Rarely do we consider our liver, colon, kidneys, lungs, lymphatics or skin when we are in good health, but these organs deserve some attention and TLC. They are our routes of elimination. Especially at this time of year, after the endless large meals, sweets and alcohol consumed, our bodies tend to be overburdened by what we have ingested over a short period of holiday time.
Some signs of a heavy toxic body burden, suboptimal elimination and need for detoxification:
- Skin issues: rashes, hives, eczema, acne, psoriasis
- Trouble concentrating and poor memory
- Feeling tired or fatigued
- Joint or muscle pain
- Poor immune function
- Menstrual pain and irregularity
The liver acts as a processing and packaging plant for the body. It recognizes drugs, alcohol, other chemicals as well as metabolites of our hormones that are no longer useful. Specialized liver enzymes then neutralize toxins and tag them as water-soluble to be excreted in urine, or fat-soluble to be excreted in bile and stool. The liver is at the front lines of detoxification, so it may need extra support at varying times of life to make more enzymes. When it is overwhelmed, as in high alcohol consumption or Tylenol usage, the liver itself can become damaged. Nutritional and herbal medicine can be used to repair the liver and encourage hepatic cell regeneration.
In conventional medicine, liver damage becomes apparent on blood work results only after substantial liver function has already been lost and cellular damage has occurred. In naturopathic medicine, earlier signs are investigated and addressed to proactively protect the liver.
The colon acts as a slide for stool get outside the body. Through elimination of fecal matter, wastes are removed from the body on a daily basis. If there is slow movement, stool can back up and sit longer in the colon than was intended. This can lead to the discomfort associated with gas, cramping and bloating. It can also allow those waste products to be reabsorbed into the body, such as estrogens and other metabolites. Sluggish colonic motility may predispose individuals to colon cancer, especially if a family history exists.
The kidneys act as a filter. They decide what is worth keeping – minerals such as potassium, magnesium, sodium – and discard other water-soluble substances into urine, facilitating their removal from the body.
As we attempt to cleanse our internal environment, the liver, colon and kidneys can easily become overworked. The body still needs to get those toxins out, so it calls on the lungs, the lymphatic system and the skin to help out. This may manifest as skin conditions, body odour, swollen lymph glands, lower leg swelling, as well as excess phlegm production or congestion of the respiratory tract. As secondary organs of elimination, it is still important for the lungs, lymphatics and skin to be functioning optimally to eliminate unwanted waste products from our bodies.
For most people, the basics suffice for keeping toxic substances from accumulating inside the body (aka maintaining a low toxic burden):
- Eating a clean whole foods diet
- Drinking plenty of pure filtered water
- Consuming adequate amounts of dietary fiber
- Sweating on a regular basis, through exercise or saunas
- Sleeping at least 8 hours/night
- Avoiding the ingestion of chemicals
- Choosing organic meats, dairy and produce
- Not smoking cigarettes
- Choosing natural therapies over pharmaceutical medication
- Using chemical-free cosmetic products
- Breathing deeply
For those who practice some of the above some of the time, undertaking a gentle, short-term detox program 1-4 times a year can help to free up physiological resources in your body that allows for a lighter, more energized state of being.
For those who work in an environment where there in an overwhelming amount of chemical exposure on a regular basis – salons, dry cleaners, interior decorators, mechanics, artists – there may be substantial risk of toxin accumulation and greater need for regular detoxification.
Times of life when it is inappropriate to undertake a detoxification program include pregnancy, lactation and states of deficiency, such as exhaustion or current low body weight.
Safety concerns for health food store supplement “cleanses” include questionable ingredients: strong laxatives, herbs that interfere with pharmaceutical medications, or unlisted contaminants in low quality products.
For simple, gentle detox guidelines suited to your specific health needs, consult a Naturopathic Doctor. The OIHC also offers a comprehensive detoxification program.