Elimination of Toxins
Toxins are defined as any substance or element that is toxic to the body. The environment today and normal cellular metabolism exposes the body to toxins. In order to maintain health, is it imperative that the body be able to handle the toxins and be able to adequately eliminate them. The body possesses primary and secondary routes of elimination which must be working optimally in order to avoid storage of toxins and prevent disease.
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Routes of Elimination
Some toxins are able to be directly excreted through the primary routes of elimination, others must first be transformed by the liver. Through a series of reaction, the liver is able to convert some toxins to a more water soluble form which will aid excretion in the urine, breathe or sweat. Other toxins are combined with bile to a fat soluble form to aid excretion via the bowels. Therefore, the liver plays a large role in conversion and detoxification of toxins and is a vital organ in the eliminatory process.
The primary routes of elimination all have direct access to the outside of the body. They are a transition point between normal bodily processing and excretion. Ensuring optimal function of all six primary routes is essential to health.
- Bowels This is a major route of elimination of toxins from the body. As food is ingested, it passes through the digestive tract and is continually broken down and nutrients are absorbed along the way. What the body cannot utilize is then eliminated in the stool. Toxins and waste are eliminated in the stool, thus protecting the body from toxic accumulation.
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- Bladder The main function of the bladder is to store and release urine. The complex urinary system filters blood through the kidneys as a means of maintaining homeostasis and physiological pH within the body. The urinary system is the primary system responsible for excretion of metabolic waste. Uric acid, from nucleic acid metabolism, and nitrogen, from protein breakdown, are the major metabolic bi-products excreted in the urine.
- Skin Elimination of toxins from the skin is achieved through sweating. Sweat stimulated by exercise, fever, environment (i.e. summer weather, saunas, steam room etc.) is a way for the body to rid itself of toxins which are stored in adipose or fat tissues.
- Breathing the lungs are responsible for the elimination of carbon dioxide with every breath. Carbon dioxide in a naturally occurring toxin in the body. Breathe is a major way for the body to maintain homeostasis. PH balance in the body is achieved through breathing and optimal kidney function.
- Voice the voice is an important way for the body to eliminate emotional toxins. The expression of true emotions and organic feelings through voice allows the body the opportunity to express and release emotions. The proper release of emotions whether positive or negative is an important part of detoxification and elimination for the body.
- Menses is a primary route of elimination for women. Monthly, women are awarded an additional opportunity to detoxify and eliminate toxins from the body. As blood and uterine lining are shed the body can eliminate unwanted waste. Dark, heavy painful menstruation is a sign of excess toxins in the system. Menstruation should be a natural, pain-free process that the body cycles through every 28 days.
Secondary routes of elimination are utilized when the primary routes are overburdened with toxins. The body attempts to shed unwanted toxins from the system by utilizing the secondary routes. Optimal functioning of all primary routes and minimal exposure will prevent the body from utilizing the secondary routes of elimination. Secondary routes of elimination include nasal discharge, coughing, ear wax, tears, hair, leucorrhea (excess vaginal secretions), phlegm, mucus or blood in stool, gas and flatulence and sneezing.
- Remove wastes and toxins
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- The elimination of toxins allows the body the opportunity to rid itself of waste and unnecessary harmful compounds. If toxins are left in the body they begin to accumulate and overtime disrupt the body’s natural physiological functioning and lead to disease.
- Toxin accumulation can also lead to the generation of free radicals. Free radicals are naturally occurring in the body, yet with the addition of toxins there is more generated which overtime can lead to harm. Free radicals are a highly reactive, extremely unstable chemical compound that cause tissue destruction by attacking protein, DNA and cell membranes. Excessive free radical damage leads to numerous degenerative conditions, advance aging and contribute to the development of cancer.
- Toxin build-up leads to inflammation in the body. This is an attempt from the body to rid itself of the unwanted toxin. Although inflammation can be protective for the body, chronic inflammation is quite destructive and leads to various degenerative conditions.
- Prevent chronic disease
- Health is maintained by ingestion and exposure to what is required for health and proper removal of what is not. If removal of toxins is impaired there is an increased risk for the development of chronic disease.
- As removal of toxins is impaired the body’s toxic burden increases. The higher the burden the more likely chronic disease is to set in.
- Toxins are typically acidic. A buildup of acid in the body can contribute to chronic disease.
- Support organ function
The organ systems of the body are designed to handle some naturally occurring metabolic and environmental toxins. The body however, is not prepared to handle the excess toxins that are present in today’s world. The need to support and encourage removal of toxins on an ongoing basis is necessary due to the increased number of toxins that each person is now exposed to in food, water, personal care products and our environment. For example, chronic exposure to airborne toxins can overburden the lungs and impede breathing causing increased mucus production from the nasal cavity. Chronic nasal discharge over time disrupts the ability of the nose to capture and eliminate inhaled toxins on an ongoing basis, thus decreasing the integrity and protective functioning of the mucous membranes.
- Nutrition Diet plays a large role in the body’s ability to eliminate toxins as well as minimizing exposure to toxins.
- Whole foods diet Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables and dietary fiber promotes decreased transit time in the colon which is essential to assist in the elimination of toxins through the bowels. Whole foods have a low toxin concentration and are better for all systems in the body. Processed, packaged foods contain more chemical compounds and substances that are difficult for the body to eliminate.
- Organic food decrease your exposure to toxins and put less stress on the body. If organic food is not an option, washing fruits and vegetables with water and a scrubbing brush can minimize exposure to pesticides, thus decreasing toxin exposure.
- Avoid canned goods canned goods unnecessarily exposure the body to chemicals and heavy metals. By decreasing the consumption of canned foods you can decrease the need to detoxify.
- Quantity water is a necessary component of every bodily function: digestion, absorption, circulation, lubrication, regulation, elimination and detoxification Adequate water intake allows toxins to be taken away from the cells and transported to the kidneys to be excreted.
- Quality of the water you drink is also important for proper elimination. By reducing exposure to toxins which are ingested through water one can take the stress off the organs of elimination. Properly filtered or spring water is important to decreased exposure. Having pipes tested by the city and replacing lead piping if they do exist is crucial as well.
- Breathing Toxins are naturally produced through breathe, in the form of carbon dioxide, which needs to be balanced with adequate oxygenation to maintain homeostasis in the body. Breathing high in the chest does not allow for optimal oxygenation of the lungs, which further will translate to lack of oxygenation to the tissues. Learning to breathe deeply into the lower lungs through diaphragmatic breathing is an essential part of proper oxygenation of tissues and toxin elimination.
- Air quality Although it may be difficult to minimize exposure to polluted air from urban centers, trying to decrease exposure time is important. Listening to ‘smog advisories’ on the news and minimizing time spent outdoors on days when air quality is poor is an essential component of minimizing exposure to toxins.
- Movement is an important part of eliminating toxins in the body.
- The lymph system, a unique system in the body, is the primary defense against pathogens and foreign bodies. The lympatic system, unlike the arterial system, does not have a pump to move fluid. Movement or muscle contractions are needed to stimulate the movement of lymphatic fluid. By engaging in movement the body is able to move lymph and allow for circulation within the body which will eventually find itself to the elimination organs. As the lymphatic system main role is to protect the body and remove bacteria and toxins, adequate movement is essential to its proper functioning. By not engaging in adequate movement the lymphatic fluid becomes stagnation and proper elimination cannot occur.
- As one engages in movement the circulatory system is forced to keep up with the demands on the body. This creates internal movement within the body which allows for mobilization and movement of toxins towards the organs of elimination.
- Lifestyle Living a health promoting lifestyle can help decrease exposure to toxins and help the body with elimination. Cigarettes, drugs and alcohol all put additional toxins in the body forcing the body to increase toxin elimination. Cigarette smoking increases oxidative stress increasing the number of free radicals in the system. This will burden the system forcing the body to use secondary elimination pathways. Alcohol and drugs are neutralized by the liver and eliminated via the stool which inevitable will put stress on these systems forcing the body to find alternate routes of elimination. Avoiding these behaviors will decrease the body’s exposure and help to support the natural elimination of toxins from the body.
- Mood and emotional state can play a large part in the ability to eliminate toxins. Pent up emotions can lead to feelings of toxicity, which is negatively impact the way the body detoxifies. Leading a stressful life with negative emotions predisposes the body to stagnation. Stagnation refers to the lack of internal movement. As internal movement is essential for elimination of toxins, negative emotions will negatively interfere with the body’s process of elimination. Holding onto emotions or not letting go of emotions will directly impact the function of the intestines. In Chinese medicine, the intestines are related to ‘mentally letting go’. If one is unable to release and express emotions the function of the intestines will be altered and the body will not be able to eliminate toxins. When trying to improve elimination it is imperative to calm the mind, let go of emotions and create a space for healing.
- Health status The presence of disease and one’s health status will affect the body’s ability to eliminate toxins. If any primary organs of elimination are diseased or not functioning optimally there will be impairment in the body’s ability to eliminate toxins. This will lead to excretion of toxins through the secondary organs of elimination. If the liver is impaired there will be a decrease in the conversion of toxins and an inability for them to be excreted. By addressing and treating the underlying cause of disease and eliminating any obstacles to cure the body will regain its normal function and be able to adequately process toxins.
- Personal care products Personal care products, such as cosmetics, perfumes, soaps etc. all contain a great deal of synthetic chemicals which can be toxic to the system. These toxins accumulate overtime in the body and put stress on the body. This added stress and amount of toxins can hinder the body’s ability to eliminate and detoxify. Using natural, chemical free personal care products can greatly decrease exposure and not overburden the routes of elimination.
- Environment The environment one lives in can play a large role in the ability to eliminate toxins. Living in a house with lead paint increases your exposure to toxins, thus stressing the system. Asbestos in the house can negatively impact lung functioning and impact elimination. Urban air quality can increase exposure and burden the lungs. Taking measures to minimize exposure in one’s direct environment is a beneficial way to decrease toxin burden. When it comes to toxin avoidance, every little bit helps.
- Drugs Prescription medications influence the body’s routes of elimination. As most drugs are converted to their active form by the liver, this requires adequate liver function to ensure that the drug is metabolized optimally. Upon conversion of the drug, elimination must occur either by the kidneys or the bowels. Prescription drugs add more toxins to the system which then need to be converted and eliminated, adding more stress to the body. In addition to the added stress, prescription drugs utilize some of the body’s defences to metabolize the drug. Glutathione the body’s most powerful antioxidant can become depleted by long-term prescription meds. As anti-oxidants are imperative to neutralizing free radicals, taking only the necessary prescription drugs and avoiding them whenever possible is a beneficial way to decrease exposure to toxins.
- Supplements In order to eliminate toxins from the system, the body needs certain vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are used as co-factors for many chemical reactions and processes the body uses to eliminate and convert toxins. Unfortunately, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables does not ensure adequate nutrient and vitamin absorption. Much of the soils have been depleted of nutrients, therefore there is less absorbed in the fruits and vegetables one consumes. Adequate supplementation is necessary to ensure the body has the right vitamins and minerals necessary to adequately eliminate toxins from the system.
If the body is unable or not allowed to adequately eliminate toxins disease can result. The progression of how the body eliminates toxins and how disease can result is as follows:
- Excretion phase This is the first phase in which the body’s elimination pathways are working well and the body will increase its elimination pathways to rid itself of toxins. Examples of excretion include: diarrhea, runny nose, sweating, tears, joint pain, heartburn, difficulty concentrating, increased urination etc.
- Inflammation phase if excretion was not enough in phase one or phase one was suppressed the body will mount an inflammatory reaction to help neutralize the toxins. Examples of inflammatory reactions include a fever,acne, meningitis, bronchitis, endocarditis, urinary tract infection, inflammation of the thyroid, acute infection, epicondylitis etc.
- Deposition phase if phase 1 and 2 were suppressed or not enough to eliminate all of the toxins or toxins continue to flow into the body deposition of toxins will occur in the extracellular space. This phase often occurs without symptoms.
- Impregnation phase once toxins have entered into the extracellular matrix of cells they become part of the connective tissue and matrix. Increasingly severe symptoms are typical in the stage and indicate organ damage. Examples of symptoms include: allergies, migraines, ringing in the ears, chronic rheumatoid arthritis, chronic bronchitis, heart failure, chronic urinary tract infection, metabolic syndrome, hyperthyroid, glucose intolerance, auto-immune disease, chronic infections etc.
- Degeneration phase Abundant toxins in the system destroy large groups of cells within an organ, leading to significant organ damage. Example of symptoms include: scleroderma, alzheimers, macular degeneration, anemia, fibrosis, type 1 diabetes, menopausal symptoms etc.
- Dedifferentiation phase This is the final and most destructive phase that will occur if toxins have not been able to be adequately eliminated. Illness results in undifferentiated cells. Cancers and malignant disease are characterized by this phase. Examples of disease include: leukemia, melanoma, bronchial carcinoma, thyroid cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer etc.
Each individual is unique in their ability to excrete toxins. It is important to assess the ability to eliminate toxins in the optimal physiological range versus what is common in society, as most individuals have impaired elimination.
- Liver function: Although the liver is not a primary route of elimination it is the primary organ of detoxification of the body and is tightly linked to the routes of elimination. Other toxins are combined with bile, from the liver, to a fat soluble form to then be excreted in the stool.
- Bowel movements: In order to adequately eliminate toxins through the bowels, one needs to have a bowel movement daily. Optimal is 2-3 bowel movements per day, unaided by laxatives, coffee or other stimulants. Ideally, bowel movements are easy to pass and involve no straining, blood or mucus in the stool. The characteristics of bowel movements is a stool that is medium brown in colour, fully formed yet loose in texture with no undigested food, pass with ease, do not break apart in the toilet, remain intact upon flushing and have the shape of a banana. Hard, pellet like stools or compacted fecal matter is a sign of constipation and poor elimination.
- Urinary function: women typically void 8 times a day, whereas men void only 7 times a day. Normal urine is slightly yellow, clear (not cloudy), odorless and one feels relieved upon finishing. Dark, concentrated, odorous urine is a sign that the body is overburdened with toxins. Note that some supplements, such as B vitamins, can change the color of the urine.
- Menstruation: A normal menstrual cycle is 28 days ending in a painless period. Flow lasting 4 to 7 days and around 2 tablespoons of blood shed is a sign of healthy elimination. Pains, clots in the flow, cramping, excessive or lack of bleeding and mood swings are all signs of imbalance and need to be addressed to ensure adequate elimination. If you notice particles in your menstrual flow, discharge or blood outside of normal menstrual bleeding talk to your ND.
- Skin Health: If elimination of any of the primary organs is not adequate, the skin is often the overflow route. Therefore assessing someone’s skin health gives information about all of the primary routes of elimination. Soft, clear and well hydrated skin is a sign of proper elimination. Adequate sweating when necessary and not overly oily skin are signs of good skin elimination. Acne, eczema, dry skin, oily skin etc. are all indication that poor elimination of toxins is occurring to one of the primary routes of elimination.
- Voice: Proper elimination of toxins through voice can be assessed by one’s ability to breathe and speak an octave. It also relates to a person's comfort in voicing their thoughts, emotions and opinions.
- Breath: The ability to take a full inhale and exhale is essential to proper toxin elimination. If breathing is impaired so is toxin removal.
The most important thing before beginning any treatment plan is to find the cause of imbalance. Once the root cause has been identified individualized naturopathic care can follow which addresses an individual’s unique needs.
- Colon support: colonics, fibre and hydrotherapy
- Skin support: sweating, dry skin brushing, rebounding and poultices.
- Lung support: steam inhalations, deep breathing and poultices over the lungs.
- Urinary support: Can be achieved with increased hydration, acupuncture and teas.
- Avoidance: Avoid exposure to all known toxins. Chemical, environmental, alcohol, tobacco can all unnecessarily add toxins to the system.
- Nutrition: Eating a whole foods diet can help decrease toxin exposure to the system. Avoid processed foods which contain unnecessary toxins. Also, eating a diet which is more alkalizing in nature can help decrease acid production in the system, decrease toxin load in the body.
- Exercise: is essential for adequate elimination. Sweating, lymphatic movement and increased metabolism all facilitate toxin removal.
- Rest: relaxation and adequate sleep are essential for proper organ function which is necessary for adequate removal of toxins.
Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about which personalized toxin elimination plan would be best for you. Laboratory tests can be run to determine exactly which toxin is burdening your system, followed by an individualized plan to aid elimination.
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