How to Detox for Longevity

When people hear the word “detox,” they tend to think about rehab or fad diets rather than longevity and disease prevention.
But the liver, kidneys, lungs, skin, digestive, and lymph systems all play crucial roles in detoxification that, if overburdened, can result in a toxin overload that manifests in disease and a long list of symptoms ranging from lack of energy to weight gain, fluid retention, sluggishness, and menstrual problems. Toxins are also linked to heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and dementia (the main age-related diseases).
In the last century alone, more than eighty thousand chemicals have been introduced into our environment, inundating us with a constant deluge of air pollutants, pesticides, plastics, phthalates, flame retardants, herbicides, heavy metals, and more. Over time, these toxins can slowly accumulate as our natural detox systems are pushed beyond their limits, culminating in a tipping point of toxic overload that overwhelms the body and clogs our natural detoxification pathways.
So, how can we keep up with the constant inundation of toxins and prevent this buildup in our body?

How Detoxification Impacts Aging and Disease

The body has built-in detox systems to filter and remove toxins. The liver, kidneys, digestive system, skin, and lungs all play a crucial role in this process.

Liver: Transforms toxins into less harmful compounds through enzymatic processes and transforms fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble toxins that can be excreted.

Kidneys: Filter blood to remove waste products, which are then excreted in urine.

Digestive System: Eliminates toxins through feces, with a healthy gut microbiome playing a pivotal role in this process.
Skin and Lungs: Excrete toxins through sweat and exhalation.

In a healthy body, this process of detoxification runs smoothly; however, these systems have a limited capacity. So when the “total load” of toxins exceeds the body’s ability to detoxify, our systems can overflow like too much water pouring into a glass—triggering oxidative stress, DNA and mitochondrial damage, inflammation, and disrupted gut function, the primary drivers of accelerated aging and chronic disease.

In fact, studies have linked the intake of environmental toxins to everything from obesity, diabetes, and heart disease to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autoimmune disease and cancer.

A recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine has identified microplastics and nanoplastics as potential risk factors for cardiovascular disease, linking them to an increased risk of myocardial infarction, stroke, and death. Similarly, exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution has been linked to increased risks of Alzheimer’s disease, accelerated cognitive decline, dementia, and frailty.

Strategies to Support Detoxification

1. Stop adding to your cup. The fewer toxins we expose our bodies to, the better. Keep toxins out of your system by eliminating ultra-processed foods, sugars, starches, preservatives and additives that clog detox pathways. Consuming smaller fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines, and anchovies instead of larger fish that are higher in mercury will also reduce your exposure to heavy metals. (Fish to avoid include tuna, king mackerel, tilefish, shark, and swordfish.)

2. Follow EWG guidelines. The Environmental Working Group has helpful consumer guides you can reference to reduce your exposure to toxins in products like fragrances, cosmetics, and sunscreens.

3. Eat to boost detoxification. Diet plays a crucial role in supporting the body’s detoxification processes. Consuming foods rich in antioxidants, such as organic, non-starchy vegetables helps combat oxidative stress. Foods rich in glutathione (cauliflower, cabbage, kale, arugula, collards, kohlrabi, wasabi, garlic), folate, manganese, magnesium, zinc and selenium (leafy greens, legumes, and nuts and seeds like Brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds) also provide necessary cofactors to support your body’s detox mechanisms.

Choosing locally, sourced, organic foods whenever possible will also reduce exposure to harmful pesticides and provide richer sources of nutrients and phytochemicals.

4. Increase antioxidants and chelating foods. Spices and herbs that are rich in antioxidants, like turmeric, rosemary, cilantro, ginger, cinnamon and lemon peel, also support detoxification by counteracting oxidative stress—and green tea is a super detoxifier that’s not only rich in antioxidants but also supports the liver and kidneys and binds to or “chelates” heavy metals so they can be excreted from the body.

Other foods that support chelation are those that are rich in soluble fiber (chia seeds) and pectin (apples, carrots, oranges).

5. Sweat it out. Sweating is one of the most effective ways to detox, as many toxic elements are preferentially excreted through sweat. Studies have shown that sauna use is particularly effective at promoting the excretion of heavy metals and toxins, which may be a reason why frequent sauna use is associated with a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Sweating also increases circulation and body heat, which helps in the transport and elimination of toxins through the liver and kidneys. Engaging in activities that induce sweating also causes your body to burn fat for energy, which mobilizes stubborn fat-soluble toxins that are stored in fat cells and makes them water-soluble so you can sweat them out more easily.

6. Drink plenty of water. Adequate hydration is essential for supporting key pathways that expel toxins from the body. This includes both sweating and urination as well as the function of our liver, kidneys, cells, and digestive system. So aim for eight to ten glasses of clean, filtered water daily.

The key to detox is two-fold: avoid the bad stuff (e.g., toxins, heavy metals and pesticides) while giving your body enough of the good stuff it needs to support its natural detoxification pathways (e.g., frequent exercise, glutathione from cruciferous vegetables and amino acids from quality protein sources).



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