By Michelle Simon, PhD, ND

This time of year it seems every health magazine and website is reminding you it’s time to detox. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing—we could all stand to shed some toxins—but a lot of the detox programs you’ll see recommended are intense. Not only do they take a serious commitment to deprivation, they can also be so extreme that they are counterproductive or even dangerous.

You can reap the benefits of a detox without getting in over your head. In fact, your body is already participating in a robust detox without your help. Everyday your liver removes waste and toxins from the blood, your kidneys filter toxins and flush them out through the bladder, your intestines expel waste through the colon after absorbing essential vitamins and minerals from food, your lungs disperse carbon dioxide from the blood into the atmosphere, and your skin eliminates toxins through perspiration.

These organs are detoxification powerhouses, but they need your support. When you don’t get enough fiber, or when you take in toxins faster than your organs can fend them off, it’s easy to get depleted. Adjusting your diet, lifestyle and environment to make elimination more effective replenishes your organs—and is a boon to vitality. A moderate detox that you can integrate into your lifestyle consistently can help you step into the new year with a renewed source of energy—feeling lighter, clearer, and stronger.

Our ever-increasing chemical load

These days, the working conditions for our livers are, at a minimum, strained, as they are forced to detoxify and process the increasing quantity of chemicals and additives in modern foods.

Our exposure is significant: Since 1979, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reviewed submissions for more than 39,000 new shutterstock_188402957chemicals.[1] And many of those chemicals are finding their ways into our homes. A 2012 Environmental Working Group (EWG) report found that more than 2,000 cleaning supplies on the American market contain substances linked to serious health problems.[2]

The toxins are in our environment, too. According to a 2014 EPA report, more than 25 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were created through industry in one year. While the bulk of the toxins were recycled or treated, almost 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released or disposed of into the environment.[3]

Add that to the pesticides in our foods, the preservatives in our beauty products, and even the chemicals in the clothes we wear, and it’s no surprise these chemicals are showing up in our bodies. In fact, the EWG conducted a study and found almost 500 chemicals—ranging from lead to BPA to fire retardants—could be detected in human blood and urine.[4]

Health effects of toxic exposure

Overexposure to environmental toxins can upset the body’s delicate balance, throwing metabolism off, messing with our sleep rhythms, and even
making us more predisposed to diabetes.[5] For example, a study published in The Lancet found a correlation between insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes) and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the blood.[6]

BPA, which is found in plastics, canned foods and cash register receipts, can increase the risk of diabetes and cause weight gain.[7] Toxins trigger these reactions through numerous pathways, such as inflammation, oxidative stress, thyroid function, and impaired appetite regulation.[8],[9]

The chemical assault is practically unavoidable. What’s more, our bodies themselves are capable of creating toxins from within, from bad bacteria unable to be processed in the colon to the physiological effects of chronic stress and anxiety.

Whether our body absorbs too many environmental toxins, produces an excess of toxins in-house, or simply can’t keep up with the elimination process, it all boils down to a stagnant buildup of toxins. This traffic jam causes many chronic health complaints, including excess weight, fatigue, constipation, bloating, allergies, skin issues, and brain fog. Since very few of us can completely avoid toxins, we can all benefit from a detox that supplements our ability to eliminate them.

How to start a gentle detox

The first phase of a detox is to create a new baseline for your body. Before you even start to integrate the following seven detox tips, it will amplify the cleanse exponentially if you eliminate alcohol, sugar, caffeine and saturated fats. You can take a few weeks to taper off slowly, weaning yourself at a gradual pace that makes withdrawal less extreme than quitting cold turkey.

7 tips for making detox part of your lifestyle

  1. Amp up the fiber. Eating more fiber every day helps your bowel movements become more regular, minimizing the buildup of toxins. shutterstock_439719715Up to 50 grams daily helps bind and eliminate toxins such as mercury. A good starting point is at least 25 grams daily. Increases in dietary fiber intake should occur gradually.
  2. Hydrate responsibly. Water plays a crucial role in any detox, carrying nutrients to our cells, flushing toxins out, keeping our kidneys healthy and regulating our metabolism. One way to help you figure out how much water you need on a daily basis is to divide your current weight by two. That number equals the number of ounces you need to drink each day.
  3. Get supplement savvy. The body’s number one antioxidant for detoxing is glutathione, which the liver creates to bind to toxins. The best way to raise your glutathione levels is to supplement with the amino acid N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) which helps the body increase its glutathione production. (Excessive salt intake decreases glutathione production, so it’s also worth cutting back on sodium.) Other supplements helpful for cleansing are vitamins A, C, E, and B, as well as the mineral zinc and the superfood chlorella—both heavy lifters when it comes to removing metals and other pollutants from the body.
  4. Sweat it out. Exercise stimulates your lymphatic system, the body’s drainage mechanism for toxins. Plus, perspiration may be one of the shutterstock_136877474body’s preferred modes of elimination for certain toxins, such as phthalates and BPA, both chemicals found in plastics.[10],[11] All it takes is mild exercise for 20 minutes a day to sustain this two-pronged toxin purge.
  5. Make smart food choices. If you want to avoid pesticides all together, the best way is to opt for organic produce. Use the EWG’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists as guidelines. They rank the fruits and vegetables with the least and most pesticides.
  6. Get hot. And cold. And hot again. Exposing your body to alternating temperatures of hot and cold water “pumps” your circulation through cycles of dilation and restriction, thus flushing out toxins. You can do it in your shower or alternate a hot tub or sauna with a cool shower. If you are feeling very brave and live in a wintry climate, plunge into a snow bath between rounds of heat.
  7. Keep it clean. Conventional household cleaners are packed with environmental toxins that cumulatively become a serious health hazard. From phthalates in laundry detergent to chlorine in toilet bowl cleansers, be on high alert for what’s lurking in your cleaning products. Opt for environmentally safe brands or make your own out of vinegar and baking soda. Check out the Environmental Working Group website for a guide to healthy cleaning.


Keep these tips up as long as possible, but if you do regress, try to adjust slowly and deliberately, giving your body time to adapt. You will likely feel so much better while you are detoxing that it will become your preferred mode, with the payoff that comes from eating and living a clean lifestyle far outweighing the cost of indulgence.


MichellSimonIn her practice, Dr. Simon puts a strong focus on women’s health, preventative medicine and musculoskeletal health. She is also part of several organizations, including president of the Institute for Natural Medicine, director for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, director of Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute, member of the Washington State Health Technology Assessment Clinical Committee and co-director of the Communities in Need/Integrated Care Options Project of the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians.




[1] Statistics for the New Chemicals Review Program under TSCA. EPA website. Updated August 4, 2016. Accessed November 15, 2016.

[2] The Environmental Working Group Cleaning Supplies and Your Health. Accessed November 16, 2016.

[3] 2014 TRI National Analysis: Executive Summary. Updated on October 26, 2016. Accesses on November 16, 2016.

[4] Pollution in Minority Newborns: BPA And Other Cord Blood Pollutants. EWG website. Published November 23, 2009. Accessed November 16, 2016.

[5] Hyman M. Systems biology, toxins, obesity, and functional medicine. Altern Ther Health

Med. 2007;13(2):S134-S139.

Spiegel K, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet. 1999;354:1435-1439.

[6] Jones OA, Maguire ML, Griffin n JL. Environmental pollution and diabetes: a neglected association. Lancet. 2008;371(9609):287-288

[7] Todd Hagobian, Allison Smouse, Mikaela Streeter, Chloe Wurst, Andrew Schaffner, Suzanne Phelan. Randomized Intervention Trial to Decrease Bisphenol A Urine Concentrations in Women: Pilot Study. Journal of Women’s Health, 2016; DOI: 10.1089/jwh.2016.5746

Lang IA, Galloway TS, Scarlett A, et al. Association of urinary bisphenol A concentration
with medical disorders and laboratory abnormalities in adults. JAMA. 2008;300(11):1303-1310.

[8] Hyman M. Systems biology, toxins, obesity, and functional medicine. Altern Ther Health

Med. 2007;13(2):S134-S139. 

[9] Chen JQ, Brown TR, Russo J. Regulation of energy metabolism pathways by estrogens and estrogenic chemicals and potential implications in obesity associated with increased exposure to endocrine disruptors. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009;1793(7):1128-1143.

[10] Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Lobo RA, Birkholz D. Human elimination of phthalate compounds: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. ScientificWorldJournal. 2012;2012:615068.

[11] Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Birkholz D, Lobo RA. Human excretion of bisphenol A: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:185731.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.