Our Detox Systems Need Support Clearing Modern Toxins + How To Help
Detoxification isn't a cleanse you do a few times a year. While "detox" drinks and diets may help provide clarity and energy, your liver benefits much more from everyday practices that help support daily detoxification. So, instead of purchasing that three- or five-day cleanse, keep reading to understand the best ways to support detoxification holistically—today, tomorrow, and every day that follows.
How natural detoxification works.
Detoxification is a complex, multifaceted process that involves several organs (e.g., liver, kidneys, lungs, skin, intestines) and physiological systems (e.g., digestive, lymphatic, respiratory).
While these intrinsic cellular pathways are quite intricate, the ultimate goal of detoxification is cut and dried: "'Detox' simply means metabolizing key compounds to remove them from the body. This process happens automatically and consistently at the cellular level. Daily bowel movements, sweat secretions, and urination are indicators that we are removing toxic substances," explains Deanna Minich, Ph.D., CNS, FACN, IFMCP, functional-medicine-trained clinician and author of Whole Detox.
Three overarching phases of detoxification enzymes work to ultimately biotransform toxins into intermediate substances (phase I), make them water-soluble to prepare them for elimination (phase II) to excrete them via urine (phase III). Fat-soluble compounds that need to exit are incorporated into bile (phase II) and eliminated via regular bowel movements (phase III). Assuming your stools are, well, regular. Let's go over the major organs where this process takes place:
- Intestines: The gut is the first spot where detoxification takes place. Here, vital nutrients are absorbed while most toxins are transported down the GI tract (i.e., through the small and large intestines [aka colon], rectum, and anus) to be excreted via feces. More complex toxins that the intestine cannot eliminate on its own get passed along to the liver.
- Liver: Phases I and II of detoxification primarily take place in the liver. In a healthy liver, many lipid-soluble molecules are converted to water-soluble compounds so they can be excreted via urine, while other fat-soluble compounds get incorporated into the bile and exit the body via poop. When the liver isn't functioning at its best, toxins can pass through unchanged and become concentrated in fatty tissue in our brain, nerves, and glands.
- Kidneys: The kidneys do one final filtering of the blood to make sure only excess water and water-soluble toxins are being converted to urine, which will make its way to the bladder to be eliminated.
In other words, your body is working 24/7 to filter and remove unwanted substances so your body has everything it needs (and nothing that it doesn't).
So, my body doesn't need my help detoxing?
In a perfect world, under perfect circumstances, healthy detoxification pathways would operate at peak performance and wouldn't require any support. Unfortunately, our modern world is filled with toxins and stressors that can overburden your intrinsic pathways and keep detoxification from running smoothly. It becomes a real balancing act.
"With the environment becoming increasingly contaminated with everything from heavy metals to plastics, we naturally increase our toxin load," explains Minich. The more toxins we take in, the harder our detoxification organs need to work in order to keep our cells healthy, clear, and functioning optimally. When left unchecked, pollutants, chemicals, and other toxins from the air, water, and yes, even our food, can build up in our bodies and have major health implications over the long term.
"Not everyone has an issue excreting what they take in, but some people do. They may not have full capacity of their gut, liver, kidneys, or skin due to circumstances related to their environment, or from having key genetic variants for enzymes necessary for efficient metabolism of these compounds," Minich says.
Thankfully, there are a number of healthy habits and practices that we can implement to actively support the body's detoxification efforts.
Ways to support the body's daily detoxification processes.
Reduce toxin exposure.
"Most offending substances come in through food, water, packaging, and air, so helping your body do less work by choosing organically grown foods, using air and water filters, and avoiding plastics of all types would be a step in the right direction," says Minich.
Some toxins—such as pollutants in the air and water—can be more difficult to avoid. Make changes where you can, like swapping any chemical-based cleaning agents, hair and skin care products, makeup, and fragrances (like perfumes, candles, and sprays) for nontoxic alternatives with clean ingredients.
This process can be overwhelming at first, so start small and know that each swap makes a big difference in your body's detoxification. (If you're ready to really dive into clean living, mbg has a class for you!)
Support excretory organs.
Next, it's important to bolster the health of your organs of elimination (e.g., the liver, kidneys, skin, and lungs). "Ensure the proper elimination of waste by supporting bowel regularity, doing activities to generate sweat, and remaining hydrated to support urination," suggests Lise Alschuler, N.D., FABNO, professor of clinical medicine at the University of Arizona.
Additionally, Alschuler recommends giving your primary detox organ extra care and affection: "The liver is considered one of the most important organs of detoxification, and the detoxification pathways in liver cells require adequate vitamins and minerals, as well as natural antioxidant compounds found in plant foods,"* she explains. This brings us to our next tip...
Increase your hydration and nutrient intake.
A whole-food, plant-focused diet will help provide many nutrients needed to support healthy liver function. Taking a focused supplement like mbg's daily detox+—which features premium ingredients like glutathione, milk thistle, NAC, selenium, and acerola fruit vitamin C to promote antioxidant activity—is another way to bolster the liver's everyday detoxification efforts.*
According to Brian Day, Ph.D., professor of medicine at National Jewish Health, eating a clean diet to support detoxification efforts can be quite challenging, as the typical Western diet doesn't provide enough antioxidants to protect against our ever-increasing exposure to environmental pollutants. "This is especially true for individuals of lower socioeconomic status that have less access to fresh fruits and vegetables and tend to live in more polluted environments," he explains.
Sweat it out!
Luckily, Day notes that upping your intake of antioxidants and exercising regularly will boost the body's natural antioxidant defenses against the rising environmental pollutants.* Movement gets those detox pathways flowing, so hop on your bike or take a stroll around the block—your liver will thank you!
The bottom line.
Our bodies have built-in detoxification systems that work hard around the clock to get rid of unwanted toxins, but this system can get bogged down thanks to ever-increasing exposure to modern chemicals and pollutants.
Taking small steps to support your daily detoxification—such as reducing your toxin exposure as much as possible, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, sweating through regular exercise, hydrating properly, and taking a targeted antioxidant powerhouse supplement like mbg's daily detox+—can help your detox organs operate optimally and promote daily cell cleanup.* (Because your body deserves a daily fresh start!)
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.