Neal, E. K., & Waldman, H. S. (2021). The Cardiometabolic Health Benefits of Sauna Exposure in Individuals with High-Stress Occupations. A Mechanistic Review. International journal of environmental research and public health18(3), 1105.

Sears, M. E., Kerr, K. J., & Bray, R. I. (2012). Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic review. Journal of environmental and public health2012, 184745.

Trefts, E., Gannon, M., & Wasserman, D. H. (2017). The liver. Current biology : CB27(21), R1147–R1151.