by Dr. Bill Rawls
There are all sorts of popular beliefs out there about detoxification, probably the top three being that it’s complicated, it’s expensive, and 10 days of detoxing will do the trick.
None of these things are true.
Admittedly, the physiological process of detox is complicated—experts don’t fully understand all the intricacies of the body’s natural mechanisms for removing toxins—but what you need to do to help optimize the process is surprisingly simple. It definitely doesn’t require any expensive treatments or products. And it takes more than 10 days. In fact, it’s something that should be a natural, everyday part of life.
Don’t let that discourage you. Many of the habits for effective detoxing are enjoyable, and the benefits—more energy, a stronger immune system, faster recovery from chronic illness, and simply feeling better overall—are immeasurable.
Detoxing the body is a process of three basic steps:
- Minimizing the inflow of toxins.
- Agitating the toxins.
- Maximizing the outflow of toxins.
Here’s everything you need to know, step by step.
Step 1: Minimize toxic inflow
This is a pretty straightforward concept: The fewer toxins you take into your body, the fewer you have to worry about getting rid of. That means you have to understand and recognize the sources, and there are actually four different toxic categories:
Toxins: These are substances of biologic origin that are poisonous to living cells or organisms. They can come from external sources, such as stinging insects, venomous animals, or plants like poison ivy. Or, from internal sources, such as mycotoxins from mold you ingest or inhale, endotoxins from bacterial die off (also called a Herxheimer reaction), and exotoxins from soil bacteria (anthrax and botulinum toxin). Exposure to external toxins is rare and not worth worrying about; internal ones are more common, and definitely worth getting rid of.
Toxicants: We can blame humankind for this category. Toxicants are man-made substances that are generally poisonous to living cells or organisms. Top examples are petroleum and petroleum byproducts, plastics and chemicals used to make plastics, byproducts from the chemical industry, and coal mining byproducts (heavy metals and organic toxins).
Xenobiotics: Humans play a primary role in xenobiotics, too. These are foreign chemical substances that affect biological pathways that are not naturally produced by an organism, or they’re found in higher concentrations than normal. This includes pesticides and herbicides in agriculture, nicotine in tobacco products, pharmaceuticals that make their way into our food and water supplies, hormonally active chemicals used to create plastics (phthalates, BPA), and excessive concentrations of phytoestrogens found in supplements.
Poisons: Any substance that’s capable of causing death or grave illness in a living organism is a poison. Toxins, toxicants, and xenobiotics are all potential poisons.
As we consider how to slow the inflow of these toxic substances, it’s helpful to break it down into the three different ways they can enter our body—oral consumption, breathing them in, and absorption through the skin—and address them one by one.
How to Limit Oral Toxins
Avoid processed foods.
Processed food products not only add toxic substances such as artificial preservatives and colors, they also disrupt the body’s ability to remove toxins. A diet for promoting optimal detoxification should mostly include foods from fresh natural sources.
Reduce meat consumption, especially from large animals.
Pesticides and herbicides present in animal feed, along with hormones used in the livestock industry, concentrate in the fatty tissues of animals. The larger the animal, the higher the toxin load — beef, pork, and dairy have the highest concentrations.
Cook your food thoroughly.
It reduces both natural toxins and potentially toxic microbes. For meat, that means cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165°; 160° for beef, pork, lamb, and game.
Strive for a goal of 75% organic food.
I know buying organic isn’t always possible, but when you can, focus most on the so-called Dirty Dozen from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). These are the top 12 fruits and vegetables they’ve found are often laden with pesticides:
- Bell peppers
The EWG also has the Clean Fifteen, a list of produce that’s less likely to be contaminated with pesticide residue, so organic isn’t as necessary. The Clean Fifteen includes:
- Sweet corn
- Frozen sweet peas
- Honeydew melon
Respect prescription drugs.
They are useful and important, but at the same time, they’re therapeutically dosed toxins. If prescription drug therapy is indicated for you, talk with your healthcare provider about using the lowest dose possible to achieve the desired result.
Drink filtered or ionized alkaline water.
Filtered water is free of most toxins and contaminants, and should be part of any detox plan. Reverse osmosis water filter systems are the most effective for removing toxins from tap water; ionized alkaline water is one step better.
Water helps flush your system and carry away toxins. How much you need depends on how much you sweat and breathe. The best gauge for your hydration level is your urine color: lemonade color is just the right amount; completely clear is excessive hydration; and the color of apple juice is a sign of not having enough hydration. And don’t overlook vegetables and fruit as a very significant source of hydration: By weight, vegetables and fruit are approximately 70 percent water.
Minimize or eliminate alcohol.
Alcohol is toxic and should be avoided while recovering from any sort of chronic illness. Your body just can’t handle any toxic substances when you are ill. If you drink regularly, wean off slowly.
How to Limit Inhaled Toxins
Enjoy clean outdoor air.
Hopefully you already live in a location known for clean air and supporting clean air legislation. If not (and you can’t move), be mindful of smog alerts and times of day when it is not a good idea to spend time outdoors. If you exercise outside, do so in the early morning when the air is clearest. Also, take vacations as frequently as possible to clean air locales.
Do some forest bathing.
Which is another way of saying, take a walk in the woods. For one, the air around forests, open water, and waterfalls is saturated with negative ions, which are charged particles with extra electrons. Air saturated with negative ions has been associated with enhanced immune system functions and improved sense of wellbeing. Oppositely, urban air and indoor air is typically saturated with positive ions, which have the opposite effect.
What’s more, Japanese researchers found that spending time in a pine forest increased natural killer cells, boosted immune functions, reduced anxiety and depression, and improved sense of wellbeing. Isolated essential oil extracts from the trees used in indoor spaces had the same effect.
Detox your home and workplace.
Most people spend more time indoors than outdoors, and high quality indoor air is fairly easy to maintain. Some simple things that can help:
- Self-contained free-standing HEPA air filters for individual rooms are very effective for cleaning indoor air.
- Though not yet well researched, negative ion generators may provide similar benefits to being outside. If you’re considering a negative ion generator, look for an ozone-free device.
- Diffusing essential oils containing citrus and pine may provide similar benefits as spending time in a pine forest.
- Choose natural cleaners such as baking soda, white vinegar, and ammonia over chemical-filled ones. Avoid using sprayed pesticides for crawling pests; use traps and solid baits instead.
- The back of the throat is actually a great barometer for airborne toxins. A scratchy throat in the absence of a viral infection often indicates the presence of threatening toxins in the air.
Address musty odors.
It’s a sign of mold and mildew, which are true health hazards: They can compromise immune function, especially in people whose immune status is already impaired, and they’re associated with sinus and respiratory infections and chronic fatigue.
If the source of mold can be located and eliminated, great. If not, call a professional and do whatever it takes to eradicate the mold problem. Visible signs of mold are often hidden, but a stale, musty smell is a dead giveaway. Moist environments such as bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms often harbor mold, but mold can be embedded in walls and ceilings of any room in the house. Some steps you can take include:
- Placing a small dehumidifier in problem areas such as bathrooms to remove moisture.
- Cleaning moldy surfaces with chlorine-containing cleaners (chlorine is a toxin to you as well as mold; wear gloves and a chemical-filtering mask during application and air the room until the chlorine smell is gone before using).
- Diffusing essential oils, such as clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, or rosemary. It can help reduce the odor and mold spores present, but generally will not eradicate the mold problem.
This one should go without saying. And keep in mind that vapor e-cigs have not been cleared as toxin free, either, and a new report suggests they can cause nicotine addiction.
How to Limit Toxin Absorption
Be choosy about personal care products.
Seek out cosmetics and other skin and personal care products that are derived from natural sources. The EWG can be your guide here as well; they regularly post lists of safe skin care products.
If you’re using toxic chemicals, wear gloves and a mask with a chemical filter.
Minimize radiation exposure.
In the modern world, we are constantly exposed to artificial electromagnetic radiation in the form of radio waves, microwaves, and radiation from electrical devices such as computers and cell phones. Eliminating exposure is impossible, but here are some ways you can significantly reduce it:
- If possible, avoid living near cell phone towers, radio towers, or large electric power grids.
- Use shields for your laptop (I use DefenderPad for mine), desktops, and cell phones to help block the radiation they admit.
- Use remote wireless headsets and car speaker/microphone kits whenever possible, and text instead of talk (except while you’re driving, of course).
- Don’t sleep next to your cell phone or carry it in a pocket with close contact to your skin.
- If you live in a high-risk area for radon gas, have your home tested, and install a mitigation system if necessary.
- Limit your direct sun exposure to 20-30 minutes several days a week (this helps you get enough vitamin D). The rest of the time, cover up with clothing and sunscreen that’s free of possible carcinogens (again, the EWG is your friend).
Step 2: Agitate the toxins
This sounds kind of funny, but I don’t literally mean you have to annoy your toxins. In this case, agitation means getting your blood pumping and systems moving to help mobilize toxins so they’re easier to evacuate. There are two great ways to do this.
Moving your body increases blood flow, which helps pull toxins from tissues. It also helps you break a sweat, which has long been known as an efficient way to remove some types of toxins such as heavy metals from the body. As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
Hit the sauna.
If you can’t exercise (or you want to go beyond your fitness routine), sauna is an age-old way to heat up and activate the body and induce sweating. Far infrared sauna in particular is one of the best ways to remove heavy metals from the body, thanks to its longer wavelength and ability to better penetrate the body’s soft tissue.
Step 3: Maximize toxic outflow
Once you’ve got your internal toxins mobilized, there’s a lot you can do to help your body shuttle them out of your body more effectively.
Eat vegetables and fruit.
The fiber in vegetables is essential for binding neutralized toxins and actually removing them from the body. Aim to make at least 50 percent of your diet fresh vegetables, preferably steamed or raw. (Fruits have the same beneficial fiber, but limit your intake to less than 15 percent because of their sugar).
Certain vegetables stand out as being particularly beneficial for detoxification. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables enhance the ability of the liver to neutralize toxins, especially estrogen-like toxins. Onions and garlic provide antimicrobial properties that neutralize “bad” bacteria in the gut and promote growth of friendly bacteria. Asparagus is the highest known source of glutathione, a potent antioxidant that is essential for detoxification.
Get plenty of rest.
The body detoxifies most efficiently when it can focus all resources on removing toxins—as in, when you’re asleep. Strive for at least 7-8 hours of restful sleep every night.
Excessive stress inhibits detoxification, so any detox plan should include effective stress management strategies. Practicing yoga, qigong, and/or tai chi promotes relaxation and enhances the detoxification process.
Choose the right supplements.
Many natural supplements support detoxification, but be choosy about those marketed as “detox” products. The vast majority have potent laxatives, which flush “bad” bacteria that get built up in the colon from eating processed foods. And while this may make you feel better in the moment, it does little to remove toxins from the body. As soon you return to your old eating habits, the bad bacteria make a comeback. In particular, avoid detox products containing either senna or cascara, natural laxatives that can damage the colon.
Instead, here are some supplements I do recommend for safe and effective detox support:
- Chlorella: This fresh-water algae is an excellent source of chlorophyll, a pigment that’s primarily effective for removing organic toxins (but less so for heavy metals). Chlorella is also nutrient dense, with a high concentration of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. Look for Chlorella pyrenoidosa, which is the best strain for detoxing.
- Milk thistle, dandelion, and andrographis: All three help protect the liver during detoxification and enhance bile flow, which flushes neutralized toxins into the intestines for removal. The liver is the main organ responsible for detoxification, and loss of liver function over time is a primary factor in aging and disease.
- Resveratrol and turmeric: Both support normal liver function; resveratrol (from Japanese knotweed) also enhances optimal vascular and immune function.
- Probiotics: These “good” bacteria can help you overcome gut microbiome imbalance caused by eating processed food. They’re found naturally in yogurt and other fermented foods, but often not at high enough levels; supplemental doses are more effective at restoring bacterial balance in the intestinal tract.
- Red root: Taking this short-term can help clear lymphatics and endotoxins. (Don’t take red root if you’re pregnant or at risk for blood clots.)
If this seems like a lot, don’t panic. The good news is, you don’t have to accomplish all of this in 10 days! Remember, your body is always detoxing on its own, so anything you do to enhance the process is additive and can help optimize the process. Be conscious about toxins entering the body, and proactive about exercising, balancing stress, and eating great food, and these things will become detoxifying habits that serve you for life.
Dr. Rawls is a physician who overcame Lyme disease through natural herbal therapy. You can learn more about Lyme disease in Dr. Rawls’ new best selling book, Unlocking Lyme.
You can also learn about Dr. Rawls’ personal journey in overcoming Lyme disease and fibromyalgia in his popular blog post, My Chronic Lyme Journey.