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

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.

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, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following  initiatives:

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

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, 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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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

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Michelle Simon

Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.