Tips for Daily Detoxing
By Molly Knudsen, MS, RDN
If you’ve ever done a metabolic detox, you know how beneficial it can be to address unwanted changes in the immune system, generalized joint and muscle aches, brain fog, or a lack of energy. Sometimes, exactly what you need is a 10- or 28-day whole-self reset. But maybe you only need a whole-self reset once or twice a year since your body actually does a really good job of detoxifying itself. So what do you do for the other 300+ days of the year?
There are two main ways to help your body detox on the daily:
- Keep exposure to toxins and toxicants low
- Support the body’s natural detoxification pathways
Keep exposure to toxins & toxicants low
The fewer amount of toxins in your body, the less strain is placed on your body to eliminate them. Obvious enough. Right? You would think. But it turns out toxins can be pretty hard to avoid. The term toxins consists of a wide range of compounds including heavy metals, pesticides (synthetic and organic), and industrial chemicals (like polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs); in this article, where we talk about toxins, we’re referring both to toxins and toxicants.1,2 These toxins can be found throughout the environment, in food, and even in medications.
Let’s face it. It can be a toxic world. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are steps you can take as an individual to help keep the load of toxins you ingest at bay.
Wash all produce: Both conventional and organically grown produce carry some pesticide residue, although residue on organic produce can be notably lower.3 Washing produce under cold, running water for at least 30 seconds helps remove some, but not necessarily all, pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides that may be lingering.4 Washing produce is also important for food safety purposes, as it helps remove dirt and bacteria that may lead to foodborne illnesses.5
Choose glass over plastic: Plastic food storage containers, plastic baggies, and even plastic water bottles are known for containing two chemicals: bisphenol-A (BPA) and bisphenol-S (BPS).6 When plastic is heated, these chemicals can seep into the food or water.6 So skip warming food stored in a plastic container in the microwave (which will also completely melt the plastic) and leaving a full plastic water bottle in a car on a hot day. Instead opt for glass or stainless-steel food storage containers and heat foods in glass or microwave-safe containers.
Limit alcohol consumption: The liver, which is the body’s main detoxification organ, is also the main organ involved in the breakdown and elimination of alcohol.7 And the liver treats alcohol like a toxin. Because of that, the breakdown of alcohol gets preferential treatment over the breakdown of nutrients from food.7 So say that you have a cocktail with a healthy dinner such as salmon and Brussels sprouts. The liver’s first focus targets removing alcohol from the body, and only then can it begin its nutrient metabolism responsibilities. The more alcohol consumed, the more effort the liver has to make to remove it. But alcohol doesn’t need to be fully banished from the diet for good health. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that if alcohol is consumed (by someone of legal drinking age), it should be done in moderation.8 Moderate alcohol consumption equals one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.8 So drink wisely, and (as always) prioritize food first.
Support the body’s natural detoxification pathways
The second way to help your body detox daily is by promoting toxin elimination pathways. The liver, kidneys, and even the digestive system all work to remove toxins that have accumulated internally. Certain foods, nutrients, and lifestyle factors can help these pathways and systems run efficiently. Here’s what you can do daily to support the body’s natural detoxification system.
Get plenty of fiber: Fibers are nondigestible carbohydrates which have physiological effects that are beneficial to human health.9 Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are naturally high in fiber. Fiber plays an important role in gut or intestinal health, and prebiotic fibers help feed and spur the growth and activity the good bacteria that live in the gut.10 Fiber helps remove toxins that are bound in bile (a digestive juice made by the liver) and may even decrease the absorption of some toxins from the gut.11-13 Some fibers have even been shown to directly bind toxins, neutralizing the threat.13
Focus on sleep: Sleep is essential for every aspect of our health. While sleep may not play a direct role in detoxification pathways, it is definitely needed for optimal health. It’s recommended that adults get at least seven hours of sleep for optimal health, and getting enough sleep benefits the immune system, weight status, stress, and mood.14,15
Hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate: Toxins are mostly excreted in either urine or stool.16 And water makes up the majority of both of those outputs. Adequate hydration is needed for properly functioning kidneys and for softening stools (making them easier to pass).17 So grab that reusable water bottle and drink up to flush those toxins out of your body and down the toilet.
Eat foods with detox-supporting nutrients: Yep. Your heard it right. Some foods have specific nutrients or active compounds that play direct roles in detoxification pathways. While you don’t have to eat ALL of these foods every day, incorporating a few servings per week could be beneficial.
Pomegranates: These ruby-red seeds are packed with antioxidants, one of them being ellagic acid. Ellagic acid uses some of its antioxidant powers to protect the liver from oxidative stress and has even been shown to help excrete some harmful metals.18,19 Pomegranate seeds are great at adding color, texture, and nutrients to any meal or snack. Try sprinkling some pomegranate seeds on your morning oatmeal, tossing some in a salad, or adding them on top of a slice of avocado toast.
Broccoli and broccoli sprouts: These cruciferous vegetables are a main source of a sulfur-containing compound called glucoraphanin.19 Glucoraphanin is converted to its active form of sulforaphane in the body. And sulforaphane is known for its role in detoxification processes. Sulforaphane activates the body’s own detoxification enzymes and even activates glutathione, a powerful antioxidant produced by the body.20,21 Heat may disrupt the activation process to sulforaphane in the body or make the glucoraphanin less available, so raw broccoli (or lightly steamed) and broccoli sprouts are likely the best way to go for maximizing that glucoraphanin intake.22
Green tea: Green tea is chock-full of a class of antioxidant polyphenols called catechins. Most of the benefits of green tea consumption can be tied back to the drink’s catechin content, with one cup of tea containing anywhere between 100 and 200 milligrams of catechins.22 Green tea catechins may be protective against environmental insults due to their antioxidant capabilities and their involvement in liver detoxification pathways.23 Try replacing your second cup of coffee with green tea, using brewed green tea to cook oatmeal, or using matcha powder (a type of green tea leaf powder) in smoothies.
The bottom line
Detox is a daily practice. Your liver, kidneys, and even gut are continually in detox mode. While a whole-self reset may be beneficial every once in a while, these seemingly small tips listed here can really add up to lower your toxin burden. And the best part is… following these tips is beneficial for overall health as well. So the only question is, which one will you add to your routine first?
- Silkworth JB et al. Clin Chem. 1996;42:1345-1349.
- NIH. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Toxicology Defined. https://toxtutor.nlm.nih.gov/01-002.html. Accessed January 12, 2021.
- Brantsæter AL et al. Annu Rev Public Health. 2017;38:295–313.
- Krol WJ et al. Argic. Food Chem. 2000;48:4666-4670.
- Fruit and vegetable safety. Cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/steps-healthy-fruits-veggies.html. Accessed 8 December, 2020.
- Ben-Jonathan N et al. Endocrinology. 2016;157(4):1321–1323.
- Cederbaum AI. Clin Liver Dis. 2012;16(4):667-685.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. https://health.gov/our-work/food-and-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/. Published December 2015. Accessed November 24, 2020.
- Nutrition labeling of food. FDA Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Volume 2, Part 101. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=101.9&SearchTerm=nutrition%20label. Accessed December 19, 2019.
- Gibson GR et al. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017;14(8):491-502.
- Yen CH et al. Nutrition. 2011;27:445-450.
- Eliaz I et al. Phytother Res. 2006;20:859- 864.
- Zhang N et al. J Hazard Mater. 2011;186:236-239.
- Get enough sleep. Health.gov. https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/everyday-healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep. Updated October 15, 2020. Accessed December 8, 2020.
- Sleep and sleep disorders. CDC.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html. Accessed January 2020.
- Xu C et al. Arch Pharm Res. 2005;28:249-268.
- Popkin BM et al. Nutr Rev. 2010;68(8):439-458.
- Barch DH et al. Carcinogenesis. 1996;17:265-269.
- Ahmed S et al. Hum Exp Toxicol. 1999;18:691-698.
- Fahey JW et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1997;94(19):10367-10372.
- Kikuchi M. World J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(43):12457–12467.
- Yoshida K. World J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(35):10091–10103.
- Vermeulen M et al. J Angric Food Chem. 2008;56(22):10505-10509.
- Williams SN et al. Chem Biol Interact. 2000;128:211-229.
- Chen L et al. J Nutr Biochem. 2017;40:1-13.