Detoxification isn’t all about ‘shredding’ and ‘losing that last 2kg of belly fat (although this may happen after a good old fashioned “spring clean”) it’s the body's sophisticated way of keeping our blood clean and our system free of undesirable metabolites.
This is a process of purification that occurs daily, not just when you take “detox supplements” or do a juice fast. Sure these methods can assist the excretion of waste from your system, however the body is designed to be in constant state of “detoxification” as a means to maintain equilibrium and homeostasis (balance). Due to our modern day exposure to environmental toxicants, poor diet, dehydration, lack of sleep (read here why sleep is so important!) and exercise, these pathways can become impaired and decreased in their capacity to function. And what about chronic stress (remember the HPA axis?), that is a killer. You can check out our 51 ways to de-stress, there's something in there for everyone! When our body has to cope with all these issues, it can become bogged down and heavy.
There are several routes the body uses to remove waste from the system. These operate via our six main organs of elimination; the skin, the lungs, the liver, the kidneys, the lymph and the colon.
Now that’s cleared up let’s break down how these pathways operate and what purpose they serve in the body’s overall detoxification process.
The skin is one of our largest organs (the skin was originally thought to be our largest organ, but has now been superseded by the fascia, whoa! how cool is that!) The skin removes waste from the body through the action of perspiration, aka sweat. So get moving people!
Jump in a sauna if you can, infrared preferably. If you suffer from common skin issues, it's very likely your detoxification pathways are blocked. Check out our ‘Save Your Skin’ Article for more info.
The lungs filter the air we breathe via our inhalation and exhalation, this removes airborne toxins, carbon dioxide and fumes. The ancient yogis and Taoists were onto this long ago, and now modern ambassadors for learning to harness the breath, like the inimitable Wim Hoff, are gaining popularity.
Pranayama baby! It's the Yogic term for practices that help to accelerate and harmonise the flow of energy in the body (prana means energy), which the yogis worked out is best done by learning to control and manipulate the breath. Our favourite practice for detox is kapalbhati pranayama, which is a cleansing breath that is regularly done as a kriya to help clear out toxins - This practice helped a friend of ours clear toxic tar from her lungs literally YEARS after she quit smoking!! For day-to-day breathing, learn to breathe with your belly if you can. This means that you'll be using your diaphragm AND you'll be toning the abdomen with every breath, which assists your body's ability to detoxify. So breathe deep my friends and circulate that beautiful fresh energy! <3 Let us know if you want to see some videos about how to use the breath to cleanse in the day-to-day. Our top lung-supporting herbs are SuperFeasr Cordyceps, Astragalus and Tremella.
The lymphatic system is a vital component of the immune system. Here, potent immune fluid called lymph (that clear stuff that comes out when you cut yourself or squeeze a zit...we've all been there!) is circulated from our tissues into our bloodstream and vice versa by a network of blood vessels and lymph nodes which operate via our lymphatic organs: the spleen, thymus, and bone marrow.
The human body is exposed to undesirable microbes and toxins on a daily basis. When these guys enter the body they make their way into the lymphatic fluid (it also carries white blood cells, glucose, salts and protein molecules etc around the body) - here these bad guys get trapped inside the lymph nodes, allowing the the immune system, specifically the white blood cells, to launch an attack and destroy anything it identifies as a threat to the system.
Exercise, an anti-inflammatory diet, infrared saunas and body work such as massage really help to prime the lymphatic system and keep it pumping along. Legs up the wall or for the yogis out there, Viparita Karani, is a great way to flush the lymphatic system. Super easy, literally just lay on the floor (or your bed) and place your legs vertically up the wall. You can also gain the same benefits by placing a bolster under your hips and holding your legs in the air. Try it, I dare you! It's a great pose, also wonderful for calming the nervous system and relieving that monkey mind. Reishi is also a fabulous spirit calmer.
The liver’s main function is to cleanse our blood of undesirable metabolites. The liver does this primarily via 3 pathways known as phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3 liver detoxification. Here, the liver unpacks and reassembles mostly fat soluble metabolites into water soluble metabolites to be excreted from the body through the bile, the gastrointestinal tract and the urinary system. The liver rocks a series of enzymatic conversions including hydrolysis, oxidation and reduction (you can read more about it here and here). After phase 1 liver detoxification the converted metabolites are highly reactive and require the activity of the phase 2 pathway to neutralise and remove these harmful toxins in order to prevent tissue damage. Once these metabolites are processed by the liver, they are carried in the bile to the gallbladder, ready to be excreted in the stool concluding the phase 3 pathway.
The kidneys filter the blood and excrete waste from the body via the urine. Environmental toxins and drugs along with chemical byproducts such as urea, ammonia and creatinine are removed. The kidneys maintain the body’s acid-alkaline and electrolyte balance, as well as regulate blood pressure and blood volume.
It is important to keep well-hydrated to assist these bean-shaped wonder organs in performing their super-important duties within the body. Aim for around 2 litres of spring or filtered water per day (you may need more depending on climate, body volume and exercise frequency).
The majority of our toxic exposure comes from the foods and beverages we consume on a daily basis (this is why it’s so important to eat a clean, chemical free diet!). For this reason, the colon, or large intestine, serves as a key pathway for toxin excretion. The colon not only serves as a site of elimination for ingested toxins, but it also processes the removal of secondary metabolites that are reintroduced to this area from the activities of the biliary organs, aka the liver and gallbladder. In our Gut Health Part 1 and Part 2 podcast episodes, Mason dives deep into the intricacies of the digestive system.
The colon plays a very important role in the elimination of the body’s overall toxic load and therefore it is crucial that this pathway is clear and running smoothly. Fibre is a key element in the expulsion of toxicity from the digestive tract. Here it teams up with the bile, absorbing the bile's toxic cargo, from the liver, a marriage that facilitates the successful toxin elimination. Fibre reduces faecal transit time and minimises any toxin recycling that may occur due to insufficiencies in any of the processes mentioned above.
Eat your leafy greens people, and up your daily fibre intake! chia seed, flax seed and psyllium husk are all great options to include in your diet. Don’t forget to increase your water consumption when increasing your daily fibre intake, as it makes for a smooth passage. H2O is a go!
So there you have it folks, detoxification, not a fad, not a foe, just another one of the body’s intelligent methods in keeping our blood clean and our system rocking towards epic health. Can I get a hell yeah?! And speaking of intelligence, how cool is ourbrain? And hey, want more info on detoxing and making the transition from winter to spring? Maybe it's time you look at cultivating a personal practice.