Detoxifying the body involves a number of different systems and processes. Most of the process of detoxification occurs in the liver and the lymphatic system, but once toxins have been rendered harmless, they still must be eliminated from the body, which may involve the kidneys, lungs, digestive system and skin. Toxins in the body may cause damage that activates, or in some cases even attacks, the immune system. For each of these systems and processes there is a set of vitamins, minerals and herbs that may be beneficial.
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While water-soluble toxins can pass right through the body and get eliminated through normal excretory processes without causing any harm, fat-soluble toxins must be detoxified before they can pass through and out of the system. Much of this process takes place in the liver, which contains both endogenous substances produced by the body and exogenous substances introduced into the body from outside, that metabolize these toxins to turn them water-soluble. Among the exogenous substances that can aid in this process are the vitamins A, C, E, K, B1, B6, beta carotene and biotin, the mineral copper and the herbs milk thistle, rosemary, garlic, dandelion, bladderwrack and schizandra.
The lymph is the fluid in the body that washes the cells and blood clean of toxins. Vitamins A, B6, C and E are vital for proper lymphatic function, as are the minerals iron, selenium and zinc. The herbs that support the lymphatic system include cleavers, echinacea, golden seal and poke root.
Once the liver metabolizes toxins into a form that can be excreted by the body, there are several pathways through which they may be excreted, each of which may be aided by certain vitamins, minerals and herbs. The organs and systems involved in the elimination of toxins from the body include the kidneys via urine, the intestines via feces, the skin via sweat and the lungs via exhalation and expectoration. Providing support for all of these requires a balanced diet. Herbs to use include diuretics like cleavers and dandelion for the kidneys, bitters like golden seal, and laxatives like cascara sagrada and yellow dock for the digestive system, diaphoretics like cayenne and yarrow for the skin and expectorants like comfrey and licorice for the lungs.
Free radicals are harmful chemicals produced as a by-product of metabolism and as a result of exposure to toxins from the environment. These free radicals can attack the healthy tissues and cells of the body, impair immune system function and cause premature signs of aging. They also produce a toxic effect on the body's DNA and may even cause cancer. Antioxidants scavenge these free radicals and destroy them. Vitamins A, C and E are all antioxidants, as are the minerals copper, manganese, zinc and selenium. Many herbs have antioxidant properties as well, including gingko biloba, cat's claw, hawthorn, licorice and grape seed.