If I had to write down the most frequently asked questions about environmental toxins, ‘how do I get rid of what’s already inside me’ would surely top the list. This is an important question, and definitely the most obvious one when thinking about chemical-build up in the body.
Just this past week I attended a lecture at the New York Academy of Medicine that addressed in part environmental toxins presence in human breast milk. Sitting behind me was Doula and Lactation Consultant who asked about how someone can remove toxins that have built up, and is there ever a point in which it’s “too late’”. We chatted briefly afterwards, and I told her the same thing that I tell everyone who’s looking to “detox”:
“The first step in detoxing the body actually has nothing to do with the body. The first step in detoxing is to STOP or SLOW the FLOW OF CHEMICALS INTO THE BODY IN THE FIRST PLACE.” This happens outside the body.
Here’s what I mean by that: For the most part, toxins in the body are coming from outside the body (with the exception of things like cellular breakdown products, etc) – they’re coming from our food, our water, the products that we use every day… they’re coming from the cars we drive in, the roads we drive on, and even in the air we breathe. Welcome to the modern world!
While we can’t stop or even reduce exposure to all chemical toxins in our environment, we can for some of the worst and most ubiquitous, simply by making a few intentional changes in our day to day lives. THIS is how we stem that flow of chemical toxins into our bodies. The primary focus of my work is teaching health coaches not only where, but how to do this in the best way possible. But on to answering that question…
With all the talk about “detoxing” happening in our holistic health circles… with all the bazzillion-trillion detoxes and cleanses out there, my mind still boggles how this first step, is nearly always skipped over!
Here’s how I see this: We are a bucket. Flowing into us are chemical toxins from all sorts of places. Our bodies naturally have a number of pathways that allow for the breakdown and elimination of many of these toxins (colon, kidneys, liver, lungs, lymph, skin) but they can only process so much at a time. Sadly, the flow of toxins coming in exceeds the flow of toxins out, resulting in an ever-growing “body-burden” of chemicals.
Before we can expect to reduce that body-burden, we need to reduce the flow of chemicals into the bucket. Only then can we adequately start to have an impact on the chemicals we do have inside us.
We can’t increase the number of detoxification pathways in the body… we’ve got 6 of them, and if they’re all working at top notch, then we’ll be able to detox what is already inside of us more efficiently.
But what if they’re not working well? What if our bowel movements are irregular, or our kidney function compromised? What then?
The bucket will fill up even faster, and our body burden of chemicals will increase. While this is not a guarantee that you’ll fall ill, or succumb to disease, it certainly increases the chances. Our own genetic makeup plays a significant role in our ability or inability to detox naturally.
Since I often get asked the question “How do I get rid of what’s already in me?” I thought I’d offer a few brief suggestions, all of which are built around this 2nd step: Supporting the Organs of Detoxification.
Supporting the Liver
The liver is the powerhouse of the detoxification process, since one of it’s primary functions is to bio-transform or breakdown toxins in the body so they can be eliminated. The liver acts as a big filter, constantly working to clean the blood and lymph fluid of toxins and cellular waste products. Keeping liver function cranking at top notch is essential. Drinking liver supportive teas like dandelion & nettle make great additions to your daily routine, as does eating plenty of cruciferous veggies like cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc.
Supporting the Kidneys
The kidneys are responsible for filtering your blood and removing and removing waste products and toxins, among other things. Your kidneys can filter more than 48 gallons of blood every day! Water is by far the most important element for the proper functioning of the kidneys, so drink up! Good clean chemical free water is essential here (doesn’t make sense for this cleansing water to be carrying it’s own load of toxins!) to help flush the kidneys, and therefore flush the toxins out.
Supporting the Colon
This one is pretty simply – lots of fiber to help push the body’s waste products out. If waste is backed up in the body, toxins present can sometimes be reabsorbed into the body (yuck!). Since most toxins in the body get excreted through the colon, this system must be functioning well! One to three bowel movements a day is ideal.
Supporting the Lymph
The lymph system is often referred to as the sewer system of the body – it’s a network of organs, nodes, ducts, and vessels that move lymph fluid around your body, and is a major part of your immune system. As lymph fluid flows through your body, it passes through lymph nodes, which filter the fluid, trapping and destroying harmful organisms. Unlike the blood, lymph doesn’t have a pump to help move it around the body, cleaning house… we need to help it! There are a number of ways to help lymph fluid move through the body – from dry brushing to exercising. My favorite? The sauna! In traditional Russian or other Eastern European bath houses, it’s common practice to be beaten gently or vigorously with bunches of wet leaves while sitting in the sauna – this is great for circulation, and therefore lymph movement! Sauna also allows for a good sweat, another route through which some toxins are excreted.
While supporting these body systems doesn’t mean we can willy-nilly expose ourselves to chemical toxins, it is still essential if we want to truly DETOX.
My new favorite “detox” ritual is hitting the sauna – what’s yours??