8 Natural Detox Tips
Thinking about doing a “detox”? Given the world that we live in today, our bodies are constantly bombarded by toxins. From the food we eat, to the water we drink, the products we use and even the air we breathe – we encounter dozens (and even thousands!) of toxins in our environment every single day.
This is largely due to the widespread use of agricultural pesticides, fungicides and industrial chemicals that infiltrate our food supply, water quality and more. In many ways, our environment is much more toxic than ever before.
What’s especially concerning is that many of these toxins have the ability to accumulate in the body where they can exert harmful and often endocrine-disrupting effects. Over time, compounded and continuous exposure can contribute to a number of health conditions including asthma, allergies, hormonal imbalances and neurodegenerative diseases (1, 2, 3).
So how do we protect our bodies against this constant assault? Our liver works constantly to remove and clear toxins. Through a complex process of biotransformation and conjugation, toxins are effectively de-activated and excreted from the body.
In a perfect world, this process would run smoothly. But these days our liver has to work over-time to deal with constant influx of toxins that we receive from our environment. For this reason, it’s important that we incorporate lifelong strategies to support our natural detoxification processes (rather than considering a “detox” as a short-term quick-fix).
What is liver detox?
The liver is our primary organ of detoxification, and is largely responsible for detoxifying various drugs, hormones, food chemicals (including amines, phenols and salicylates), alcohol and other environmental toxins.
Detoxification though the liver involves three main stages:
- Phase I: Activates toxins and drugs to form intermediate metabolites. During this first step, it’s important to note that these toxins become more reactive and can result in the formation of free radicals (the bad guys that cause oxidative damage!). This is one reason why we need to ensure Phases I and II are balanced, and also why increasing antioxidant protection is a must (more on this in how to detox!)
- Phase II: Enzymes conjugate (AKA bind) with the intermediate metabolites of phase I and make them more water soluble. This essentially makes these intermediate metabolites less reactive, and allows them to be excreted from the body. There are 6 conjugation reactions that occur during phase II that include glucoronidation, sulfation, glutathione conjugation, acetylation, methylation and amino acid conjugation.
- Phase III: the products of phase I and II are excreted through the bile, urine, sweat or via the lungs.
By now, this all might seem a bit tedious! Trust me, having a basic understanding not these three phases will really help in understanding the why and how of detoxing. If you can feel this information going over your head just remember:
- Phase I activates toxins (and makes them more reactive)
- Phase II binds them for excretion (making them less reactive)
One easy way to think about it is that Phase I is like putting the garbage out on the curb and Phase II is when we clear it off the street. Both are essential for healthy detoxification and will be the focus of these tips to follow.
Now that we’ve got that down, let’s move onto the natural + practical lifestyle measures that we can implement to support these steps in detox!
How to Detox
There are a number of easy + practical measures that we can take to make supporting detoxification a part of our daily lifestyle. By infusing these gentle practices into our everyday we can help to take the burden off our bodies and allow ourselves to truly thrive (think: balanced hormones, clearer skin + more energy!).
Here we will be discussing some of the steps that you can take to reduce your toxic burden and support your liver + other organs through the detoxification process.
Before you start a detox protocol: Before undergoing any detox protocol (or even implementing these gentle strategies) it’s important to consider your overall vitality, gut health and stress levels. Doing a hardcore detox before you’re ready has the potential to do more harm than good and can place a large amount of stress on the body (especially if we’re not supporting Phase II). Though it can be tempting to “jump into” a detox, it’s often best to address gut health and look at reducing stress first. We’ll talk about this more in the detox tips below:
#1 Reduce Toxin Exposure
As a general rule, when we detox we want to minimise the number of toxins that enter our body and maximise output.
The first half of this equation is all about reducing our exposure to environmental toxins. Of course, this sounds like a no-brainer… but given the world that we’re living in, this is no easy feat!
From the food we eat, to the water we drink, the products we use and even the air we breathe – we are constantly being bombarded by toxins in our environment. While it would be nearly impossible to live a 100% toxin-free lifestyle in this day and age, there are a number of actions that we can start taking to minimise our exposure and decrease our toxic burden.
Start following these simple tips to reduce your exposure:
- Eat organic as much as possible: Pesticides + herbicides present on our food are ingested and must undergo detoxification to be eliminated from the body. Opting for organic produce is one way that we can limit our exposure to these harmful residues. A good rule if you cannot afford to eat all organic is to prioritise purchasing the “dirty dozen” from the organic section. These are the fruits and vegetables that are most highly sprayed and that you’ll do best to avoid!
- Minimise alcohol: You probably could have guessed, but alcohol is another well-established substance that places a burden on our liver. Eliminating alcohol completely (or reducing your intake if zero alcohol is not realistic for you!) is one way that we can reduce the burden on our liver detoxification pathways.
- Install a water filter: Often we pay close attention to sourcing the highest quality food, but it’s also essential that we consider the quality of our water. Installing a water filter can reduce our exposure to heavy metals, pesticides and other toxins. We love this water purifier by Southern Cross Pottery (available in Australia) and have also heard good things about the Berkey Water Filter (available in USA + elsewhere)
- Reduce reliance on/ use of unnecessary medications: Let’s be clear – we’re definitely not saying to go off your medications! However, it’s important to understand that even over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol or ibuprofen must be processed by the liver before they can be eliminated from the body. While these pain-relieving medications are necessary for some, many of us habitually reach for Panadol at the slightest inkling of a headache. So next time before popping a Panadol, try rubbing a drop of peppermint essential oil on your temples or down a glass (or two) of water!
- Go green with your makeup, skincare and household products: You would be shocked to know how many toxins are hidden in our everyday skincare and household products. Switching to non-toxic products can take time but is also vital in reducing your exposure.
- Don’t forget air quality!: Unlike food toxins that pass through digestion (and then the liver!), the toxins that we breathe in can be the most problematic since they can directly enter our blood stream. In this way, our lungs are largely unprotected – so don’t forget to consider air quality! This means reducing your exposure to paints, varnishes, off-gassing furniture and other pollutants as much as possible. You may also consider purchasing an air filtering system, as well as indoor plants which can naturally detox your space!
Aside from these steps, you could also consider delving into non-toxic furniture and cookware, washing new clothes before wearing (or choosing organic), avoiding handling BPA containing receipts… the list goes on! As we mentioned, it would be impossible to live a 100% toxin-free life – so don’t be overwhelmed or feel like you need to do everything at once! By implementing these steps one at a time you can start to significantly cut down your exposure.
Now that we’ve spoken about minimising our exposure environmental toxins, it’s also important to consider our elimination of toxins which brings us to…
#2 Support Your Gut
When it comes to supporting detoxification, the gut is our #1 place to start.
This is because our digestive system plays several key roles in supporting the detoxification process.
Firstly, the gut is one avenue by which we eliminate toxins. Once toxins pass through the liver, a portion are excreted into our bile and eliminated through the digestive tract (i.e. in our poop). This is one reason why having regular bowl motions is SO important for our overall health. When we experience constipation or poor motility, these toxins linger in the digestive tract and eventually can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream (a process termed “enterohepatic recirculation”). This increases our toxic load and, in the case of re-circulated hormones, can also contribute to hormonal imbalances.
Aside from being a passage for toxin elimination, the gut also acts as a gate-keeper to prevent toxins from entering body. In a healthy gut, the cells that line our intestines contain tight junctions that form a barrier between the outside world and our bloodstream. This ultimately prevents bacteria and other particles from entering our bloodstream and running amuck. Now imagine what happens when these cells become “leaky”. If you’re not familiar with the term “leaky gut” (AKA intestinal permeability), this is the process whereby these tight junctions start to widen. As a result, bacteria-derived toxins (called “endotoxin” or LPS) and other unwanted particles pass into our bloodstream, where they drive inflammation in the body and contribute to the liver’s toxic load.
So how do we know if the gut needs work and how can we optimise our gut health?
For starters, it’s all about getting things moving. If you suffer from constipation or poor motility don’t forget to go back to basics and ensure you’re consuming enough dietary fibre (30g as a minimum) and drinking plenty of water throughout the day (at least 2L). To improve intestinal motility, you could also consider a high quality magnesium supplement.
In addition to these tips, addressing intestinal dysbiosis, leaky gut and potential food intolerances/ sensitivities is also essential. This will involve removing inflammatory foods (especially those that promote leaky gut such as gluten) and the addition of probiotics, prebiotics and other supportive supplements that can assist in restoring the gut lining. We take you through this process step-by-step inside our online gut health course, Get Glowing Online. To learn more about Get Glowing Online click here!
Finally, you could also consider the short-term use of other natural agents that bind toxins in the gut and promote their elimination. This includes zeolite and activated charcoal which have been used to prevent the absorption and re-absorption of toxins in the digestive tract. Keep in mind that these agents can also bind and prevent the absorption of beneficial nutrients and for this reason should not be used on the regular. Instead, consider these as options for short-term use or for “emergency” toxin removal.
#3 Increase Antioxidant Intake
Remember that during phase I of detoxification, toxins are activated. In this state, they become highly reactive and can cause free radical damage and oxidative stress in the body. Antioxidants protect our cells from damage by neutralising and preventing the formation of these nasty free radicals… so this next step is all about upping the antioxidants!
Consuming an antioxidant-rich diet rich is one way that we can fight oxidative stress. Incorporating a wide variety of wholefoods that are high in vitamins A, C, E and selenium as well as polyphenols can help to boost our antioxidant status.
Some foods that are exceptionally high in antioxidants include:
- Berries (blueberries, blackberries, gooseberry etc.)
- Green tea
- Citrus fruits
- Herbs + spices
- Dark chocolate!
As a general rule, the deeper and darker the colour of fruits + vegetables, the higher the concentration of antioxidant photo-chemicals (such as anthocyanin). Food is medicine, so be sure to load up on these superfoods!
#4 Balance Phase I and Phase II Detoxification
When it comes to detoxification, the focus is on balancing Phase I and Phase II. This is important since enhancing Phase I without simultaneously enhancing Phase II can lead to more harm than good (hello oxidative stress!).
To support our Phase II detoxification pathways, we need to provide the raw materials. This includes our amino acids, specifically glutamine, glycine, taurine and cysteine. These amino acids can be easily obtained by consuming adequate protein in the diet through animal products or even supplementation with a high quality, non-whey, protein powder (we like the brand Prana On). Gelatin or collagen peptides are also a rich source of easily-accessible amino acids, and are especially high in glutamine and glycine (we like the brands Vital Proteins or Great Lakes).
In addition to supplying these amino acids, cruciferous vegetables can also support our Phase II detoxification. This includes vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage which are a rich source of sulfur-containing phytochemicals (primarily glucosinolates, indoles and sulforaphane). In particular, sulforaphane has been shown to induce our Phase II detoxification enzymes and antioxidant enzymes through what is termed the Nrf2 pathway (4, 5, 6). One of the most concentrated sources of sulforaphane is in broccoli sprouts – which is often available in a powder form or you can even start sprouting them yourself!
#5 Sweat it out, baby!
The final step of detoxification is elimination through our digestive tract, kidneys, lungs and you guessed it… our skin.
Sweating is a natural + easy way that we can aid this process, so it’s time to get your sweat on. One popular method is infrared sauna. Even a 15-minute session should be enough to work up a sweat and support detoxification through the skin.
Of course, you don’t have to spend money to work up a sweat! Another easy way that you can do this is through exercise. Not only will this support our skin in eliminating toxins, but exercise will also stimulate blood circulation and lymphatic flow (also essential in supporting detox).
#6 Baths + Mineral Therapy
Bathing is another (often underrated!) way that we can aid the detoxification process.
In particular, bathing with magnesium sulphate/ epsom salts can support detoxification by providing our bodies with magnesium and sulphur. Sulphate is required by our Phase II sulphation pathway, which is responsible for eliminating various food chemicals (such as phenols and amines), as well as various drugs and hormones.
Start making bathing with epsom salts a part of your regular routine a few times per week. To prepare an epsom salt bath, dissolve 2 cups of epsom salts in warm water and soak for at least 20 minutes. And if you don’t have a tub, don’t worry! You can still obtain these benefits through a foot bath!
The benefits of fasting for our health have been recognised for centuries, and range from weight loss, to improved insulin sensitivity and greater longevity.
When it comes to detoxification, fasting can be incorporated as an advanced technique to aid in mobilising and releasing toxins from the body. This is because when we fast, we draw on our fat stores for energy. This often results in weight loss, and subsequently the liberation of fat-soluble toxins that were previously stored in our fat tissue. Keep in mind that this temporarily places a greater burden on our liver which must process and excrete these toxins. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that other steps are already in place to support the liver and our detoxification channels.
Rather than going on an extreme day-long water fast, our favourite way to incorporate this strategy is to follow “intermittent fasting”. This can be done easily by creating a 16 hour fasting window (e.g. finishing dinner at 7pm and eating an early lunch at 11am the next day). It’s important to note that fasting may not be suitable for those with blood sugar imbalances or conditions such as diabetes – so as always, consult your health practitioner before implementing these tips.
#8 Other Herbs + Supplements
There are also a number of traditional herbs and nutritional supplements that can be used to support detoxification.
Some herbs that can be used to support the liver in detoxifying and clearing toxins include:
- St. Mary’s Thistle (AKA Milk Thistle): This herb is known for its hepatoprotective properties, helping to protect our liver cells from oxidative stress and damage (7). Milk Thistle extracts have also been shown to be beneficial in reducing abnormal liver markers in conditions such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (8).
- Dandelion root: Another well known herb, dandelion root aids in detoxification by promoting bile secretion (important for clearing toxins through the digestive tract). The root also acts as a mild diuretic to support the kidneys in flushing out toxins. A popular way to enjoy dandelion root is in a tea form (also great as a coffee replacement!).
- Globe artichoke: Similarly, globe artichoke promotes bile flow to aid in the excretion of toxins via the digestive tract.
- Rosemary: Rosemary also acts as a hepatoprotective by protecting liver cells from oxidative damage. In addition, this herb may enhance phase II detoxification in the liver to support the clearance of toxins (9).
It’s important to note that herbal and nutritional supplements should always be used under the guidance of a health professional who can consider drug interactions and contraindications. Specific nutritional and herbal supplements can also be used to support specific pathways in the liver (e.g. methylation, glucuronidation) and may be used depending on the specific signs and symptoms you may be experiencing. In these cases, it’s always best to work with a health practitioner who understands your individual case and needs!