Have you ever wondered how and why our bodies store toxins? Actually, we are all designed to continuously and naturally remove toxins from our bodies, but sometimes this natural process is interrupted and needs a reset.
Types of Toxins
- Water-soluble toxins are easily flushed out via the blood and kidneys.
- Fat-soluble toxins (such as heavy metals, pesticides, preservatives, food additives, pollutants, plastics, and other environmental chemicals) must become water-soluble to eliminate fully, and are therefore more of a challenge.
Detoxing happens mostly in the liver, but if our digestive and detox pathways are not functioning optimally, toxins find their way from the liver to the blood, fat cells, and brain, where they can sit for years, setting you up for health concerns.1-4
Ayurveda suggests that if we keep our digestion, stress levels, and detoxification pathways balanced, we can prevent dangerous chemicals and toxins from storing in our bodies.
The Most Important 1/4 Inch of the Body
When we digest a meal, nutritious and toxic fats are shuffled through the stomach into the small intestine, where bile from the liver and gallbladder emulsifies them.
In the small intestine, there are millions of small villi and lacteals, little finger-like “grasses,” or mucus membranes, that sweep the gut, absorb good fats, and send toxic fats on to the liver for processing.
The beginning of the lymphatic system is called the Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue (GALT), which lines the inside of the entire intestinal tract. This is what I call the most important 1/4 inch of your body because it is here that lacteals help absorb and process good fats, bad fats, and undigested proteins.
If this detox pathway is not working properly, the body will store toxic fats, rather than remove them. The 1/8 inch on the inside of the gut wall must have those villi and lacteals functioning well, and the 1/8 inch on the outside of the gut (which is that lymph tissue) must not be congested.5-9
The lymphatic system around the gut will take fats back to the liver, where good fats are used to make cholesterol, cell membranes, hormones, brain cells, and skin, to name a few. Toxins are processed by the liver and earmarked for elimination.
When the lymphatic system becomes congested, this natural process of using good fats and discarding bad fats can be compromised.
Symptoms of Congested GALT Affecting Lymphatic System5-9
- Occasional constipation
- Mild rash / itchy skin
- Occasional swollen hands and feet
- Breast swelling and tenderness during menstrual cycle
- Elevated histamine reaction to common environmental irritants
- Occasional headaches
- Sore joints and stiffness upon waking
It’s All about Elimination
There are many factors (such as diet and stress) that can affect intestinal villi and bowel function.
Acute stress can cause intestinal villi (the grass-like mucus membranes) to dry out, causing occasional constipation.
A history of bowel irregularities can also dry out villi and force them to produce a reactive mucus. If this mucus is excessive, the stools could appear normal (1-3 regular bowel movements a day), but you could still be bloated or carrying extra belly weight. If the mucus is excessive, the stools can become looser, and more frequent.
If you EVER see mucus in your stool, called kledaka kapha in Ayurveda, this should be addressed right away. When this happens, the villi have become congested and bogged down in mucus. The delivery of good fats, excretion of toxic fats, and health of intestinal lining as a barrier for toxins are breaking down.
Normally, toxins absorbed into lymph are neutralized by white blood cells within the lymphatic system. But if mucus is excessive, this may not happen and, instead, toxins are directed back to the liver.
To avoid toxins defaulting back to the liver, the mucus membranes of the intestinal tract cannot be too dry or too wet—a delicate balance must be achieved.
Causes of Imbalanced Intestinal Villi
- history of bowel irregularities
- food additives
- processed food
- soft drinks
Where Do Toxic Fats Go?
Optimal bile flow from the liver is critical to health. Bile acts like Pac-Man in the liver and intestines, where it gobbles up fats, heavy metals, pesticides, unwanted bacteria, and numerous other chemicals that can cause problems in the digestive tract.
If there is plenty of fiber in the diet, loaded bile will be taken to the toilet. If you are deficient in fiber, up to 94% of the bile (and its toxic baggage) will reabsorb into the liver to be recycled.10 The liver can become overwhelmed because it is not expecting the return of these toxic fats.
Over time, the liver can become congested and bile can turn thick and sludgy, making it more difficult to break down a hamburger, fatty foods, heavy metals, and other fat-soluble toxins. Over time, bile can become too sluggish and thick to enter the small intestine and properly buffer stomach acids.
As bile becomes more viscous, it can also imbalance the flow of pancreatic enzymes into the small intestine. The pancreas shares the common bile duct with the gallbladder, and when this flow becomes sluggish, digestion can be compromised.
What Happens When the Liver Becomes Overwhelmed?
When biliary tubes in the liver become congested with thick bile and toxins, the liver pushes fat-soluble toxins into the bloodstream. These toxins can find their way into fat cells, where they can store for many years and cause oxidation (free radical damage).1-3
Toxins can deposit in fatty tissues all over the body, including the brain. Scarily, it’s becoming more common for toxins to become neurotoxins, depositing in the brain. These neurotoxins may cause cognitive concerns and a host of other health imbalances.13, 14
Feel Calm to Burn Fat
This issue of fat-soluble toxins is why one of the main focuses in Ayurveda is to convince the body to burn fat: not primarily for weight loss, but because fat metabolism is the body’s detox fuel. It’s critical that we flush fat cells to remove toxins.
Once the nervous system can function without stress, the body will naturally burn fat. This is a main topic in my book The 3-Season Diet,11 where diet and lifestyle are used to burn fat, as well as my book Body, Mind and Sport,12 where nasal breathing exercise (and other techniques) encourages fat-burning.
The bottom line: there are many ways to burn fat, and lifestyle plays an important role. The majority of fat-burning and detox responsibility lies in the integrity of the digestive system, lymph flow, and bile flow, which are all directly influenced by the nervous system.
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Food Intolerances + Inability to Absorb Good Fats
Many of us simply don’t break down and absorb good fats because villi and lymph around the gut are congested. This is one reason why so many of us are diagnosed with wheat, dairy, and soy intolerances. These foods are heavy, harder to digest, and create reactive intestinal mucus when they enter the gut undigested.
Let’s say you eat a slice of bread: if there is excessive mucus in the gut and the gluten is not properly broken down in the stomach and upper small intestine, it can irritate the intestinal wall and trigger production of even more reactive mucus, which will further compromise the intestinal wall. The undigested proteins can find there way into the lymphatic system, where they can cause further inflammation.
There are times to reduce or even eliminate these types of foods for a stretch of time. But a life sentence of no wheat and dairy is unnecessary if these foods are unrefined, organic, and non-processed. Once you begin to heal the digestive tract, it will begin to tolerate harder-to-digest foods again.
To Sum it Up
Your detoxification and assimilation pathways may be compromised if you experience occasional constipation or loose stools, see mucus in your stools, have to avoid certain foods, or have to eat certain foods to maintain regular elimination.
If you feel that a heavy or high-fat meal sits in your stomach or you get nauseous or experience pain after that meal, then your bile flow may be compromised and you are likely storing toxic fats.
Below are some easy and preliminary suggestions of herbs to read up on for common concerns.
- Extra belly fat: Manjistha, Amalaki and Elim 1
- Occasional constipation: Elim 1
- Loose stools: Elim 2
- Mucus in the stools: Amalaki and Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula
- Sluggish liver and congested bile: Liver Repair
- Feeling nauseous after a heavy meal: Liver Repair or Beet Cleanse
- Gluten sensitivity: Warm Digest, Gentle Digest, or Cool Digest
- Lymph congestion: Manjistha and Turmeric Plus
In Ayurveda, much of the diagnostics and therapies are designed to support health of intestinal tract skin, flush lymph, and de-stagnate the bile and liver. Ghee ingested during the process of oleation in LifeSpa cleanse programs is designed to flush bile and reset fat metabolism.
With new patients, I always evaluate and address the eliminative channels (like lymph, liver, and digestion) first. The LifeSpa cleanse programs are designed to reset digestion and elimination, boost lymphatic drainage while removing toxins that may be stored in your fat cells, liver, or brain.
You can partake in a cleanse anytime, but the change of seasons around fall and spring are the most traditional and tend to be the most beneficial.