Toxins are everywhere. Car exhaust, secondhand smoke, flame retardants, plastic packaging, heavy metals, pesticides, BPA-coated receipts… Unless you’re living in virgin forest, you’re going to come into contact with some less-than-optimal chemicals pretty much every day.
That’s definitely no reason to panic. In fact, small doses of toxins may be good for you because of a phenomenon called hormesis – mild stress makes your cells work more efficiently. However, your body can have trouble clearing certain toxins. You eliminate most of the bisphenol-A (BPA) and other plastics you ingest, but a small percentage hides away in your fat cells, messing with your hormones and accumulating over time. It’s the same deal with several mold toxins, heavy metals like lead, nickel, cadmium, mercury, and aluminum, and with certain pharmaceuticals and drugs like THC.
A good detox protocol can help you eliminate these more stubborn toxins. The trouble is that many common detoxes don’t work. Juice and water cleanses, for example, are often actually counterproductive because they deprive your body of essential nutrients it needs to function. That said, there are a few genuine ways to detox.
Because so many toxins stay in your fat cells, one way to detox is through lipolysis – breaking down your fat cells and releasing the hard-to-reach toxins stored within them. Lipolysis is especially effective when you combine it with liver and kidney support or adsorbents that can suck up the released toxins. This article focuses on all of the above. Let’s start with saunas.
1) Sauna sessions
Sweating does more than cool you off. It also helps you get rid of both heavy metals and xenobiotics – foreign compounds like plastics and petrochemicals – in small but significant amounts. A 2012 review of 50 studies found that sweating removes lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury, especially in people with high heavy metal toxicity . Another study put participants in both traditional and infrared saunas and found similar results . Sweating also eliminates hormone-disrupting BPA, which accumulates in your fat cells .
There’s debate about the best kind of sauna for detoxification. A couple studies have shown that infrared saunas are the most effective for detoxing, but the research was funded by infrared sauna companies, so the results are questionable. Both traditional and infrared saunas are effective for detoxing . That said, I prefer infrared saunas for a few reasons:
They don’t get as hot. Traditional saunas heat the air around you, while infrared light penetrates and heats your tissue directly. You sweat in an infrared sauna at around 130-150 degrees instead of at 180-200 degrees, so you can stay in for longer without feeling like you’re going to pass out. I’ve done 2-hour infrared sauna sessions (drinking salt water the whole time to replenish electrolytes and fluids, of course).
They’re easier on your electric bill. Again, infrared saunas require less energy, especially if you get a sauna that reflects infrared light back on you. This one, for example, costs about 15 cents an hour to run.
I personally use a Sunlighten infrared sauna and love it. If you don’t want to buy an infrared sauna and there isn’t one around you, a standard sauna will work perfectly well . There’s probably one in your local gym.
Keep in mind that sweating pulls electrolytes and trace minerals from your body, so it’s important to drink a lot of fluids and get plenty of salt (preferably Himalayan pink salt or another mineral-rich natural salt) if you’re going to use a sauna to detox .
Exercise is another way to flush toxins from your body, and through more than just making you sweat. Exercise increases lipolysis (the breakdown of fat tissue), releasing toxins stored in your fat tissue. Studies show that people who exercise and lose body fat end up with higher levels of circulating hormone disruptors . Increasing lipolysis through diet does the same thing .
Mobilizing toxins isn’t necessarily a good thing, particularly if you’re unequipped to get rid of them. You want to be sure you’re getting rid of toxins, not just moving them to a different part of your body. Working out addresses the issue to a degree: it improves circulation, providing more oxygen to your liver and kidneys so they can better filter out toxins. You can also give your system even more support and pull out bad stuff with the next two detox tools: activated charcoal and glutathione.
Activated charcoal is a form of carbon that has massive surface area and a strong negative charge. It’s been around for thousands of years and it’s still used in emergency rooms today to treat poisoning.
Charcoal binds to chemicals whose molecules have positive charges, including aflatoxin and other polar mycotoxins , BPA , and common pesticides . Once the chemicals attach to the charcoal you can pass them normally (i.e. poop them out).
Charcoal can bind to the good stuff, too, so I don’t recommend taking it within an hour of other supplements. Try taking a couple charcoal pills along with exercise or have a sauna session. They should adsorb many of the toxins you release into your gut and GI tract.
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that protects you from heavy metal damage, according to studies in both human and rat cells [9,10,11,12]. Glutathione also supports liver enzymes that break down mold toxins and heavy metals. Your digestion will destroy normal glutathione, so opt for a liposomal glutathione supplement that makes it through your stomach. You can also supplement with N-acetylcysteine and alpha-lipoic acid, which your body can use to build glutathione on its own . If you have severe heavy metal or mycotoxin poisoning, talk to a naturopath or functional medicine doctor about intravenous (IV) glutathione. It’s expensive and less convenient than an oral supplement, but it works very well.
We’ve talked about how heat and exercise can increase fat burning to detox your fat cells. It turns out cold can do the same. Cryochambers are gaining popularity with professional athletes and other high performers for their ability to quell inflammation. It turns out they can help you burn fat – and release the toxins stored in it – as well.
A cryochamber uses liquid nitrogen to supercool your body, stimulating mitochondrial function and decreasing inflammation. Intense cold also destroys fat cells, which has led to cryolipolysis therapy as a way to slim down [14,15]. You can use it to detox, too.
Quick disclaimer: I haven’t found studies specifically looking at ketosis and toxin load, so you may want to take this section with a grain of (Himalayan) salt. That said, ketosis is a very effective way to induce lipolysis, particularly if you’re fasting.
When you’re in ketosis and you haven’t eaten recently, your body breaks down your fat stores into free fatty acids, which it then converts to ketones for fuel. That means that, in theory, you should be able to supercharge your detox (and fat loss) by dropping into nutritional ketosis.
The Bulletproof Diet puts you into mild ketosis, which curbs your hunger and sharpens your brain without forcing you to forego carbs entirely. If you want to try nutritional ketosis for detoxing, you’ll have to modify the Bulletproof Diet slightly. Skip carb reefed days for a couple weeks and limit carbs to ~30-50 grams per day. You can use keto urine strips or – even better – a blood ketone meter to test and make sure you’re becoming fat-adapted. Once your levels read around 1.5 mg/dL, you’re comfortably in nutritional ketosis. At that point, fasting will attack your fat stores and mobilize toxins, which you can mop up with activated charcoal or sweat out (or both).
Chelation therapy is the strongest way to detox heavy metals. It can also be dangerous, so many doctors don’t recommend it unless you have moderate to severe heavy metal poisoning. Chelation therapy uses compounds called chelators that form strong bonds with heavy metals, leaving them unable to further poison your body. You can then pass them normally. Chelation therapy is very effective for removing lead, mercury, aluminum, arsenic, iron, and copper.
If you’ve been exposed to a lot of heavy metals, talk to a functional medicine doctor about chelation therapy. You really want to go to a medical professional for this one, because it’s so effective that if your liver and kidneys aren’t able to process the metals (a common problem in people with heavy metal poisoning) you can get seriously ill.
Combining detox methods for maximum effect
Each of these 7 methods works well on its own, and you can stack methods for an even greater effect. Exercise and sauna sessions are a good example. Preliminary evidence suggests that exercising and then hitting the sauna afterward will detoxify you better than either one alone does . With that in mind, here’s a sample detox protocol:
If you have a lot of fat and you’re burning it off quickly, you’re probably getting rid of a lot of toxins in one fell swoop, and you may get a headache, digestive problems, brain fog, etc. If that happens try taking more glutathione, vitamin C, and charcoal. Be sure you take charcoal at least an hour away from other supplements, as it binds to vitamin C.
Toxins are a fact of modern life, especially if you live in a city or somewhere with poor air quality, mold, and/or a lot of petrochemical byproducts. These detox methods can give your body a little extra support dealing with pollutants and help you perform your best.