The Chemistry of Detox

Your liver and kidneys are the powerhouses of your body’s innate detoxification system. However, everything from your lungs to your digestive tract to your skin also filters out toxins and captures nutrients. The problem is that our toxin-heavy world can overwhelm our poor detox organs. When we do detox, it may not be long before we’ve accidentally ingested another round of harmful chemicals.

The best course of action is a good defense: keeping your skin, digestive tract, liver, and kidneys nice and healthy. But if you can’t wait for nature to take its course or you want to lighten the load, there are ways to accelerate these natural defenses. Here’s how.

Which Toxins Linger in the Body?

While many synthetic chemicals in household products cause endocrine disruption, potential carcinogenic effects, and more, they thankfully tend to leave the body quickly. Common culprits such as parabens are quickly converted by enzymes in the skin, and the metabolites are expelled in urine. So, after you stop using products with these ingredients, your blood levels of parabens and phthalates should drop.

Unfortunately, some toxins stick around for years. Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” are now found in most Americans’ blood serum. The good news is that levels of the main contaminants perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have declined since these substances were phased out. However, their persistence in our organs is alarming. And because thousands of PFAS continue to be used but are less studied, PFAS exposure remains a significant public health concern.

Heavy metals are another toxin that accumulates in the body. Some are beneficial, such as zinc, manganese, and iron, but in excess levels can cause organ damage. And many, including lead, cadmium, and mercury, are toxic even in small doses. For example, lead causes significant developmental delays and nervous system damage, and its permissible level is a mere 0.1mg/liter. By contrast, up to 15 mg/l of zinc is permissible and even helpful.

As a general rule, fat-soluble toxins are more likely to accumulate in the body — as are fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). “Fat-soluble” means that the substance does not dissolve in water but instead binds to dietary fats. This moves throughout your body as lipids, meaning it can appear in multiple organ systems or be stored in adipose tissue.

Common fat-soluble toxins include:

  • Perchloroethylene (dry cleaning chemicals)
  • Fluoride (toothpaste, water)
  • Flame Retardants (furniture, baby toys, crib bedding), especially polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
  • Diesel

So, how can you help your body get rid of these toxins? You can give your liver and kidneys a boost with these supplements.

Supplements to Promote Detox

Vitamin C

Known for its immunity-boosting powers, vitamin C is also able to bind to many toxins. This vitamin is water-soluble, so it’s difficult to overdose. For that reason, you must consume a lot of vitamin C to achieve a flush. Be aware that vitamin C detox ends in diarrhea, so be sure to stay hydrated.


Algae for detox? Absolutely. Spirulina has been shown to extract arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals from the body, as well as bad cholesterol. It’s also a fantastic source of B vitamins, protein, and iron. Plus, it contains phycocyanin, which eliminates free radicals and reduces inflammation. It’s no wonder spirulina is often called a superfood.


This is one of the liver’s strongest detox chemicals. As we age, our levels of glutathione decline. Worse, it breaks down easily, potentially before it has a chance to do its job. By taking glutathione supplements, you can enhance your liver’s ability to snare and expel toxins. Glutathione also neutralizes free radicals, giving it some extra antioxidant benefits.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)

ALA is an antioxidant that keeps your mitochondria chugging along, and it also protects your kidneys from free radicals. Strong kidneys are effective kidneys!

Milk thistle

Your liver deserves some protection, too, and that’s what this potent herb provides. Used for centuries as a natural detox remedy, milk thistle helps both your liver and gallbladder better process and remove toxins. Not only that, it can block toxins from entering sensitive cells, allowing the liver’s metabolic pathways to effectively shoo them out of the body.

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)

Medical professionals use NAC to bind to acetaminophen in cases of overdose, so you know it’s good for extracting toxins. Derived from L-cysteine, which creates proteins in cells, NAC is also a known antioxidant.

Bonus: Consume More Fiber!

While not technically a dietary supplement, fiber is vital to your natural detox defenses. First, it feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which helps them break down your food while keeping harmful microbes in check. Second, fiber supports the production of bile, which absorbs heavy metals, chemicals, and parasites. Bile then sends these toxins out of the body through the colon.

But if you’re low on fiber, the toxins can’t be expelled as easily, so they eventually return to the liver. And if the liver is overloaded, the toxins get dumped into the bloodstream, where they’re more likely to be transferred into adipose tissue.

So, make sure you’re regular: consume plenty of fiber. If you’re struggling to keep your bowels moving, try a magnesium supplement, which both absorbs toxins and acts as a natural laxative. (As always, be sure to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!)

Another option is psyllium husk, a traditional laxative from ancient Indian and Chinese medicine. Plus, it reduces high cholesterol and clears out toxins.

Wrapping Up

Countless health fads have pushed mysterious and sometimes dangerous detox solutions. While it is possible to consume specific foods or supplements to rid your body of toxins, always check your facts. Remember that water-soluble toxins or those applied to the skin are quickly metabolized and expelled. The best way to detox from those is to stop using products that contain them.

For detox from heavy metals, PBDEs, and other lingering chemicals, you must empower your organs to effectively do their job. Many supplements derived from your natural anti-inflammatory and metabolic processes can help. There are also some excellent gifts from Mother Nature that bind to toxins and facilitate their excretion.

In sum: eat well, limit your exposure, and give your organs a boost rather than overload them. A healthy gut, regular bowel movements, and antioxidants are all critical for expelling toxins from your body — avoiding their awful effects and allowing you to live a cleaner, happier life.

This article is inspired by an interview with Louise Swartswalter, a naturopathic doctor, Beautiful Balanced Brain Expert, owner of Albuquerque Natural Health Center, and creator of the B.R.A.I.N. System.

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