Detox is a trendy term, and “cleansing” regimens abound. But many of them go about it the wrong way. That could leave you feeling worse than when you started.
But that approach to detox could backfire. You need to support your body’s pathways for toxin elimination first. That helps you effectively remove toxins from your body.
Think of your body as a vast city. Each house is like one of your cells. What if every homeowner took the garbage out, yet the trash was never collected? It would pile up and create problems.
The same thing could happen in your body. If you start pulling toxins out, but there’s no place for them to go, they pile up. And that could heighten the very symptoms you’re trying to improve.
For this reason, an effective regimen for detox starts with drainage.
Ahead, you’ll learn about the drainage funnel — the order in which your body moves fluids to remove toxins. You’ll also get a clearer understanding of why it’s so important to have your drainage pathways open before ramping up detox.
Keep the following graphic of the drainage funnel in mind as you read:
Your large intestine or colon is at the bottom of the drainage funnel. If your colon is backed up, everything upstream from it can become backed up as well. That can happen when you’re constipated.
Constipation is like a waste processing plant in your city that doesn’t empty its tanks. Similarly, if you try to force upstream detox when the outflow isn’t moving, issues will arise.
So you need to poop regularly. That makes room for wastes and toxins that are upstream to flow downward for elimination via your stools.
If you are trying to detox and restore your health, you need to poop two or three times a day. That doesn’t mean watery stools but gentle elimination without straining.
Here's some ways to support regular elimination:
Take herbs for bowel health: Certain herbs help stimulate the movement of your gut contents. That helps combat constipation. (3, 4)
Consume plenty of fiber: Fiber bulks up your stools, making elimination easier. Good sources of fiber in a healthy diet are fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and other plant-based foods. (5)
Use binders: Binders can help remove toxins from the body to promote a healthier microbiome. That could encourage regular elimination as well. (6, 7, 8, 9)
- Get regular physical activity: To help combat constipation, move your body regularly. Even gentle forms of exercise, such as walking and qigong, may help. (10)
- Stay hydrated: A shortfall in your fluid intake could contribute to constipation. Be sure to drink plenty of water and other healthy beverages. (11)
If you’ve had a long history of significant constipation, you’re initially looking for progress — not necessarily perfection. It may require addressing other factors, such as parasites, to resolve constipation fully. Tackling those critters comes a little later in your detox regimen.
Liver and Bile Ducts
Just above your colon in the drainage funnel are your liver and bile ducts. Your liver is like the reservoirs that collect the wastewater from the entire town, separating the water and wastes. Then the water can be cleaned and sent back to the houses for reuse.
Your liver filters toxins from your blood and processes them for elimination. These are then deposited in your bile.
The bile is released through the common bile duct into your small intestine during digestion. Some of the bile is caught up in your stools and eliminated. That helps lower your toxin level. (12)
Overall, it’s a good system. But sometimes harmful factors disrupt it.
Blocked bile ducts
Just like the drains in your home can get clogged, so can your bile ducts. As a result, toxins and bile acids can stagnate and accumulate in your liver, potentially damaging the organ. (13, 14, 15, 16)
On top of that, stagnation breeds sickness. If you’re not moving toxins out efficiently, they can contribute to chronic illness. (16)
Several factors can lead to bile duct inflammation, damage, narrowing, and blockages. Some of these triggers include:
- Pathogens: Some hepatitis and herpes infections can cause bile duct inflammation and the destruction of bile ducts. (17)
- Parasites: Parasitic worms — including Ascaris lumbricoides (a roundworm) and Fasciola hepatica (a liver fluke) — can obstruct your bile ducts. (18)
- Bacteria: Several types of bacteria, including Klebsiella and Pseudomonas, may invade your bile ducts. This can lead to inflammation and obstruction of these tubes. (17)
- Toxins: Glyphosate and other chemical toxins can trigger reduced bile production and flow, according to animal studies. Do what you can right now to limit your toxin exposure, including choosing organic foods more often. (19)
- Drugs: Certain antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and antidepressants — among several other types of drugs — can disrupt bile flow. (20, 21, 22, 23)
- Excess estrogen: Increased estrogen levels, such as from birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy, may increase your risk of gallstones. And those can lead to bile duct blockages. (24, 25, 26)
Sometimes the inflammation and scarring caused by the above factors result in dysfunction of your sphincter of Oddi.
Sphincter of Oddi malfunction
You have a muscular valve called the sphincter of Oddi that controls the release of bile into your small intestine. Its unusual name comes from a medical student, Ruggero Oddi. He identified the valve back in the late 1800s. (27)
Not only can scarring interfere with this valve, but so can a shortfall of thyroxine (T4). That’s a thyroid hormone. But it doesn’t just work on your thyroid gland. Thyroxine also triggers the sphincter of Oddi to relax. That enables bile to flow through. (28, 29, 30)
If you don’t have enough thyroxine — such as in hypothyroidism — the sphincter of Oddi may not open when it should. As a result, toxins and bile acids could back up in your liver and bile ducts. (28, 31)
Hypothyroidism may increase your risk of gallstones as well. When bile isn’t moving as it should, the cholesterol in it becomes more concentrated. When that happens, it’s more likely to crystallize and form stones. (28, 32)
So, how can you prevent such glitches in this vital part of your drainage funnel?
Promoting liver and bile duct drainage
You want to avoid toxins building up in your liver and bile ducts. Ways you can aid this part of your drainage funnel include:
- Liver and kidney herbs: Certain herbs may enhance liver and kidney function. (33, 34, 35, 36)
- Zinc: This crucial trace mineral supports liver detoxification. Zinc may also help protect your liver cells from damage. (12, 37)
- Minerals: Other minerals, such as selenium and magnesium, also support liver detoxification. (12, 38)
- Coffee enemas: These are an age-old tool for liver detox. A coffee enema could encourage your bile ducts to dilate, supporting the release of bile. (39)
Backflow Pathways: When Your Liver Is Clogged
Where does the toxin-laden bile go if your liver and bile ducts are backed up? If it can’t flow down through the drainage funnel, it could flow out into your tissues and organs instead. That could lead to uncomfortable symptoms and may damage other organs. (40, 41)
And in your skin, bile acids can trigger pruritus. That’s itchy and inflamed skin. This may be due in part to the activation of mast cells. Those are immune cells that release histamine, which can cause itching. (41, 45, 46, 47)
If you are experiencing these symptoms, you may think you should jump to liver support. But make sure you’re pooping first. Then when you start moving bile, it will have somewhere to go.
The next step up in your drainage funnel is your lymphatic system. Though sometimes overlooked, it’s of vital importance. Your lymphatic system includes a network of vessels that drain fluids from your body tissues.
Your blood vessels “leak” fluid into your tissues — several liters a day. One of your lymphatic system’s jobs is to collect the fluid and return it to your blood. But first, your lymph nodes filter out pathogens, bacteria, and toxins so your immune cells can deal with them. (48)
Unfortunately, your lymph doesn’t always flow as much as needed. Unlike your cardiovascular system, your lymph has no pump pushing it where it needs to go. (48)
Poor lymphatic movement results in tissue swelling. If you’ve ever had fluid buildup in your ankles, you know what this lymph stagnation is like. (49)
Sluggish lymph movement is also linked to increased cellulite, as the lymph can get “stuck” in fat tissue. Cellulite is the lumpy, dimply skin you may get on your thighs, hips, butt, and abdomen. This is particularly common in women. (50, 51)
How’s that for an incentive to get your lymph moving?
Here's some ways you can support the lymphatic portion of your drainage funnel:
- Herbs: Certain herbs support lymphatic flow or promote lymphatic system function in other ways. (52, 53)
- Movement: Physical activity, such as going for a walk, helps move lymph. Because there’s no pump for your lymphatic system, a key way the fluid moves is by your muscles contracting. (54)
- Massage: You can also move your lymph by getting a lymphatic massage. And in the Ayurvedic tradition, a dry brushing self-massage technique is thought to help move lymph. That involves using a stiff brush to stroke your skin toward your heart. (55, 56)
- Sauna: Sitting in a far-infrared sauna “warms up” your lymphatic fluid and helps get it flowing better. Start with just a few minutes and build up your time slowly. (57)
Organs and Tissues
Above your lymphatic system in the drainage funnel are your organs and tissues. Your brain is a key focus here. It doesn’t have a true lymphatic system. Instead, it clears cellular wastes and fluids from your brain through the glymphatic system. (58)
Sounds very efficient, doesn’t it? The caveat is that waste removal in your brain mainly happens when you sleep. During the day, your brain is busy processing information, so garbage collection is a low priority. (61, 62)
Adequate sleep is the best way to support this part of your drainage funnel. Sleep is like fuel for all those little garbage trucks in your brain. Possible signs that your brain isn’t draining well are brain fog, headaches, and memory issues. (60, 62, 63)
So support your brain’s glymphatic drainage by getting enough sleep. Most experts recommend at least seven hours of sleep per night. (64)
Your cells are at the very top of the drainage funnel. Cells are like houses in a city. Each home has waste products from tubs, toilets, and trash cans. Your cells have toxins and other wastes they need to get rid of too.
Some of the wastes or toxins your cells accumulate come from external sources. These include air pollutants, heavy metals, mycotoxins, and pesticides. These toxins may cause mitochondrial dysfunction, so you need to get rid of them. (65)
Your mitochondria generate the energy needed to support detoxification. They also play a role in immune defense and DNA repair. So, you need them working well to support your detox journey — and to reduce your risk of disease. (66, 67, 68, 69)
But remember, the solution isn’t to push the detoxification of contaminants the first day of your detox journey. If all the drainage pathways described above aren’t flowing, ramping up detox isn’t wise.
Upregulating detox without first supporting drainage would be like setting out your garbage several days before your neighborhood’s trash collection on a hot summer day. The waste would sit and stagnate, stinking up the community.
So you have to lay the right groundwork to start detoxing and healing at the cellular level. That means you need to tackle the drainage funnel from the bottom up, which ultimately impacts your cells.
To further support your cells, consider taking carbon-driven nutrients. These help support mitochondrial function. That promotes your mitochondria’s ability to supply energy for drainage and detox. Just remember to go slow when starting mitochondrial support.
Stagnation Breeds Sickness
If your health is less than optimal, you’re on the right track to detox. As toxins stagnate in your body, they could wreak havoc clear down to the cellular level. And that could lead to dysfunction and disease. Remember, stagnation breeds sickness.
When you have constipation, a clogged liver, and sluggish lymph, you can’t detox well. If any of these areas are stagnant or clogged prior to detoxification, you risk toxins being reabsorbed into your bloodstream and traveling to other organs. This has the potential to cause serious damage to your health in the long run.
To promote your body’s elimination of toxins, start with drainage. That includes taking these actions:
- Make sure you are pooping 2–3 times a day
- Get your bile flowing
- Maintain normal sphincter of Oddi function
- Move your lymph with supportive herbs
- Support energy and mitochondrial function with carbon-driven nutrients
If you nurture all parts of the drainage funnel, you’ll be better equipped for deeper cleansing.
What part of the drainage funnel do you need to get flowing?