We’re exposed to thousands of harmful chemicals and toxins everyday in our environment, homes and workplaces. Our body naturally removes these via 6 detox pathways. However, when these pathways become impaired and blocked it can negatively impact health and contribute to a range of symptoms and conditions. Below is information on what the 6 drainage pathways are, how to open each of them to remove toxins and why it’s important to improve health and manage symptoms and chronic illness.
Disclaimer: This post is intended for informational purposes only. Supporting your detox pathways should only be done under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. I’m not a qualified practitioner and I’m not encouraging anyone else to these things. This is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a qualified practitioner if you have any questions regarding medical problems and before making any changes to your current diet or treatment plan. This post contains affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you I will earn commission if you click on a link and make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. See my full disclaimer here. First published 14 May 2021. Last updated 18 April 2022.
Jump To Section:-
- What Are Detox Pathways?
- Why Is It Important To Open The Drainage Pathways?
- How To Open The Detox Pathways
- Other Lifestyle Changes To Help Open Drainage Pathways
- Related Health & Wellness Blog Posts
What Are Detox Pathways?
Our body is constantly working to keep us healthy by naturally filtering and removing harmful toxins and chemicals we’re exposed to everyday via 6 detox pathways, also called drainage pathways or elimination channels:-
- Lungs and
- Lymphatic system.
Why Is It Important To Support The Detoxification Pathways
We are exposed to numerous toxins everyday internally in our bodies from:-
- Negative thoughts and feelings and,
- Allergies and food sensitivities (1).
We’re also exposed to over 700,000 chemicals and toxins externally in our environment, more than ever before in history, from:-
- The food we eat – pesticides food is grown with, hormones non-organic fish and meat contains, artificial preservatives, additives and flavourings in processed foods, plastic containers food is stored in.
- Water we drink, wash and bathe in – regular tap water can contain heavy metals, pesticides and other chemicals and contaminants,
- Air we breathe in – exhaust emissions, cooking gases, mold, tobacco smoke, off gases from furniture and carpets
- Clothes we wear – chemicals used to produce them and microplastics in clothes made from polyester, nylon and acrylic
- In our homes, such as via the cleaning and skincare products we use, radiation from WiFi and electronic devices, storage containers and garden weed and insect killers and fertilisers (1).
The Problem With Blocked Drainage Pathways
As a result, we can end up consuming more toxins than is able to be removed, resulting in them accumulating and being stored in the body. Toxins interfere with normal cell function and cause inflammation, which can cause numerous symptoms and conditions, such as:-
- Muscle & Joint Pain,
- Headaches & migraines,
- Impaired concentration, alertness & memory,
- Hormone imbalances,
- Autoimmune conditions,
- Neurological problems and,
How To Open Detox Pathways
There are foods and drinks we can consume and therapies we can perform to support each of the 6 drainage pathways and maximise the body’s natural ability to remove toxins effectively.
It’s recommended the colon is the first of the detox pathways to focus on, as this is at the bottom of the chain, with toxins from all the other pathways feeding down into the colon. The colon binds waste products together into stools which are released when we have bowel movements. Optimally, the number of bowel movements you have should match the number of meals you eat; so if you’re eating 3 meals each day, ideally we should be having 3 well formed effortless bowel movements. If this isn’t occurring, then toxins from the other pathways can become backed up and reabsorbed by the body (5). Below is how to support the colon.
It’s recommended to consume at least 30 grams of fibre each day (6). Fibre binds to toxins and bulks up the stool (7, 8). As well as the amount of fibre, it’s recommended to include as many different plant foods in our diet each week as possible. This not only supports the colon but is also vital for gut health, where 80% of our immune system is located (7, 8).
One of the biggest determinants of gut health, regardless of the specific diet you follow, is the number of plant foods we eat:–
- Whole grains,
- Fresh herbs and spices.
Each individual plant food feeds a specific type of good bacteria in the gut (9):-
- Broccoli feeds a different type of good bacteria to cauliflower.
- Braeburn apples feed a different type of good bacteria to Royal Gala apples.
It’s commonly recommended to eat at least 30 different plant foods each week, but the more we consume the greater the number and diversity of good bacteria in the gut and the stronger our immune system (10).
Improving gut health and the diversity of good bacteria is associated with a reduced risk of and reduction of symptoms for those with a range of illnesses and conditions, including:-
- Digestive problems like inflammatory bowel disease,
- Cardiovascular problems,
- Autoimmune conditions,
- Neurological problems and
Tips For Increasing Fibre Intake
Increasing fibre intake too quickly can cause digestive discomfort, like cramps, gas and bloating. Nutritionist Simon Hill has the following recommendations for transitioning to a higher fibre diet (38):-
- Increase fibre intake gradually by 2-4 grams each day.
- Soak and sprout beans, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds to reduce anti-nutrients which can damage the gut.
- Consume spices like turmeric, cumin, ginger and black pepper, which prevent the production of gas.
Beans & Legumes Specifically For Sprouting
For beans and legumes, the following are commonly able to be sprouted at home in a sprouting jar (UK Link/US Link), following instructions like these in my How To Sprout Chickpeas post. Make sure you buy organic beans and legumes designed specifically for sprouting as these have been tested to ensure they’re free from harmful bacteria:-
Pre Soaked & Sprouted Grains, Nuts & Seeds
Some grains, nuts and seeds you can sprout easily at home like in these How To Sprout Buckwheat and Activate Nuts and Seeds posts. However, to save time you can also buy them already soaked and sprouted, like the following:-
Leave 4 Hours Between Meals & Minimise Snacking
The migrating motor complex moves food, bacteria and other particles along the digestive tract, from the stomach, through the small intestine and into the colon, for unwanted bacteria and other particles to be eliminated. Whenever we consume calories, the migrating motor complex switches off for 2 hours, preventing this process from occurring, which can slow emptying via the colon and lead to constipation, bloating and abdominal discomfort (39).
The amount of time it takes for the migrating motor complex to complete one cycle moving food through the digestive system is on average 1.5-3 hours (40). Therefore, it’s recommended to leave 4 hours between meals, limiting snacks in between and have a period of 8-12 hours without eating overnight, as it’s when we’re sleeping the migrating motor complex does most of its work (41).
When increasing fibre intake it’s also recommended to ensure you stay well hydrated. If we’re dehydrated water gets taken from the colon to hydrate the body, which results in stools becoming dry and hard. This causes them to become more difficult to pass through the colon, which could lead to constipation (13).
Any movement, such as yoga, brisk walking or running causes the colon muscles to contract, which increases the speed food moves through the colon and waste is expelled from the body. The increased speed through the colon also limits the amount of water removed from the stool to hydrate the body, making them softer and easier to pass (14).
Related Post: 10 Healthy Habits To Improve Your Health For Free
The liver is constantly filtering our blood and removing harmful chemicals, hormones, toxins and heavy metals (5). There are 2 liver detoxification phases to remove these from the body:-
- Phase One – the liver produces enzymes that convert harmful toxins into less harmful ones.
- Phase Two – the liver produces more enzymes to make the toxins water soluble so they can be removed from the body via bile or urine (1).
Nutrients & Foods To Support These Phases
We need to get the nutrients needed for these processes to take place from the foods and drinks we consume. In addition to eating a range of fruit, vegetables, beans/legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, to ensure we get an adequate intake of important nutrients like magnesium, zinc, selenium, amino acids and vitamins, the most commonly recommended foods to support the liver are (1, 15, 16):-
- Allium vegetables high in sulphur – garlic, onion, leeks, shallots.
- Berries – strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries.
- Citrus fruits – lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges.
- Cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale, bok choi, cabbage.
- Bitter greens help stimulate production of bile – arugula/rocket, spinach, watercress, chard, kale, nettles, chicory/endive, raddichio, dandelion greens, mustard greens, frisee.
- Bitter herbs to stimulate the production of bile. These can be combined in a tea, like this Homemade Liver Detox Tea Recipe.
- Broccoli sprouts (UK Link/US Link). These increase the production of the enzymes needed to deactivate and remove toxins. They also contain sulforaphane, which is a powerful antioxidant.
- Dark leafy greens – arugula/rocket, spinach, watercress, chard, kale, nettles, chicory/endive, raddichio, dandelion greens, mustard greens, frisee.
- Turmeric – pair with a pinch of black pepper to increase the absorption by 2,000%! (17)
Examples Of How To Include These Foods Each Day
- Start the day with a glass of warm lemon water.
- Drink this Homemade Liver Detox Tea Recipe with milk thistle, burdock root and dandelion root during the day.
- For breakfast, make a smoothie or smoothie bowl with berries and a serving of dark leafy greens, like this Immune Boosting Chaga Berry Smoothie Bowl.
- Make a salad including beets, dark leafy greens, avocado and broccoli sprouts, like in this Sprouted Buckwheat Salad With Basil Pesto.
- Make a Rainbow Nourish Bowl, with a dark leafy green base, a serving of sprouted beans/legumes, whole grains, cruciferous vegetables, a range of coloured veg and seeds or nuts.
- Make a hash with cruciferous and alium vegetables, like this Vegan Hash with Brussel sprouts, red cabbage, red onion and garlic.
- Add dark leafy greens to pizzas, curries, stews, pestos, pasta sauces and risottos, like this Pumpkin, and Mushroom Risotto with Spinach.
- Make a curry with turmeric, garlic and onion.
The kidneys constantly work to filter the blood and remove the waste products and toxins from our body via urine. The following is recommended to support this process:-
The best way to support the kidneys is to stay hydrated. It’s recommended to drink 2-3 litres of water each day – the optimal amount will vary for each individual (18). I avoid alcohol and coffee as these are diuretics, which can increase dehydration. Drinks with electrolytes keep you hydrated longer than plain water alone (19). Therefore, I consume the following:-
- I always add freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice or coconut water to my water as these are a good source of electrolytes,
- Caffeine free herbal teas, like:-
- Green vegetable juices, like this Fennel, Cucumber & Mint Juice, which are packed full of electrolytes and are a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals.
More Hydration Tips
For more detailed information on how to stay hydrated, the drinks to avoid and consume and the best time to drink, see my other blog post, with 9 Tips To Stay Hydrated. Although the post is aimed at those with POTS, the tips are applicable to everyone.
Related Post: 9 Tips To Stay Hydrated
Eat Raw Fruits & Vegetables
Food is overlooked as a source of water. However, it provides around 25% of our fluid intake each day and can be a source of electrolytes to help maintain hydration (20). Fruits and vegetables have the highest water content, containing 80-95% water. They’re also a great source of fibre, meaning the water is absorbed slower, resulting in me being hydrated for longer (21).
4). Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is a part of our immune system, which transports lymph containing white blood cells round the body to helps prevent infections and remove toxins. Unlike the cardiovascular system, which has the heart to pump blood round the body, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump, so relies on muscle contraction and movement to flow (22). Below are ways to stimulate its flow.
Lymphatic massage involves applying very gentle pressure to the skin in the direction of lymph nodes, mainly the neck, armpit, groin and back of the knee, to increase lymph flow and the removal of toxins (23, 24). This can be performed by a qualified professional or you can perform self lymphatic massage at home using the below video as a guide.
Dry brushing involves using a wooden dry brush with coarse natural bristles and a long handle (UK Link/US Link) to very gently massage every area of the body, moving towards the heart with each stroke. This increases blood and lymph flow in the tissues below the skin, aiding the delivery of nutrients and removal of toxins and waste products (25).
Dry brushing also removes dead skin cells so it’s recommended to shower directly after – it can be combined with contrast showers to maximise the benefits of both.
The below video demonstrates how to perform dry brushing to increase lymph flow (wind through to 3 minutes for the start of the tutorial).
Contrast Hot and Cold Showers
Contrast showers involve alternating between hot and cold water, such as in 30 second intervals, ending with cold water. Hot water dilates blood vessels, while cold water constricts blood vessels. This alternate constriction and dilation pumps lymph round the body, helping to deliver nutrients and remove toxins (42).
Bouncing gently up and down on a rebounder (UK Link/US Link) increases the force of gravity acting on the body. As the lymph vessels run in a vertical direction in the limbs and torso, the vertical movement during rebounding and alternate compression and release of tissues is thought to increase lymph flow more than horizontal movements like walking and running (26).
Like with any treatment it’s recommended to start slow. I started with just 2 minutes and gradually built up to 15 minutes a day, split into 5 minute exercises 3 times per day (37).
The below video demonstrates rebounding exercises to do either sitting or standing to help stimulate lymph flow.
The contraction of muscles during movement helps pump lymph round the body (27). Any form of movement is beneficial – walking, swimming, cycling, tai chi, yoga, stretching, daily pedals.
For yoga including a range of poses is most beneficial:-
- Inversion poses, like laying with your legs up against a wall, utilises the effect of gravity to increase the flow of lymph back to the heart.
- Twisting poses, like the seated spinal twist, help squeeze lymph out of muscles and organs.
Tapping stimulates the lymph vessels below the skin to improve lymph circulation. The below video shows a whole body tapping routine.
The movement of the diaphragm during slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing increases lymph flow (28). To maximise the benefits, breathing should be:-
- Slow, ideally 6-10 breaths per minute,
- In and out through the nose,
- The exhale lasting twice the length of the inhale.
Related Post: Breath Retraining – 6 Tips For Optimal Breathing
Lymph is 95% water, staying hydrated like with the kidneys is crucial. Dehydration causes lymph to thicken, reducing its flow around the body (29).
Wear Loose Fitting Clothes; Avoid Tight & Restrictive clothing
Tight clothing, especially socks, waistbands and bras, constrict blood vessels and impair the circulation through them, decreasing lymph flow (30).
The skin is the largest elimination organ. Water and fat soluble toxins are eliminated via the skin when we sweat (31). Removing toxins via the skin this way reduces the toxins the kidneys have to deal with. Below is how to support this process.
Exercise is the most common way of sweating. It also has the added benefit of increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells and stimulating lymph flow, further aiding the removal of toxins (32). However, for those with chronic illness, exercise may not be doable.
An alternative is infrared saunas, which mimics the benefits of exercise. They’re more effective than traditional saunas as the infrared rays penetrate deep beneath the skin, increasing body temperature, which causes us to sweat (33). It’s been shown to reduce fatigue and ease anxiety and depression (34). Gyms, spas and clinics have infrared saunas or you can purchase a portable one to use at home (UK Link/US Link).
Infrared Sauna Treatment Recommendations
The following are recommended when starting infrared sauna treatment (35):-
- Start slowly, with 10-15 minutes. Gradually increase the time to 20-30 minutes.
- Stay well hydrated. Drink a glass of water before and after and have water in the sauna with you during the session to have a drink if you need one.
- Shower after once you have cooled down to ensure the toxins are removed from the skin and not reabsorbed.
Epsom Salt Baths
Epsom salts are high in magnesium and sulphates, which draws toxins and heavy metals out of the body through the skin (43). The warm bath water causes you to sweat, increasing the amount of toxins removed. To make an Epsom salt bath, add 2 cups of Epsom salts to warm bath water and soak for at least 15 minutes (44). Ensure the Epsom salts you buy are 100% magnesium sulphate (UK Link/US Link). If your bath water isn’t filtered then it’s recommended to add 1 cup of bicarbonate of soda to neutralise and prevent the body absorbing the chemicals, heavy metals and others contaminants that unfiltered water contains.
The lungs remove carbon dioxide and other waste products when we exhale during breathing. However, to function optimally, a certain amount of carbon dioxide is needed to release and transfer oxygen to every cell in the body (36). Over breathing in the following ways causes too much carbon dioxide to be exhaled:-
- Taking too larger breaths,
- Breathing too rapidly,
- Chest breathing,
- Breathing through your mouth.
This narrows blood vessels, lowering the amount of oxygen delivered throughout the body by up to 50% and the amount of toxins and waste products removed (1).
Instead, breathing should be:-
- Slow, ideally 6-10 breaths per minute to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, a state we need to be in to remove toxins efficiently,
- Done through the diaphragm (belly breathing),
- In and out through the nose.
This causes carbon dioxide levels to remain optimal and blood vessels to stay wider, which maximises the amount of oxygen delivered and toxins removed (1, 36).
Example Buteyko Breathing Exercise
Buteyko breathing exercises are what I have found to be most beneficial for me so far for breath retraining to improve my breathing mechanics (36). Patrick McKeown’s book Close Your Mouth (UK Link/US Link) has a range of exercise that can be performed to improve breathing mechanics.
One common exercise is reduced breathing:–
- Sit up straight and begin breathing normally, paying attention to how much air you’re inhaling and exhaling.
- When you’re ready to start, with each inhale, take a shorter smaller breath in, reducing the amount of air taken in,
- Then take a slow relaxed breath out, allowing the body and diaphragm to naturally relax, reducing the amount of air exhaled,
- As you reduce and slow your breathing like this you should feel a slight need to take in more air that is noticeable but not uncomfortable.
- Continue the above exercise for 4 minutes, maintaining this slight need for air throughout.
- Rest and breathe normally for 1-2 minutes, then repeat the above exercise 1-3 more times.
Other Lifestyle Changes To Help Open Drainage Pathways
Whilst we can’t eliminate the toxins we encounter everyday completely, toxin free living can reduce the amount we’re exposed to. In my other blog posts, I’ve listed 6 Free Ways To Start Toxin Free Living, 15 Easy Ways To Detox & Reduce Chemicals In Your Home and 10 Tips For A Non Toxic Kitchen.
What Can Cause The Detox Pathways To Become Blocked
The following things can also increase inflammation, cause our detox pathways to become blocked and impair our bodies ability to remove toxins effectively:-
- Poor diet high in processed foods, refined sugar and inflammatory oils and foods that doesn’t provide our body and elimination organs with the nutrients it needs to cleanse and remove toxins efficiently,
- Consuming foods we’re sensitive too,
- Poor vagus nerve tone, meaning out parasympathetic nervous system activation, the state we need to be in for or detox pathways to remove toxins effectively, is low,
- Poor sleep (1).
Therefore, the following positive lifestyle changes can further help:-
- An elimination diet to identify food sensitivities, involving Elimination Diet Phase 1, where you remove all common food allergens/intolerances for a few weeks, followed by Elimination Diet Phase 2, reintroducing foods to identify food sensitivities.
- Making simple healthy food and drink swaps to consume more nutrient dense foods and reduce the amount of inflammatory foods, refined sugar and processed foods we’re eating.
- Implementing tips to improve digestion and drinking herbal teas to ease digestive complaints and improve digestion and gut health. These can increase the amount of nutrients our body can absorb and use from the foods and drinks we consume.
- Vagus nerve exercises to improve vagal tone, which has been shown to enhance sleep, digestion and mood and ease fatigue, anxiety and stress.
- Making simple changes to your morning routine to minimise anxiety and stress, implementing daily habits to improve mental health, such as breathing exercises and gratitude journaling and rest well by scheduling time for the 7 types of rest our body needs. There’s also simple things you can do in bed to engage your 5 senses, care for your mental wellbeing and ease anxiety and stress.
- Implementing a Nighttime Routine To Sleep Better (this post has 5 free effective things to do), such as making this Deep Sleep Tea Recipe.
Related Health & Wellness Blog Posts
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Is anyone else incorporating these things to support their drainage pathways? I’d love to know your experiences and what helps you. Leave me a comment below or message me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterestor YouTube.
6 thoughts on “How To Open Drainage Pathways”
Another really comprehensive article with loads of practical things I can try today. I think hydration will be a good start for me today all around!
Thank you so much Melissa. Supporting my detox pathways has helped me so much so I really hope it benefits you too. Staying hydrated really is so important and makes such a big difference. Take care.
Loved your tips for infrared sauna and for lymphatic massage and drainage, and of course, hot to cold showers on days I can tolerate it are an absolute must. Another excellent and informative article. I’m curious! We should trade book titles since I’m quite certain from reading your articles that we’ve probably got several in common!
Thank you so much Carrie, I really appreciate it. I know what you mean about cold showers, they really help but aren’t the most enjoyable experience, especially on cold winter days! I’m definitely up for trading book titles. It definitely sounds like we’re on the same page and have read similar things!
Lucy, this is a fantastic post. It’s so comprehensive. You have covered everything here related to detoxing. I know that I really need to make a few changes. I am bookmarking this post to look back at again. Thank you.
Thank you so much Elizabeth, I really appreciate your comment and kind words. I’m so pleased you found the post helpful and I hope you find any changes you make beneficial.