Detoxification of the Body from Environmental Toxins
Let’s think for a minute about the depth and breadth of our daily exposure to environmental toxins. It starts when we wake up in the morning on a mattress that may be off gassing synthetic chemicals from the glue and flame retardant it contains, and continues when we step in the bathroom to get ready for the day and apply chemicals to our skin found in our shampoo, soap, shaving cream, facewash, toothpaste, makeup, and so many others products.
Soon after, we walk into the kitchen, grab a glass of tap water and pull something quick for breakfast out of the freezer — more toxic exposure from both of these things. Before heading out the door to get in our vehicle (which, by the way, introduces more toxicants into the air), we decide to give the kitchen counters a quick wipedown with a kitchen cleaner likely containing antibacterial agents and other chemicals — more toxicants. And we haven’t even made it outside of the house yet.
Fortunately, the body has several robust detoxification systems to help manage this ever-increasing toxic load that accompanies modern-day living.
In fact, you may have heard before that “you don’t need to detox, your liver and kidneys do that, even your gut too” — but if they’re not functioning optimally, they won’t be detoxing optimally either.
Supporting the health of these and the other detoxification systems in your body can help them to more effectively guard your health. Best of all? No juice cleanses or enemas required.
In this article, we’ll review:
- How exposure to environmental toxicants is unavoidable,
- The effect of environmental toxins on the body and their link to chronic disease,
- The body’s built-in detoxification systems and how to support them,
- The three phases of detoxification,
- If detox programs are worth considering,
- And some of the best supplements for detox support..
Exposure to Environmental Toxins Is Inevitable
We live in a toxic world — literally. The air we breathe is full of emissions from vehicles, agricultural pesticides and herbicides, microplastics, and manufacturing byproducts such as PFAS (forever chemicals). One recent study even found plastic particles the size of sesame seeds embedded in peoples’ lungs, from years of breathing in microplastics. 
The water we drink is contaminated with the same things, along with medications. Researchers have found that water systems all over the world can contain significant levels of various drugs — including statins, antipsychotics, caffeine, and even birth control. [2, 3, 4]
Most food contains ingredients that have been sprayed with pesticides like glyphosate, and some ingredients — like refined seed oils — could be considered toxins in and of themselves. 
Likewise, endocrine-disrupting per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been in use for nearly 100 years. If you use nonstick cookware, stain resistant clothing or furniture, waterproof makeup, or microwave popcorn – you’ve been exposed to toxic PFAS. Not to mention, it’s in paint too – so it’s truly nearly unavoidable. 
And all the products we use for personal grooming and cleaning our homes are laden with synthetic chemicals, too. Not to mention all the plastic we use.
Even unborn babies aren’t safe from this exposure — recent studies have shown that many of these chemicals can cross the placental barrier and become part of a baby’s prenatal environment. 
All that to say — exposure is inevitable. It is going to happen regardless, even if you move to the middle of nowhere, get rid of your car, and grow all your own food. And let’s be real — most of us aren’t in a position to do any of that. That’s why we’re sharing the most effective detox strategies in this post and future posts in our detox series.
Effects of Toxins on the Body, Leading to Chronic Disease
OK, so we’re exposed to a huge quantity and variety of toxic environmental compounds (known as toxicants if they’re synthetic, and toxins if they come from animals or plants) on a daily basis. Is that necessarily bad — or does it just sound bad?
Unfortunately, it’s a bad thing. Environmental toxicant exposure has been implicated in the development of several different chronic conditions and problems, like Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, obesity, endocrine diseases, diabetes, heart disease, and even infertility. [8, 9, 10, 11, 12]
At a cellular level, these toxicants can act as free radicals. These unstable compounds can overwhelm the cell, promoting mitochondrial dysfunction and eventually leading to cell dysfunction or death. This dysfunction is often accompanied by an inflammatory response, which can easily turn chronic if you’re experiencing widespread oxidative damage to your cells. Writ large, this can have an extreme impact on your health. 
Major Detoxification Systems of the Body
Detoxification is a body-wide, continuous process. It happens at a cellular level in nearly every type of cell your body makes, to some degree or another. However, there are a few key systems of detoxification. Here they are.
The liver is a major organ in detox, and probably the first one that comes to your mind when you think about the body’s detoxification systems.
It’s true, your liver is absolutely vital for detoxification. It plays a number of other roles too, like:
- Bile production
- Cholesterol and lipoprotein production (for fat transport)
- Conversion of glucose (sugar used for energy) to its storage form glycogen
- Storage of amino acids and nutrients for the body to use when needed
- Management of blood clotting
Healthy Liver Function
How does the liver detoxify?
First, nearly everything that enters your body is broken down and then travels through the bloodstream into your liver for processing.
The liver is able to transform these compounds into forms that are manageable to the body, typically by converting them from a water-soluble to a fat-soluble form. Other cells in the body can participate in this process as well, and it’s reviewed in more detail under the heading “Phases of Detoxification.” 
Once these compounds have been made water soluble, they can be excreted through the urine or sweat.
In unhealthy livers, such as those that have been damaged by alcohol or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, this process may not happen smoothly.
How to Support Healthy Liver Function and Detox the Liver Naturally
There’s no magic pill to detox the liver.
The absolute best thing you can do to support your liver’s detoxifying capacity — and its other functions — is to reduce your exposure to toxicants. Eating an organic diet that is low in added sugar and processed foods is one way to keep your liver functioning optimally, as it helps stave off fatty liver disease which can progress into more severe forms of liver disease. 
Some herbs — such as milk thistle and turmeric — may be helpful to detox the liver naturally as well. We also detail a number of supplements, including brand recommendations, that may be beneficial at the bottom of this post.
Your kidneys are responsible for transforming blood waste from the liver into urine, so that it can be excreted.
However, like the liver, this detox function is not the only thing it does. The kidneys are also responsible for red blood cell production, electrolyte and water balance, and the production of hormones that regulate bone health.
Healthy Kidney Function
The kidneys are composed of specialized cells called nephrons. Each nephron is equipped with a filter, known as the glomerulus, and a tubule that separates waste from blood. The blood re-enters circulation through the renal vein, and the waste (urine) is stored in the bladder until you urinate.
Without this vital process, wastes build up in the blood until they can eventually cause severe disease or death. This is why people in late stage kidney failure — with severely diminished kidney function — require dialysis. The dialysis machine takes over the role of the kidneys by filtering toxins from the blood.
How to Support Healthy Kidney Function and Detox the Kidneys Naturally
In addition to avoiding or at least limiting exposure to toxicants, one major step you can take to improve your kidney function and ensure optimal detoxification of waste in the blood is to stay well-hydrated.
While the amount of water each person needs is highly individualized, a good rule of thumb is to generally aim for urine that is clear or pale yellow in color. Another tool is to drink half your body weight in water daily.
The colon, or large intestine, isn’t typically thought of as a detoxification organ — but it is. After all, what is fecal matter except for waste that the body doesn’t need?
The colon also serves as the home of your gut microbiome, which has major and far-reaching effects on your overall health. It also serves as the absorption site for some vitamins — namely, vitamin K and the B vitamins, which are produced as a byproduct of colonic activity. 
Healthy Colon Function
Once material enters the large intestine, 90% of the nutrients have been absorbed. What is left is mostly fibrous or indigestible material, which can be partially digested by the gut bacteria, or waste products. Waste products that were transported to the digestive tract via the bile would be in this material. 
In the colon, any remaining nutrients and water are absorbed into the bloodstream, leaving only waste. It leaves the body when you have a bowel movement.
How to Support Healthy Colon Function and Detox the Colon Naturally
A lot can be said about how to support a healthy colon. For further reading, be sure to check out our cornerstone post on the gut microbiome and all of the related materials.
In short, it’s important to avoid foods and beverages that contain toxic ingredients that could harm your gut bacteria — like highly processed foods, omega-6 seed oils, artificial sweeteners, and wheat. [17, 18, 19, 20]
You can also support healthy colon function by taking probiotic supplements. We’ve included a recommendation for a detox-focused probiotic supplement at the bottom of this post.
Skin and Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that helps to manage fluid balance and immune health.
Its key role is to create antibody-producing white blood cells that are used by the immune system to fight off infection, but it also plays a role in detox. It can collect fluid from bodily tissues and direct it to the bloodstream, or have waste excreted through the sweat or through the breath.
However, unlike blood — which is pumped by the heart — there is no one muscle that serves as a lymphatic pump. Therefore, if there is limited lymphatic movement or drainage in your body, the lymph system may be serving as a significant toxin storage site. 
Healthy Skin and Lymphatic Function
Healthy lymph detoxification involves the transport of fluids (and wastes in the fluids) being transported through the bloodstream, to the liver, and then eventually to the kidneys where the waste can be filtered out and excreted as urine.
Alternatively, the lymphatic system also regulates sweat production. Your body is able to sweat out toxins through the skin, as well.
How to Support Healthy Skin and Lymphatic Function and Detox the Lymphatic System Naturally
To promote lymphatic drainage and movement, it’s important to exercise regularly. Researchers have found that exercise helps improve lymphatic function, even when not associated with weight loss. 
Dry brushing and sauna use are also thought to promote lymphatic drainage. 
Insert mention/link to LymphActiv supplement.
Likewise, it’s important to stay hydrated to make sure there is enough fluid circulating in your body for the lymph system to function optimally.
These four organs and systems comprise the major components of the body’s detox system.
Bottom Line? The best way to detoxify is to support your body’s natural detoxification systems by avoiding environmental toxicants as much as you can.
Phases of Detoxification
Detoxification is an ongoing, continuous process that occurs at the cellular level. Although there are major organ systems like the liver and kidneys involved, there are detoxification processes involved in each and every cell in the body that help to direct toxins and toxicants where they need to go to be properly disposed of.
There are three key phases of cellular detoxification.
Most toxicants are fat-soluble compounds. It is difficult for the body to get rid of these compounds on its own, because fat-soluble compounds build up in fat stores unless they are transformed.
That’s why Phase I of detoxification, also known as “functionalization,” involves the addition of an oxygen group to the compound — making it easier for the body to deal with.
Although this primarily occurs in the liver, there are several other cells that can transform toxicants into a more “usable” form that can be processed by the body. This includes digestive cells, kidney cells, lung cells, and brain cells. 
To use a fitting metaphor, imagine Phase 1 as bagging up the trash in a dirty room. You can’t get rid of the trash without first bagging it up — this is what makes it “functional.”
But the detox process is far from over at this point.
Phase II is known as “conjugation.” In this phase, a water-soluble group is added to the newly functionalized compound. This allows the compound to become water soluble, so it can travel through the bloodstream to be excreted through the kidneys as urine or the skin as sweat. 
In our metaphor, Phase II would be taking out the bagged trash and putting it in the outdoor trash bin — preparing it for elimination.
Phase III is the transport phase. In this phase, the water-soluble product is finally completely eliminated through the body. This elimination can occur through the kidneys via urination, through the bile which is eventually disposed of in fecal matter, or through sweat.
In Phase III, the trash truck arrives to completely remove all of the trash from your home.
However, it’s important to remember that this process is continuously occurring at the cellular level in your body. Your body is constantly undergoing all three phases of detoxification — as new toxicants are introduced, processed, and eliminated.
Detox Programs, Cleanses, and Juice Fasts
You’ve probably seen or even tried products that claim to help your body detox, like supplements, juice fasts, colon cleanses, detox teas or other detox drinks, or programs. While there are some supplements that can legitimately support your body’s detoxification systems (we’ll discuss them in the next section), things like detox cleanses or juice fasts generally aren’t a good idea.
Can Detoxing Cause Flu Like Symptoms?
In many cases, following a temporary detox program can actually be detrimental. These detoxes have the ability to “overwhelm” your body with Phase I functionalization reactions.
This is a problem because — while the toxicants themselves are somewhat inert — once functionalization happens then these toxicants can affect your health. If there are too many functionalized toxicants in the body for all of them to be detoxified in a timely manner, this can cause cellular damage. 
Additionally, strict detox programs may leave you feeling fatigued or dehydrated, which can give you flu-like symptoms. Dehydration, in particular, may also affect your body’s ability to complete Phase III. With dehydration, your body will hold on to fluids whenever possible. This leads to another problem…
Toxins Get Reabsorbed or Redistributed
Phase III elimination is completed thanks to the water-solubility of toxicants that have been through Phase I and II. They are eliminated via urine, feces, or sweat.
However, if you are dehydrated, your body holds on to these fluids — you may not urinate, defecate, or sweat as much as you would otherwise. That means that your body isn’t able to release these compounds.
In that case, the toxicants are likely to be reabsorbed and redistributed throughout the body, extending the reach of their negative effects on your cells.
For this reason, we advise avoiding extreme detoxification cleanses or juice fasts.
The best detox “program” is to adopt a lifestyle that you don’t have to detox from — one that’s much lower in environmental toxicants.
Supplements to Support the Body’s Natural Detoxification
With all these phases and all these systems involved, you can see where it may be easy for your body’s detoxing capabilities to become compromised — especially if it is already overwhelmed by a high toxic load.
We’ve included some supplements below that may be helpful for detoxification support, along with our recommendations for specific products below:
- Glutathione: Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that can directly neutralize free radicals itself, help activate other antioxidant enzymes, and promote mitochondrial health. It’s also one of the compounds involved in Phase II detoxification, as it helps transform toxicants into a water soluble form. Our favorite glutathione is the liposomal Glutathione Complex from Cymbiotika. 
- Touroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA): TUDCA is a bile acid from bears that offers powerful cytoprotective (cell protective) effects, like reducing oxidative stress and cell death — leading to reductions in inflammation. Recent research indicates that it can protect liver cells, pancreatic cells, brain cells and more from excessive damage. We recommend Cellcore’s Advanced TUDCA. [25, 26, 27, 28]
- Binders: Binders are just what they sound like. These supplements are composed of ingredients that bind with toxins and toxicants in the digestive tract to prevent them from being absorbed into your bloodstream. Cellcore’s BioToxin Binder is our favorite.
- NRF2 activators: NRF2 is a regulator of your cellular defense against oxidation and liver toxicity, and a key player in Phase II detoxification. Sulforaphane is one of the most potent NRF2 activators. We like BioImmersion’s Glucosinolates & Sulforaphanes because it’s a rich source of sulforaphanes and sulforaphane precursors from broccoli sprouts .
- Probiotics: Many environmental toxins and toxicants are introduced through the gut — for instance, any that are in foods, drinks, or medications. So optimizing gut health with a strong, balanced microbiome is one way to help limit toxin absorption into the bloodstream. Microbiome Labs MegaMetalliciQ is a probiotic supplement that contains unique strains that bind to metals and toxins to keep them from absorbing into your body. Megasporebiotic, also from Microbiome Labs, has been shown to have significant hepato(liver)-protective qualities.
- Lymphatic support: To support lymphatic flow and drainage, we also like Cellcore’s LymphActiv — which contains detoxification-supporting botanicals including astragalus root, rhubarb, and slippery elm.
- Glyphosate detoxification: If you’re concerned about glyphosate detoxification, we are also fans of GlyphoDetox by EcoNugenics. This supplement also helps to block glyphosate storage in the body, in addition to detoxification.
For a comprehensive liver support and detoxification supplement, we also recommend EcoNugenics’ EcoDetox.
Proper detoxification is more important than ever with all of the environmental toxicants we are exposed to today. While, yes, this is the job of your liver and kidneys — it’s important to support your body’s natural detoxing capabilities by limiting your exposure to toxicants as much as you’re able to.
This could include an overhaul of your diet, the personal care and cleaning products you use, and more. However, it’s worth it to do because these modern toxicants have been linked to so many chronic diseases and issues.
There are also a number of ways to support your body’s detoxification systems through targeted, purposeful detox supplements such as glutathione, TUDCA, and toxin binders.
We also have a collection of resources to help you reduce your family’s toxic load. We recommend starting with our Clean Living Guide, which details all of our favorite non-toxic alternatives to common household cleaners, personal care products, and more.