by Stephanie Eckelkamp
The idea of detoxing may be somewhat controversial (especially since many of those popular detox teas on the market are actually just glorified laxatives) — but the truth is, your body’s natural detoxification mechanisms could probably use a hand, particularly if you’re already burdened with a chronic ailment such as Lyme disease and coinfections.
Several bodily systems and organs help dispose of toxins that might otherwise harm you. These include the lymphatic system, a network of tissues, organs, and fluids that transport immune cells through the body and collect and transport waste, and the liver and kidneys, your major detox organs that filter toxins and turn them into a form that can be expelled via urine and stool.
But humans are exposed to more toxin sources than ever before (from pesticides to fire retardants to mold), and our bodies can’t always keep up. These toxins can damage cells and interfere with normal cellular functioning, and they’ve been linked to a range of health issues. Due to the sheer pervasiveness of toxins, incorporating sustainable detox practices is smart for just about anyone — but for people with chronic Lyme, it’s crucial for supporting recovery and curbing symptoms. Here’s why:
- Lyme-causing microbes trigger inflammation and other processes that put your cells into a state of heightened stress, impairing cellular functioning. And when you add toxins to the mix, the result is more cellular stress, which worsens symptoms and impairs healing.
- Chronic illnesses like Lyme congest the lymphatic system due to the increased presence of microbes and pathogen-fighting white blood cells, slowing the flow of lymph fluid, causing it — and the toxins and waste it contains — to build up.
- When you kill off Lyme bacteria with antibiotics or herbs, parts of dead bacteria known as endotoxins are shed. These circulating toxins then trigger a whole-body inflammatory (Herxheimer) reaction that temporarily worsens symptoms.
Bottom line: Optimizing detoxification from multiple angles is a great idea for Lyme recovery and long-term health. But we get it: When you’re sick, you don’t have the energy for complicated protocols — so we’ve created a five-week plan featuring one new detox habit per week. The idea is to acclimate to each before moving on to the next. Bonus: No juicing required!
Week 1: Stay Hydrated and Support Liver Function with Lemon Water + Herbal Teas.
Staying hydrated is key for detoxification. Drinking enough water — ideally filtered to remove environmental toxins — helps improve the flow of lymph through the body, thereby promoting the filtration and removal of waste via the lymphatic system and kidneys. It also promotes regular bowel movements, a primary route for toxins to exit the body. Pro tip: Drink enough water so that your urine is a pale lemonade color, advises Dr. Bill Rawls, MD, Medical Director of RawlsMD and Vital Plan. Darker may equal dehydration.
To boost the detox benefits of water even further:
- Add a squeeze of fresh lemon: Lemon juice stimulates the liver’s excretion of bile, which plays a crucial role in phase 3 of the body’s detox process by flushing neutralized toxins into the intestines for removal via stool. Despite being acidic, lemon also has an alkalizing effect on the body, which may help reduce herxing.
- Brew it into an herbal tea: Dr. Rawls recommends several teas to support detox and liver health: Dandelion stimulates bile flow, ginger tea soothes the intestinal tract, and rooibos, honeybush, green, and black teas contain polyphenol antioxidants shown to reverse oxidative damage from by mold mycotoxins.
Week 2: Dry Brush for 5 minutes Before You Shower.
Dry brushing your skin with a natural bristle brush is a simple strategy to improve lymph flow and drainage and help flush out toxins — and it only takes about five minutes to do your whole body. The brushing motion on the skin contracts the tissues, which helps push fluid through the lymphatic system, says Dr. Rawls.
Here’s how to do it: With a light touch, use short upward strokes to gently brush the skin on your abdomen, thighs, calves, feet, arms, and hands — always brushing in the direction of the nearest major concentration of lymph nodes (e.g., the armpit, groin, collarbone, etc.).
Bonus tip: Shower after dry brushing, alternating between blasts of hot and cold water. This expands and constricts lymph vessels to further support lymph flow and detox.
Week 3: Swap One Meal (or Snack) for a Green Smoothie.
To optimize detox, green veggies should be a dietary staple. One of the easiest ways to get your fill is with a green smoothie. Blend this up: At least two types of greens (spinach, kale, even broccoli), fiber-rich berries, avocado, hemp seeds, unsweetened protein powder, a squeeze of alkalinizing lemon, half a banana for sweetness (optional), and a liquid of your choice. Not into smoothies? Add a green veggie to every meal, or try a creamy green detox soup.
Not only do green veggies provide fiber, which helps trap and clear toxins in your colon, so they don’t get reabsorbed, but they’re also a great source of chlorophyll — a green pigment with antioxidant and toxin-binding properties. Even better, cruciferous green veggies (e.g., broccoli, arugula, bok choy, collard greens, etc.) offer the extra perk of sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates, which help prompt the liver to produce detoxifying enzymes.
Week 4: Bookend Your Days with Stretching + Breathwork.
Stretches like shoulder shrugs, neck rotations, and bent knee fall outs (all described here) promote body movements that boost the flow of lymph through our system, thereby supporting the removal of waste and toxins. Yes, intense exercise increases lymph flow, too, but these gentle moves can be done on even your most debilitating Lyme days.
For added benefit, pair your stretches with deep breathing: Take a deep, long breath through the nose, hold briefly, then exhale slowly through the mouth. This counters stress, which normally impairs detoxification, and initiates muscle contractions that move lymphatic fluid, says Dr. Rawls.
In the morning, this combo of stretching and breathwork can help gently limber you up for the day’s activities. At night, it can relieve tension, calm the body and mind, and promote quality sleep — which is critical since your body detoxes most efficiently when resting.
Week 5: Add In Strategic Detox + Liver-Support Supplements.
While healthy lifestyle and dietary practices are foundations for proper detoxification, it’s not always enough when dealing with Lyme — and supplements may provide extra support. Two of Dr. Rawls’ favorites: Milk thistle and chlorella.
Milk thistle is the most widely researched herb for liver support, promoting healthy bile flow and containing a concentrated dose of a compound called silymarin, a powerful antioxidant. Milk thistle has been shown to protect liver cell membranes from damage (which can occur when toxic substances are metabolized) and increase levels of the antioxidant glutathione, which is needed to make several detox enzymes.
A freshwater green algae, chlorella comes in tablet and powdered form, which can be added to smoothies. Its extremely high chlorophyll content allows it to bind to toxins in the GI tract (e.g., dioxins, herbicides, pesticides, and possibly mycotoxins), allowing them to be excreted rather than stored. Chlorella also contains a wealth of nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and enzymes, which can be beneficial for Lyme recovery and for people with gut issues.
With Lyme, there’s an increased need for detox support — but quick fix protocols won’t do much for long-term health, and complicated plans are tough to stick with. But gradually implementing the strategies above helps you make detox a seamless part of your daily routine, so in a little over a month, you’re effortlessly supporting this vital process from multiple angles.
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