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Naturopathic Lesson 101: How the Body Detoxes and Rids Itself of Toxins and Waste

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The Institute for Natural Medicine is dedicated to sharing information related to the pervasiveness of toxins in our homes and environment and their growing impact on health. It’s also true that we have an inherent capacity for metabolizing external toxins, as well as ridding our bodies of more typical waste generated from normal bodily functions.  It happens through our emunctory system, which is critical to how the body detoxes and rids itself of toxins and waste. This article will help you appreciate and better understand what is commonly referred to as detox and how naturopathic medicine fits into this process. 

This system includes any organ or part of the body that processes waste and toxic materials and helps our bodies focus on other activities of digestion, absorption, immune function, thinking, feeling, and more. Emunctories have an important role to play in attaining and maintaining normal physiology

General elimination happens in many ways. Our primary emunctory efforts are through bowel movements, urination, deep breathing, and regular sweating and are discussed below. Subpar functioning in any of these areas can cause all manner of inflammation and illness. We do have secondary emunctory organs and systems that can be called upon as well, including, digestive organs, the lymphatic system, the prostate, and mucous membrane surfaces. If there is further disturbance at this level, inflammation may again be the result.

The processing of metabolic waste and exogenous toxins is something to pay attention to and optimize. As described elsewhere, we should reduce our environmental toxin exposure as much as possible and work to reduce its impact. And, ensuring that your emunctories are working well goes a long way to help detox from typical bodily wastes and from the day-to-day exposures we all have from living in our current environment. Here are some suggestions to help you ensure your emunctories are working well.

What can be done to relieve constipation?

Natural ways to support how the body detoxes and rids itself of toxins and waste.
Follow these guidelines for regular bowel movements.
  1. If you are chronically constipated, here are some natural and lifestyle approaches to consider: Exercise is central, especially the aerobic part. Even a half hour a day walk counts. More is better.
  2. If the issue is the nervous system innervation of the rectum, where stool sits but the urge to go is minimal or lost, add in long-held Kegel exercises, where you squeeze the muscles in that area as best you can and hold for 5-10 seconds or so and release. This is one way to try and “wake up” the muscles related to the bowel. No need to do it while on the toilet. But consider sets of 8-10 Kegels 3-4x through the day. For some people, additional pelvic floor exercises, or working with a pelvic floor specialist will be indicated, especially if the area has been compromised for some time and/or if from surgery or radiation.
  3. Sit on the toilet with the feet raised 8-10 inches on a small box or bench which puts the rectum in a better position to help facilitate bowel movements.
  4. Make time each day to sit on the toilet with something to read or listen to that is relaxing. In the rush of everyday life, some ignore the natural urge to go, and then it becomes lost. Try for the same time every day, perhaps a time you might tend to move your bowels.
  5. Take in a high fiber diet including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Two tablespoons a day of ground flax seeds works like a charm for some people. 
  6. Adequate hydration is essential. Drink half your weight in ounces a day to support regular elimination. Use herbal teas or diluted fruit juices to help bump up your fluid intake. 
  7. Avoid foods you know are constipating for you including cheese, bread, pasta, and certain refined carbohydrates like pretzels, crackers, and cookies, with the exception of those made with high fiber and whole grain ingredients.
  8. Botanical medicines and other foods can be used as stool softeners. Ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, potable aloe vera juice, and psyllium husks are some tried-and-true items to address constipation.
  9. Nutritional supplements like magnesium can help with chronic constipation along with probiotics. 
  10. For occasional constipation, consider 2 prunes in water with the juice of half a lemon. Place it in the fridge overnight; in the morning, pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or heat on the stove top. Eat the prunes; drink the water. 

What can be done to improve urination?

Natural ways to support how the body detoxes and rids itself of toxins and waste.
Kidney health is important to keeping your body well.
  1. Drink enough fluids to keep your urine pale yellow. 
  2. Your kidneys, which are central to your amazing blood filtrations system, are somewhat delicate. Other illnesses impact kidney function, especially diabetes, as it can narrow the microcirculation in general and specifically to the kidney. Working to keep blood sugars in a normal range is important for optimal kidney function. If you are already prediabetic or diabetic, consider working with an ND, there is much natural medicine can offer
  3. Chronic hypertension puts a strain on the kidneys, too, so using natural medicine approaches can help.  
  4. Smoking has a variety of negative impacts on health, high among them is its impact on blood vessels, which causes reduced blood flow through your whole body, including to your kidneys. The American Lung Association offers free and comprehensive support for smoking cessation, and it’s never too late to quit.  
  5. Limit the amount of over-the-counter, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medication you take. There is help for many of the conditions that lead to overuse of NSAIDs like migraine and chronic pain. This is important because NSAIDs can cause kidney damage, which reduces the positive emunctory efforts of that organ system.
  6. If you have chronic bladder infections, work with a licensed ND to help prevent and treat naturally.
Experience the benefits of personalized natural healthcare with a trusted, licensed naturopathic doctor in your area.
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Experience the benefits of personalized natural healthcare with a trusted, licensed naturopathic doctor in your area.
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Other ways to support how the body detoxes and rids itself of toxins and waste.

Natural ways to support how the body detoxes and rids itself of toxins and waste.
Dry body brushing helps release toxins
  1. Your lungs work in a beautiful way to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide and other waste gasses not needed by your body. 
  2. Take time each day for even a few minutes to do deep breathing. It helps clear the mind, relax the body, and support the lungs’ natural capacity for detox. If you struggle with asthma, COPD, or other ailments impacting your ability to breathe deeply and easily, consider working with a licensed naturopathic doctor for approaches that work alongside conventional care and respiratory therapy exercises.  Again, smoking negatively impacts lung function and is directly responsible for many, though not all, cases of lung cancer. Smoking cessation is not easy, but there are tools to help. (See above.)
  3. If you rarely  sweat, even when you exercise, you are losing out on another way to release toxins and typical physiologic waste. You might benefit from dry body brushing to bring the circulation to the surface of your skin, which can encourage perspiration. It feels stimulating and ultimately, relaxing. Use a vegetable fiber brush, and brush in small circles from the extremities toward the heart.  Remember your skin is your largest organ of elimination, so you may as well get it working on your behalf. Also consider regular radiant heat or far infrared sauna to help with encouraging perspiration. Regular sauna use is associated with many health benefits. Sauna is contraindicated ( not good for)  pregnant women and those with lymphedema.
  4. Exploring and processing physical and psychological trauma or just the bad, sad, and difficult emotions you may have, may also help rid yourself of unwanted negative feelings and energy. Tidying up the mind, taking stock of what to be grateful for, taking time to understand yourself, and prioritizing things important to you and letting go of others are all part of the process of clearing out internal “emotional waste.”

Supporting the inborn capacity for metabolizing typical bodily waste and those toxins we are exposed to makes good sense. It helps with overall health and creates an optimal internal environment. Now that you know the word emunctory, you can give thanks to the ways your body works and take steps toward supporting these impressive natural efforts.

This article is provided by

The Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. INM’s mission is to transform health care in the United States by increasing public awareness of natural medicine and access to naturopathic doctors. Naturopathic medicine, with its person-centered principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness overwhelming healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain optimal lifelong health. INM strives to fulfil this mission through the following initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of evidence-based natural medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research on this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

About The Author(s)

Guest Author

Amy Rothenberg ND, DHANP

Dr. Rothenberg is a contributor to INM and practicing licensed naturopathic doctor in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dr. Rothenberg is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 2017 Physician of the Year. Dr. Rothenberg’s writing can be found on NaturalMed.org, Better Nutrition’s Naturopathic Health Hub, Medium, Thrive Global, and The Huff Post. She is the proud mother of 3 adult children.

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