Demystifying Detoxification

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In today’s mainstream wellness spaces, it’s easy to see how detoxification can be misunderstood. It’s often portrayed as something we need to engage with after a period of indulgence or as a way to shed a few pounds. But in reality, detoxification is happening within us all the time, thanks to the tireless efforts of our liver, kidneys, skin, lungs, and digestive tract. So let’s dive deeper into this concept of detoxification.

What exactly is detoxification?

Detoxification is a complex process in the body that involves the elimination of harmful substances or toxins. These toxins can come from various sources such as normal bodily functions, pharmaceutical drugs, environmental exposure, and even personal care products.

The detoxification process occurs in three phases: Phase I, Phase II (conjugation), and elimination. In Phase I, toxins are modified by enzymes in the liver, making them more water-soluble and/or preparing them for further processing; however, some of the intermediate metabolites produced in this phase can be more toxic than the original toxins, which makes Phase II crucial.1

In Phase II, the intermediate metabolites are combined with water-soluble substances to create stable compounds for easy elimination from the body. 1 Elimination involves the actual transport of toxins out of the body, primarily through urine and bile/stool, though elimination of toxins also occurs to a lesser extent through sweat and exhalation.

How can we support detoxification?

There’s a lot of talk these days about post-holiday detox cleanses and extreme protocols that promise quick results, but as a Naturopathic practitioner, I truly believe in the power of taking a more gentle and sustainable approach to supporting detoxification. After all, our bodies are constantly detoxing, so why not make mindful choices every day to support this natural process? It turns out that each of the foundations for overall health also support detoxification.

Here are some things to consider:


Providing Tools and Cofactors for the Detox Pathways

The detoxification phases require specific “tools” and cofactors. For example, glucuronic acid found in foods like apples, broccoli, cabbage, and oranges supports Phase II detoxification.2 Adequate protein intake is essential as it provides the necessary amino acids for certain detoxification reactions in Phase I and Phase II. Consuming a balanced diet rich in whole foods that contain specific nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium, sulfur, antioxidants (vitamin C, E, A, selenium), and healthy fats can also support the different phases of detoxification.3

It’s important to note that nutrient content in foods has decreased over time, so nutritional supplementation may be beneficial.4 Additionally, when we are consistently taking medications that go through a particular detox pathway, it’s quite natural that the resources required by that pathway may be utilized at a
higher rate, so this is an instance where supplementation might be particularly useful.

Fiber & Probiotic Foods

Choosing whole, unprocessed foods and incorporating plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can promote healthy digestion. Insoluble fiber acts as a natural broom, sweeping through our digestive tract and helping to eliminate waste and toxins. Soluble fiber serves as a fuel source for the beneficial bacteria that reside in our gut.5

These bacteria play a crucial role in digestive and overall health as they help break down food, regulate bowel movements, support the immune system, and even produce certain vitamins.6 Including probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir in our diet can help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria, but sometimes you may need higher amounts of colony forming units to make a noticeable impact. That’s where probiotic supplements can be especially beneficial. However, it’s essential to note that a generalized blend of probiotic strains may not be the right fit for everyone. Certain individuals may need specific probiotics tailored to their unique microbiome needs and sensitivities.

Digestive Support

When our digestive system is functioning optimally, we support the body’s natural detoxification processes.

Regular bowel movements

Regular bowel movements are a crucial aspect of detoxification and overall well-being. When our bodies eliminate waste efficiently, we help prevent the recirculation of toxins that may have been packaged in stool for elimination.

Imagine your digestive system as a busy highway, with waste products and toxins waiting to exit your body through your stool. Regular bowel movements keep the traffic flowing smoothly, ensuring that these harmful substances don’t linger in your system for too long.

When stool remains in the body for extended periods, the toxins it contains can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream and recirculate throughout the body. This recirculation can put a strain on our organs of elimination, such as the liver and kidneys, which work hard to filter and detoxify our blood.7

It’s not uncommon for individuals experiencing irregular bowel movements to turn to detox cleanses as a quick fix to force a bowel movement. While these cleanses can provide temporary relief, it’s essential to remember that true wellness goes beyond just a one-time cleanse. To achieve long-term wellbeing, it’s crucial to assess and address the root cause of irregular bowel movements. If you’re dealing with digestive dysfunction, consider working with a provider who will look at the whole picture to help you identify factors that may be contributing to your digestive concerns.

Stress management & mindful eating

Addressing stress levels is crucial for optimal digestion. When we’re stressed, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode activated by the sympathetic nervous system. This will divert blood flow away from our digestive system and negatively impacting digestion. Being in rest-and-digest mode (activated by the parasympathetic nervous system) triggers the production of saliva, digestive enzymes, and stomach acid, setting the stage for optimal digestion.8

For overall stress management, incorporating stress-reducing activities like yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or even a leisurely walk after a meal can help calm the nervous system and promote better digestion.8

During meals, we can engage the rest-and-digest mode by incorporating mindful eating whenever possible. Mindful eating is all about savoring each bite, being present in the moment, and truly engaging with the food on our plate. It is also easier to be conscious of chewing our food adequately when eating mindfully. In our culture of busy-ness and productivity it is not uncommon to be eating while distracted. However, next time you sit down for a meal, try to find a quiet moment, away from distractions, and give yourself the gift of mindful eating. You may even find a greater appreciation for the flavors and nourishment that your food brings.8

Herbal remedies

Herbal remedies can also provide gentle support for digestion. Bitter herbs, for example, are thought to stimulate digestive juices. They may optimize the breakdown of food and absorption of their nutrients.9

The world of herbs is vast and abundant, and beyond bitter herbs, there are countless other plants that can lend a hand to various aspects of our digestion. When it comes to incorporating herbal remedies into your wellness routine, it’s helpful to consult with someone who truly understands herbs. Working with a knowledgeable practitioner ensures that the herbs you choose are a perfect match for your unique needs and constitution.

Try our Bitter Herbs


Sweating through activities like exercise and sauna use can aid in the elimination of certain heavy metals like lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. These heavy metals, which are found in sources like water, food, dental amalgams, cigarettes, and industrial settings, can have negative effects on various body systems, including the heart, brain, kidneys, and immune system. It is especially important to be sure you are maintaining hydration when sweating.10

While sweating is an effective way to eliminate heavy metals from the body, it’s important to note that heavy metal detoxification is a complex process and might require additional strategies depending on the individual’s exposure and specific circumstances. It is always crucial to seek guidance from a healthcare professional when addressing heavy metal detoxification to ensure a safe and appropriate approach.

Minimizing Exposure to Toxins

Being aware of environmental toxins and taking steps to minimize exposure can support detoxification by reducing the burden on the organs involved in the process. This includes avoiding smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, reducing pesticide exposure, and using non-toxic personal care and cleaning products when possible[1].

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides some wonderful resources that can make it easier to reduce our exposure to toxins. Each year they release a “Dirty Dozen” and a “Clean Fifteen” list that highlight which fruits and veggies have the highest and lowest pesticide loads. With this knowledge, we can make informed choices about buying organic for the items most impacted by pesticides while feeling confident about opting for conventional versions of others if needed.

The EWG also provides a database for personal and beauty care products called Skin Deep, which allows us to explore and uncover any concerning ingredients that may be lurking in our cosmetics and skin care products. Their Guide to Healthy Cleaning is a similar database focusing on cleaning products, helping us choose products based on how clean and safe they are for our bodies and the environment.

As you start to run out of bottles of beauty care and cleaning products, consider checking out these databases when deciding which replacement products to buy.

Optimizing Sleep Quality

Getting enough quality sleep is important for detoxification as it allows our body to repair and regenerate. During sleep, metabolic waste and toxins that have accumulated throughout the day are cleared from our brain as cerebrospinal fluid washes through it via the glymphatic system.11

When it comes to supporting healthy sleep to optimize detoxification, it’s truly about embracing a holistic approach that goes beyond simply trying to knock ourselves out with a sleeping pill. There are numerous factors that can contribute to disrupted sleep, from issues with our circadian rhythm to blood sugar dysregulation and HPA axis dysregulation. Just as we can support digestive health through a holistic approach, we can do the same for sleep. The key is to work with a practitioner who can truly listen to your whole story, helping you identify the most supportive approach to optimize your sleep quality.

Final Thoughts

These are just some of the ways in which establishing the foundations of health can help support healthy detoxification. It’s important to recognize that individual needs may vary, and some cases may require more intensive and personalized care. For example, those dealing with mold toxicity or genetic mutations affecting detoxification enzymes may require specific therapies and support. Working with a healthcare practitioner who understands your specific health needs and can provide comprehensive, personalized, and holistic care is recommended.

Establishing the foundations for optimal wellness and detoxification is a lifelong journey that requires consistent effort and mindful choices. I believe in making small, sustainable changes every day that can have a significant impact on our overall well-being. Even if you’ve identified several foundational pieces that are not where you’d like them to be, you can take small steps towards achieving your wellness goals and supporting whole body health. If you find yourself needing more nuanced and personalized guidance, consider consulting with me or with the lovely folks at Nutrition World for support along your wellness journey.

You can find out more information about my approach to wellness on my website, I see clients in person in Rossville, GA as well as worldwide through a virtual platform. It is important to note that as I am not a physician, my services are not intended to diagnose or treat disease or provide medical advice, but are instead aimed at establishing the foundations for wellness.


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Disclaimer. The information on this website and the topics discussed have not been evaluated by the FDA. Or, any one of the medical profession. And it is not aimed to replace any advice you may receive from your medical practitioner. Nutrition World assumes no responsibility or liability whatsoever on the behalf of any purchaser or reader of any of these materials. Nutrition World is not a doctor, nor does it claim to be. Please consult your physician before beginning any health regimen. If you are being treated for any medical illness, check with your medical professional before starting any protocol
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