Natural Medicine with Dr. Monique

By on September 17, 2014

Part 2: Banishing toxins from within



Dr. Monique Lai is a local natural health expert.

Dr. Monique Lai is a local natural health expert.


A good definition of detoxification is the removal of toxic substances from the body. My last column described how to avoid ingesting many everyday toxins, but today we’re going to work on the ones inside. If our bodies are functioning well, we can handle a certain level of toxicity, but keeping the toxic load on your system to a minimum is a smart lifetime practice. The organs of elimination, collectively known as the emunctories – the bowels, liver, lungs, skin, lymph and kidneys – are how we get rid of these toxins in your system.


The sequence in which one approaches detoxification is critical. It is important to have normally functioning bowels, kidneys, skin, lungs and lymph before detoxing the liver. Many of my patients want to begin with liver detox, but doing so prior to restoring normal bowel function can cause you to reabsorb toxins. Not good. If you are doing a detox and you feel worse, this reabsorption phenomenon may be to blame.

Let’s begin with the gastrointestinal tract and bowel function. Digestion is an amazing team effort on the part of many of your organs. It works in stages, beginning in your mouth. Like your mother always said, chew your food! The enzyme amylase, found in your saliva, breaks down starch. Swallowing that chewed food passes it though the esophagus into your stomach, where you produce hydrochloric acid, pepsin and gastric intrinsic factor, all of which break down proteins, minerals and B vitamins.

The duodenum, the first part of your small intestine, is where your gallbladder dumps bile, from the liver, which aids in the emulsification of fats. The pancreas also excretes enzymes into the duodenum, which digest proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

The small intestine is where the absorption of food nutrients takes place. The large intestine is responsible for reabsorption of water and electrolytes. You know how everyone’s always saying to stay hydrated? This is where that happens. It also stores the stool until it is eliminated.

Extreme variations in your bowel movements are a good reason to see your doctor. Some often-chronic abnormal functions are:

Constipation, which means not having a bowel movement every day. If you are constipated you are reabsorbing toxins that your body should be getting rid of.

Gastric Acid Reflux, which is the backward flow of acid into the esophagus. Naturopathic physicians like me believe this is due to eating the wrong foods and, though it seems counter-intuitive, possibly not producing enough acid.

Diarrhea or loose stool, which can be caused by inflammation or bacterial imbalances.

Gas and bloating, which can accompany any of the above or can be the sole indicator of indigestion and/or bacterial imbalances.

One concept that has not been widely accepted by mainstream medicine is the concept of “leaky gut.” The gut is designed to be permeable to small molecules. When it becomes permeable to larger molecules, you have a leaky gut. The combination of a leaky gut and a detoxification program can be the reabsorption of the toxic substances I described earlier. Again, this is why healthy normal digestive function is necessary prior to liver detox.

Depending on your symptoms, some of the nutrients that can be effective in relieving abnormalities and restoring digestive function include fiber, magnesium, slippery elm, aloe, and probiotic. Eliminating certain foods can also be effective.

Now let’s discuss the kidneys, lymph, skin and lungs. Having good kidney function requires hydration. Half your body weight in ounces of water is a good daily goal. Your lymph removes waste from the cells. Skin brushing, bouncing on a trampoline, herbs and homeopathic all move the lymph.

The skin is our largest organ and sweating is important to detoxification. The use of saunas, exercise, skin brushing, body scrubs and clay masks are helpful to detox though the skin. Detoxification through the lungs is done by breathing. Meditation helps, as does breathing hard through exercise.

Once your emunctories are ship-shape, it will be time for detoxing your liver, the topic of the next column.

Monique Lai, ND, is a naturopathic doctor and natural health expert with a family practice in Jackson Hole.



About Dr. Monique Lai

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