Take a spin around the internet these days and it seems that our world – and bodies – are filled with toxins, and we better do something about it. Cleanses, charcoal, juices, teas, supplements, you name it…”detoxing” comes in many forms. Unfortunately, many versions of detoxing simply drum up fear and overlook what our bodies are capable of (and are often associated with products for sale). Not sure what to do with this information overload? It is complex, but we’ve broken it down for you here.
First, let’s talk toxins…
We all interact with with a world that can be less than kind to our bodies. Pollution, highly processed foods, pesticides, lack of exercise, smoking, or excess alcohol intake can take a toll us over time. Labeling them as ‘toxins’ is good for marketing, but is also a bit dramatic. Keep in mind that detoxing, in the medical sense, is a procedure for ridding the body of dangerous levels of alcohol, drugs, or other dangerous chemicals. Medical detoxes are supervised by highly trained healthcare professionals and are used for reasons beyond “cleansing.” That said, we will use words like “detox,” “toxins,” and “stressors” in this article for ease of understanding.
Our natural detox systems
Lucky for us, our bodies come well-equipped to handle to rigors of everyday life. We have lots of detox systems, including our liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph, digestive track, and skin. So is “detoxing” by way of external products for sale possible? Is it necessary? With so many glowing reviews, it is hard to resist the promises. But the fact of the matter is that a lot of these procedures, pills, or diets just aren’t necessary. However, there are things we can do in our daily lives to both reduce the burden on our natural detox system, and to support the strength of that system.
Your body is a bathtub
A good way to describe our body’s process for handling toxins is “the bathtub analogy.” Think of your body as a bathtub. Everything coming into our bodies (and minds) are represented by the water from the faucet, and everything coming out of us is represented by the water going out the drain. Our bodies can handle a certain amount of stressors coming in (the water from the faucet), because it is simultaneously getting rid of stressors (via the drain). When we are in balance, we are healthy. However, if too much water is coming into the bathtub, and/or not enough water is leaving the bathtub, what might happen? Overflow! The “overflowing bathtub” metaphor can be used to describe the process of illness, allergies, chronic disease, and more. The idea is to make sure your bathtub doesn’t overflow. How can we do that? Two ways: decrease the flow in (what we ingest and come in contact with), and/or increase the flow out (supporting healthy kidneys, liver, digestion, and more!).
So, how can we “detox?” We can make small, simple, daily choices that help decrease the flow in, and increase the flow out of our proverbial bathtubs. No procedures, pills, or special products necessary. Ready? Let’s do it!
You are what you eat
No surprises here. Filling your plate with colorful and unprocessed plant foods works on both the flow in AND out of the bathtub! Flow in is reduced since eating more of these foods naturally helps us eat less of the other stuff that stress our bodies. Flow out is increased as well. Veggies (especially cruciferous veggies like broccoli!) support the liver and increase its detoxifying capacity. Fiber helps bind yucky chemicals and waste products in your intestines, allowing you to excrete them out (yep! We’re talkin ‘bout poopin!). The benefits of veggies go on and on. Try to fill half your plate at lunch and dinner with low-carb veggies, as laid out in our Brook Health Plate.
Pro-tip: Worried about pesticides? Use the clean fifteen/dirty dozen shopping guide to reduce pesticide exposure while still keeping your budget under control.
Let’s get physical
Did you know that the skin is the body’s largest organ? Help your bathtub drain by getting your sweat on. Heated activities such as hot yoga or spending time in the sauna encourages healthy sweating (be sure to check with your doctor that heat is safe for you). Show your skin some pampering after a sweat session with exfoliation. Dry brushing is a quick routine to try before showering, removing dead skin and boosting circulation of blood and lymph. If you have sensitive or thin skin, try out a test patch first and be sure to avoid any cracked, cut, overly dry, or inflamed skin.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Drinking plenty of fluids keeps you hydrated and helps promote kidney health. People with healthy kidneys can help keep them that way with adequate fluid intake (if your have kidney disease, chat with your care provider about the ideal amount of fluids for you). Looking for some ways to pump up the detoxifying benefits of your liquids? Adding a squeeze of citrus, such as fresh lemon or lime, to your water stimulates the liver. Green tea is another hydrator that packs a nutritional punch. Live somewhere hot or doing something sweaty? Make sure you replenish your electrolytes, as well. And if you do choose to imbibe, try to take it easy. Your liver works hard to clear out excess alcohol, and even gives it preferential treatment – meaning your liver is not able to focus on its normal jobs of detoxing and regulating blood sugar when booze is on board. Poor little guy!
Catch enough zzz’s
Sleep, glorious sleep. Getting adequate sleep plays many roles in our health, including helping to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, and stress hormones. Some research even suggests that sleep is the ideal “cleaning” time for our brains, taking a break from alert mode to enter a stage of repair and detox from the day.
Stay skeptical of promises of easy health fixes for a price. Do your own research, and ask a health expert you trust for support.
Our bodies contain natural detox systems that, when supported and not overburdened, are usually capable of handling all that life throws at us.
There are simple, daily steps you can take to both support and not overburden your natural detox systems.
Chat soon 💬
Reviewed by Emily Matson, MS, RDN
on February 10, 2020. Emily is a Registered Dietitian with her Master's degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA, and is one of our Brook Experts.