The complex process of detoxifying your body from everyday metabolic waste and toxins involves an interplay of your liver, kidneys, lymphatic vessels, skin, and other organs. Yet your colon also plays an important role—it’s the main way out!
The Body's Detoxifying Process
Think of your liver, kidneys, and lymph as trash barrels around the house (and, more specifically, think of the act of putting trash into a trash bin). Tossing things helps keep your body (the house) clean and clear, but in order to maintain a good flow, someone needs to actually collect that trash on trash pickup day and remove it from the house or it will pile up and create a big mess. Your colon handles trash pickup and removal for your liver and some of the lymph’s waste.
Waste Removal from the Body
Much of this waste is excreted in the form of bile. The liver creates bile as it cleans the blood (blood that also contains excreted lymph fluid), then stores it in the gallbladder. Bile then spurts out of your gallbladder into the digestive tract as food exits the stomach. (If you don’t have a gallbladder, bile leaks out slowly throughout the day instead of in concentrated purges timed with food digestion.) Then, bile goes on its merry way down the digestive turnpike to ultimately be excreted in your feces.
One to three bowel movements daily will remove most of the waste from the body, but if you get backed up or sluggish, a greater percentage of waste will reabsorb into your body system all over again via the intestinal lining. Therefore, steady bowel movements are a crucial part of your detoxification system and any detox plan. Surprisingly, many “cleanse kits” offer little more than a laxative and fiber source, perhaps with other detoxifying herbs mixed in. But you can turn to diet and herbs for gentler, more broad-spectrum benefits.
Bitters for Better Digestion
Bitter-tasting herbs like dandelion root and leaf, burdock root, artichoke leaf, schisandra berry, and turmeric root help turn on the digestive system’s juices as well as peristalsis—the wave-like muscular motion that moves food through the digestive tract. Bonus: Bitters also act as cholagogues and choleretics, “liver movers” that improve detoxification by encouraging the liver’s production and excretion of bile. Indirectly, bitters act as mild laxatives because of these actions. Bitter foods include dandelion greens, endive and radicchio, lettuce, arugula, citrus peel, grapefruit, tamarind, coffee, herbal “coffee” (for example, chicory root), ginger, and artichokes.
Remove Toxins with Fiber
Insoluble fiber bulks up the stool to pull and remove toxins from the body, improving the speed and efficiency of the colon. Sources include psyllium seeds, flaxseeds, and bran from whole grains. In truth, most high-fiber foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, so a diet rich in whole plant foods including root vegetables, greens, beans, berries, seeds, and nuts will also be beneficial. If you’re new to fiber, introduce it slowly to avoid excess gas and bloating, and make sure to consume plenty of water and hydrating foods.
Extra Help from Laxatives
You can usually keep your colon running smoothly with bitters and fiber, but sometimes it needs a little extra push. That’s where laxatives come in, but not all are created equal. Harsh, strong laxatives like senna, cascara, and aloe latex (present in whole aloe leaf) should be used only in extreme constipation and short-term as they are ultimately habit-forming and may eventually atrophy the colon’s muscles. Turkey rhubarb root and buckthorn bark are moderately strong laxatives.
Your safest laxatives include yellow dock root (usually a capsule or liquid extract) and the Ayurvedic blend triphala (preferably as a powder; also available in capsule), which have mild laxative properties alongside tightening, toning tannins that improve colon health. Magnesium also works well; it brings water into the colon. If these aren’t strong enough, consider low doses of the stronger laxatives, then introduce bitters and fiber and slowly wean down on the laxatives.
Together, bitters, fiber, and short-term laxatives as needed help your colon function smoothly, which makes your body a cleaner, happier place.