These 6 Organs Detox Your Body — Here's How To Support Them Daily
The idea of "doing" a detox has been popularized in recent times, and met with a fair share of (warranted) skepticism. But this kind of language can be misleading, as your body naturally detoxes itself 24/7. In fact, there are six organs with specialized processes that help get rid of unnecessary metabolites and unwanted toxins.
"Our bodies have developed and adapted to live in our environment," explains Lewis Nelson, M.D., chief of the division of medical toxicity at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. "Everything can be toxic at high doses, even things that we need to function normally, so the body has developed to maintain a normal level of compounds that may be toxic if allowed to accumulate."
Your body acts as a filtration system to help detox itself throughout the day, says Erin McNeely, M.D., an internal medicine physician at Spectrum Health. "Multiple organ systems work together to get the job of filtration and detoxification done, all while you work or sleep or do whatever it is you do," she says.
You may be wondering, what are those organs, exactly, and how can you help them eliminate modern toxins? Here's a breakdown of the biggest systems that help you detox regularly:
Your liver has a slew of functions, including breaking down the food you eat (think bile for optimal fat digestion) processing nutrients, and shuttling them to the right places.
It's also a transformational organ. "The liver is generally responsible for transforming compounds—toxic or otherwise—into water-soluble compounds that can be eliminated through the kidneys," Nelson says. There are several ways your liver does this, Nelson says, including enzymes in your liver tissue and bile, which is released directly into your GI tract.
McNeely calls the liver a "mighty organ," noting that it filters out substances such as bacteria, medications, alcohol, food, and toxins like ammonia—a natural byproduct of metabolism—from your blood before returning it to the heart.
Help support your liver's ability to do its job1 properly by being mindful of how much alcohol you drink. With so many compounds to filter through, it's best to limit your exposure to toxins—including alcohol. For reference, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends capping your alcohol intake at two drinks or less a day for men and one drink or less a day for women.
2. Your kidneys.
Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that work to remove waste and extra fluid from your body. Healthy kidneys2 filter out about half a cup of blood a minute and remove waste and extra water. They also make urine, which is what transports that waste and fluid from the body.
"[The kidneys] have delicate networks of cells and blood vessels that control fluid and electrolyte balance and absorption into the body," McNeely says. "They filter through proteins in the body with delicate sieve-like structures that can discriminate a variety of substances, keep what the body needs, and let go of what it does not—including medications, environmental toxins, and other byproducts of metabolism or molecules the body doesn't need or want," she adds.
Individuals that have overweight or obesity are more likely to deal with health issues3 that can interfere with the kidneys' ability to work properly.
As Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, mbg's vice president of scientific affairs, explains: "Achieving and maintaining healthy body composition—through a nutrient-dense and plant-centric diet, movement, hormonal balance, quality sleep, robust gut health, and more—is an important way to help support all critically important detox organs, especially your kidneys."
3. Your lungs.
Your lungs filter out particles from the air you breathe and isolate unwanted compounds so they can't enter into your bloodstream from the air, McNeely says. "Small amounts of fluid or mucus in the airways are also actually very important in protecting the lung lining from particles and help move them back out of the respiratory system," she explains.
Nelson says that while some volatile compounds can be exhaled in the breath, most compounds in the blood are not volatile.
A 2017 study from BMC Pulmonary Medicine shows that exercising regularly—i.e., doing moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 10 consecutive minutes a day—can help increase your lung capacity and keep your lungs in good working order. (And healthy lungs promote effective detox pathways!)
4. Your lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system4 is a complex network of vessels, tissues, and organs that help protect your body against foreign bodies and unwanted compounds.
Your lymph nodes and other organs in your lymphatic system (e.g., the spleen, thymus, tonsils, mucous membranes, and bone marrow) filter the lymph to remove foreign particles and unwanted microbes. Then, lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) latch onto and eliminate them.
"The lymphatic system is known as the sewer system of the body," McNeely explains. "This system takes fluids that are bathing cells and tissues and returns them to the blood vessel system. While the lymph system doesn't exactly work like a filter, it does return blood to places it can be filtered—like a delivery system for the kidneys and liver." Talk about a synergistic detox system!
Drinking plenty of water can help you stay hydrated to allow lymph to move more easily2 through your body. While everyone's hydration needs are different, the U.S. National Academies5 recommends that women drink 11.5 cups of fluids a day and that men have 15.5 cups of fluids daily.
5. Your skin.
In addition to excretion via sweat, your skin predominantly has a "protective role to prevent compounds from entering the body," Nelson says. McNeely calls skin the "first and foremost protector against toxins." She adds, "The outer layer of the skin is actually made of flaking, flat dead skin cells, serving as a thin armor for the rest of the body against unwanted substances."
To help support your skin's natural detoxification, it's important to keep it well moisturized and use sunscreen regularly, says Gary Goldenberg, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City.
Ferira adds that "collagen is the architectural strength of our skin barrier, so supporting production of collagen daily is another prudent strategy to nurture our skin, a pivotal detox organ."
6. Your gut.
Your intestines (aka your gut, or GI tract) have several systems in place to weed out toxins. "The unique salivary microbiota and antimicrobial actions of saliva itself are the first two protection systems when it comes to the GI tract," explains Ferira.
The stomach continues this coordinated task "by producing acid, which eliminates any unwanted microbes," McNeely says. The intestines absorb water and nutrients and protect you from toxins "by just not allowing them into your bloodstream in the first place and passing them out in the stool," she says. "This, of course, assumes robust integrity of your gut lining," adds Ferira.
A healthy GI tract promotes well-being throughout the entire body—including the detoxification system! Taking a high-quality probiotic regularly can help elevate your gut microbiome, bolster your body's immune response, and support healthy detox pathways.
So, there you go! Now you have a comprehensive understanding of the major organs in the detoxification system. And while there are a number of ways to support each individual elimination organ, the detoxification system truly works together to effectively filter, transport, and remove metabolites and unwanted toxins.
One way to promote universally healthy detox pathways is to bolster your body's antioxidant activity. "Just like we network for our careers, it's super important to network—expand your antioxidant network—each and every day for the sake of your health," says Ferira.
Why? Your detox organs become taxed not only by a burden of toxins but by regular influxes of free radicals as well (from normal, daily cellular activities and metabolism). Antioxidants neutralize free radicals to help maintain oxidative balance in your cells, tissues, and organs. And as an important reminder, Ferira warns, "We can't assume antioxidants are just hanging around. That requires intention from your diet and via targeted supplementation strategies."
Eating antioxidant-rich foods and taking a high-quality detox supplement (such as mbg's daily detox+, which features "master antioxidant" glutathione, vitamin C from acerola fruit, NAC, selenium, and milk thistle extract) can help your detoxification system combat oxidative stress with focused intention so your organs can work optimally to filter and clear out stressors like metabolites and toxins.* Win-win!
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, relationships, and lifestyle trends with a master’s degree from American University. Her work has appeared in Women’s Health, Prevention, Self, Glamour, and more. She lives by the beach, and hopes to own a taco truck one day.