We are exposed to thousands of chemicals and toxins everyday in our environment, homes and workplaces. Our body naturally removes these via 6 detox pathways (colon, liver, kidneys, skin, lungs & lymphatic system). However, when these pathways become impaired and blocked it can negatively impact health and contribute to a range of symptoms and conditions. Below are what I’m doing to open up and support these pathways to remove chemicals and toxins from my body 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. See my full disclaimer here.
why is it important to support the detox pathways
We are exposed to numerous toxins everyday internally in our bodies from:-
- Negative thoughts and feelings and,
- Allergies and food sensitivities (1).
We are also exposed to over 700,000 chemicals and toxins externally in our environment from:-
- The food we eat,
- Water we drink,
- Air we breathe in,
- Clothes we wear and,
- In our homes, such as via the cleaning and skincare products we use (1).
what are the detox pathways
Our bodies always work to naturally remove these toxins via 6 detox pathways:-
- Lungs and
- Lymphatic system.
what can impair the detox pathways efficiency
However, the following things can increase inflammation, cause our detox pathways to become sluggish and impair our bodies ability to do this:-
- Poor diet 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).
the problem with impaired detox 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,
- Autoimmune conditions
- Neurological problems and,
- Digestive problems, just to name a few (2, 3, 4).
my previous treatment to prepare me for supporting my detox pathways
The first part of my treatment was doing an Elimination Diet To Identify Food Sensitivities and incorporating Vagus Nerve Exercises to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, reduce stress and improve my sleep.
I’m now moving my focus onto reducing my toxin exposure and supporting my detox pathways. The aim is by reducing the toxins accumulating in my body and maximising the amount my body is able to remove, this will result in my symptoms easing.
Reducing toxin exposure
Whilst we can’t eliminate toxins completely, I’m transitioning to a low toxin lifestyle to reduce my exposure to them. In my other blog posts, I’ve listed 6 Free Ways To Start A Toxin Free Lifestyle and 15 Easy Ways To Detox & Reduce Chemicals In Your Home.
Supporting the detox pathways
Below are the foods, drinks and therapies I’m including to support the 6 detox pathways and maximise my bodies ability to remove toxins effectively.
Detox Pathways 1). Colon
It is 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 detox pathways feeding down into the colon. The colon binds waste products together into stools which are released when we have bowel movements. If you’re not having 2-3 well formed effortless bowel movements per day, then toxins from the other pathways can become backed up and reabsorbed by the body (5). Below is what I’m doing 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, I aim to include as many different plant foods in my 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.
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
- Respiratory problems like asthma (11, 12).
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:-.
- 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). 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:-
- Chickpeas/garbanzo beans (UK Link/US Link),
- Red Lentils (UK Link/US Link),
- Green Lentils (UK Link/US Link),
- Mung beans (UK Link/US Link),
- Mixed beans (UK Link/US Link).
Pre Soaked & Sprouted Grains, Nuts & Seeds
Some grains, nuts and seeds you can buy already soaked and sprouted, like the following:-
- Sprouted flaxseed (UK Link/US Link)
- Sprouted sunflower seeds (UK Link/US Link)
- Sprouted pumpkin seeds (UK Link/US Link)
- Sprouted almonds (UK Link/US Link)
- Sprouted oats (UK Link/US Link)
- Sprouted buckwheat
- Sprouted quinoa
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).
Detox Pathways 2). Liver
The second of the detox pathways I’m focussing on is the liver (5). The liver is constantly filtering our blood and removing harmful chemicals, hormones, toxins and heavy metals. There are 2 phases of detoxification the liver goes through 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 I’m Including To Support These Processes
We need to get the nutrients needed for these processes to take place from for foods we eat. There is so much detailed information in research articles about the specific foods. 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 Herbal Tea For Liver Health 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 i include these foods each day
- Start my day with a glass of warm lemon water.
- Drink this herbal tea 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 Pesto Salad.
- 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 curry with turmeric, garlic and onion.
Detox Pathways 3). Kidneys
The kidneys constantly work to filter the blood and remove the waste products and toxins from our body via urine. The following is what I’m doing 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,
- Chicory – a caffeine free coffee alternative (UK Link/US Link)
- 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 I stay hydrated, the drinks I avoid and consume and the best time to drink, see my other blog post, with 9 Tips That Help Me 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).
Detox Pathways 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). These are the things I’m using 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 I 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.
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.
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.
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).
Detox Pathways 5). Skin
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 I 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.
Detox Pathways 6). Lungs
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.
Example buteyko breathing exercise
Buteyko breathing exercises are what I have found to be most beneficial for me so far 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 blog posts on chronic illness
Click to read my other blog posts with other tips and strategies that are helping me improve my health and manage chronic illness:-
- Managing Symptoms – 6 Things To Do In Bed
- 10 Free Ways To Improve Your Health
- Morning Routine – 7 Things That Ease My Symptoms In The Morning
- Hydration – 9 Tips To Stay Hydrated
- 15 Things To Do In Bed To Ease Anxiety & Stress During Flares
- The Elimination Diet That Eased My Symptoms
- Vagus Nerve Exercises – 12 Ways To Improve Physical & Mental Health
- 6 Free Ways To Start A Toxin Free Lifestyle (& Why It’s Important To Improve Health)
- 15 Easy Ways To Detox Your Home (& How It Can Help Ease Symptoms)
- 10 Tips To Stay Cool & Ease Symptoms In The Summer Heat
other blog posts on health and wellness
Click to read my other blog posts with tips and strategies that are helping me improve my health and wellbeing:-
- 10 Free Ways To Improve Your Health
- Anxiety & Stress Relief – 15 Things To Do In Bed
- Hydration – 9 Tips To Stay Hydrated
- Healthy Food Swaps For Any Dietary Requirement
- Vagus Nerve Exercises – 12 Ways To Improve Physical & Mental Health
- 6 Free Ways To Start A Toxin Free Lifestyle (& Why It’s Important For Health)
- 15 Easy Ways To Detox Your Home (& Why It’s Important For Health)
- 10 Tips To Stay Cool & Survive The Summer Heat
Contact me and Follow me on social media
Is anyone else incorporating these things to support their detox pathways? I’d love to know your experiences. Leave me a comment below or message me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Youtube.