Fact Checked

This Dr. Axe content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure factually accurate information.

With strict editorial sourcing guidelines, we only link to academic research institutions, reputable media sites and, when research is available, medically peer-reviewed studies. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to these studies.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by our trained editorial staff. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to medically peer-reviewed studies.

Our team includes licensed nutritionists and dietitians, certified health education specialists, as well as certified strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers and corrective exercise specialists. Our team aims to be not only thorough with its research, but also objective and unbiased.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

Minimize Toxins to Beat Autoimmune Disease — the Detox Plan!

By

 

Removing toxins to beat autoimmune - Dr. Axe

The following is an adapted excerpt from Beat Autoimmune, The 6 Keys to Reverse Your Condition and Reclaim Your Health, by Palmer Kippola with foreword by Mark Hyman, MD (Kensington Books). Palmer is a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach who reversed her MS by removing her inflammatory root causes and healing her gut. She has created a framework for healing and preventing autoimmune conditions called F.I.G.H.T.S.™ which represent the root cause categories we can control: Food, Infections, Gut health, Hormone balance, Toxins and Stress. This excerpt focuses on one of the 6 keys: Toxins.

Our health is the sum of our relationship with the environment — what we eat, drink, absorb, think, breathe, put on our skin, and how and where we live — and how well our body’s natural detoxification system works. Unfortunately, as the environment becomes ever more toxic, we are becoming more and more saturated with toxins. As a result, we’re sicker than we’ve ever been.

Evidence is mounting that our environment’s increasing toxic load is fueling the explosive growth of autoimmune conditions. In the 1970s, it was estimated that 1 in 5,000 people suffered from an autoimmune disorder. Today that number is more like 1 in 5.

The hockey stick growth correlates closely with the increase of environmental toxins over the last century. In 1930 there was virtually no large-scale manufacturing, and thus, there were almost no man-made chemicals in the environment. Experts estimate that there are now more than 100,000 synthetic chemicals in commerce in the U.S. and maybe a million in the environment. (1)

It may surprise you to learn that fewer than 5 percent of the chemicals used in everyday consumer products in the U.S. are tested for safety in humans before they are released into commerce. By contrast, Europe generally requires testing chemicals before releasing them for commercial use. 

No one knows precisely how our modern-day environment is impacting our health, but we have strong indicators that our collective well-being is taking a dive. Some estimate the average American adult is loaded with 700 contaminants (2), and more startling, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 toxic chemicals in the cord blood of 10 newborns, including flame retardants, mercury, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline and garbage. (3


What the [Bleep] Is Going On?! 

These numbers are alarming, and it’s understandable if you’re feeling shocked. But rather than panicking, we need to ask some tough questions like, What’s going on? and What can we do about it? 

The best answer we have is that we are living in a toxic soup that our bodies have never before faced. This unappetizing stew is an accumulation of all the things we are exposed to on a daily basis over our lifetimes: air pollution, chemicals in or added to our water and food, our constant use of plastic, and our frequent use of chemically-laden home and body-care products.  

Related: Microplastics Detected in Human Feces (Plus, 5 Microplastic Dangers)

Scientists use the phrases “total toxic load” or “total body burden” to refer to the total amount of toxic stressors in your system at any one time. Over the years, toxins, infections, emotional traumas, and other stressors of modern life fill your bucket, until one day the bucket overflows and a cascade of health problems may ensue, including leaky gut, chronic inflammation, DNA damage, autoimmune conditions, cancer and dementia. 

The signs and symptoms of a heavy body burden are identical to symptoms reported by people suffering from autoimmune disorders; you may not be aware that these are also telltale signs of toxin overload:

  • Energy problems: profound fatigue, lethargy
  • Sleep troubles
  • Digestive problems: bloating, constipation, diarrhea, foul-smelling stools, gas, heartburn
  • Aches and pains: headaches, muscle aches, joint pain
  • Sinus problems: chronic post-nasal drip, congestion
  • Mental issues: depression, brain fog, trouble concentrating
  • Neurological problems: dizziness, tremors
  • Weight problems: unexplained weight gain or weight-loss resistance
  • Skin problems: rashes, eczema, psoriasis, acne 
  • Hormonal issues
  • High or low blood pressure

Naturally, the more toxins in your environment, the more quickly your bucket will fill and potentially spill over, possibly leading to unwanted symptoms and the perpetuation of autoimmune conditions. Before you throw up your hands in despair, know that you are far more in control of your environment than you think.

Many people with autoimmune conditions have healed by cleaning up their personal environment. I did and you can, too! It starts with awareness. When you recognize the number of toxins your body comes into contact with every day, you’ll be motivated to make a few simple lifestyle modifications. Even small shopping and cooking modifications add up.


Become Aware of Toxins Both In and Around You

We tend to think of toxins as harmful elements somewhere “out there” in the environment, but under this broader definition, we must consider any substance that has potential to harm us, including what’s produced within our bodies. Toxins known to trigger autoimmune conditions are both “out there” and “in here”:  

1. Outside toxins 

These include chemicals found in air, water and food:

  • Chemicals used in industrial production and farming, water treatment, dry cleaning, home cleaning and body-care products
  • Metals including mercury, lead, aluminum, arsenic and cadmium, which are found in water, fish, soil and the air we breathe
  • Medications, including many prescription drugs, antibiotics and vaccines
  • Food additives, preservatives and sweeteners like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial sweeteners
  • Many genetically modified organisms (GMO) contain built-in pesticides or herbicides
  • Many allergenic foods, including gluten, dairy, soy, etc., can be especially toxic to people prone to autoimmune issues
  • Air pollution, including second-hand cigarette smoke and vehicle exhaust
  • Mold, which produces poisonous mycotoxins (e.g., aflatoxin and Ochratoxin A [OTA])
  • Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), chemicals formed when you use high-heat cooking or char grill meat, poultry or fish
  • Chronic or heavy exposure to electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) and “dirty electricity” — high frequency voltage variations/spikes on electrical wiring 

2. Inside toxins 

These are byproducts made by your own body and/or by critters that live inside you:

  • Bacteria, fungus and yeast in high proportions and/or harmful species in your gut can be toxic
  • Yeast and Candida produce a toxic chemical related to formaldehyde (used in embalming fluid) called acetaldehyde
  • Lipopolysaccharides (LPS), bacterial toxins, can leak into your bloodstream and even cross the blood-brain barrier, causing an outsized immune system reaction in your body and brain
  • Poorly detoxified hormones, like estrogen or xenoestrogens (toxic chemicals that compete with estrogen) may recirculate and bind to estrogen receptor sites, blocking normal hormone function
  • Chronic stress and negative thinking can disrupt your neuroendocrine system and the balance of your microbiome, edging out beneficial bacteria and setting the stage for harmful bacteria to take over
  • Lasting, unresolved, or unexpressed emotional pain like anger, grief, or resentment can get stored in our nervous systems and contribute greatly to the development and perpetuation of chronic illnesses

Simple Daily Detoxification Strategies

Experts agree that the best approach to removing toxins is proactive, gentle and continuous detoxification rather than a few harsh and quick cleanses per year. True cellular detoxification takes time. You don’t accumulate a heavy body burden overnight, nor should you expect to unload the burden all at once. 

You can make a major dent in emptying your toxin bucket simply by cleaning up your diet, body and home care products. Use the following as a guide to help you minimize the most common or problematic toxin sources:

Detox Your Food and Water

Toxin expert, Joseph Pizzorno, ND, says that 70 percent of your toxin load comes from food — specifically Standard American Diet (SAD) foods and food additives, as well as how we cook, store and reheat food. 

  • Eat organic food. The most important step you can take in reducing your body burden is to eat organic food. If you can’t afford to go all organic, at least buy organic versions of chicken, meat — that means 100 percent grass-fed and grass-finished — and what EWG calls the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables
  • Eat more fiber. Not only does fiber feed beneficial gut bacteria but it also binds to waste products and helps escort them out of the colon. Good sources of fiber include larch arabinogalactan powder, organic and freshly ground chia or flax seeds, and organic fruits and vegetables like avocados, artichokes, coconut and raspberries. Aim for 40–50 grams of fiber per day and ramp slowly to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Filter your water. Tap water contains toxicants including fluoride, chlorine, aluminum, arsenic, herbicides and even prescription medications. Consider a solid carbon block filter as a countertop device or a whole-house water filter if possible. Don’t forget to filter your shower and bathing water, too.
  • Cook with lower heat. High-heat cooking and barbecuing damages oils and proteins, which can lead to “advanced glycation end products,” appropriately known as “AGEs,” because they age you prematurely. Bake, simmer, gently sauté or steam your food and add oils after you’ve plated your food.
  • Use stainless steel, cast iron or ceramic cookware. Nonstick pans like Teflon®, contain PFOA, a chemical shown to harm the immune system, liver and thyroid. 
  • Use glass food storage containers. Plastic leaches chemicals into your food, especially when heated.

Detox Your Body

  • Use chemical-free body care products and cosmetics. A good rule of thumb: Don’t use it if you don’t recognize the ingredients. A step further: Don’t put it on your body if you wouldn’t eat it. 
  • Work up a sweat. Using a sauna or exercising can help cleanse the body of toxicants, including lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and BPA. (4) Far- or near-infrared saunas support detoxification safely without the high heat of a regular sauna. 
  • Minimize medications. Work with your doctor to gradually reduce your dosages and quantities of medications as you experience the beneficial effects of healthful lifestyle changes.
  • Consider having your mercury amalgam fillings safely removed and replaced with non-toxic composites. Experts agree, before addressing mercury toxicity, you must remove sources of exposure, including silver amalgam fillings and fish. 
  • Supplement strategically: Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EPA + DHA) in fish oil are required in all functions of the liver including detox; they also support cellular membranes, and nerve and brain tissue repairs. Dose: 2,000–4,000 mg of EPA and DHA in divided doses daily with food and vitamin E. Magnesium promotes healthy bowel movements in a gentle, non-addictive way. Dose: Start with about 100 mg magnesium (one capsule or powder) with or without food, ideally at bedtime, and increase slowly to 2,000 mg in divided doses throughout the day. 
  • Glutathione (GSH) helps to strengthen liver and immune function, neutralize free radicals, and bind to and excrete toxins. Dose: 100 mg liposomal glutathione as two pumps twice per day on an empty stomach. Hold under tongue for 30 seconds to initiate absorption.

Detox Your Home

According to the EPA, indoor air pollutants may be present at levels two to five times higher — and occasionally more than 100 times higher — than outdoor air pollutants. 

  • Vacuum your floors. One of the best things you can do to reduce your body burden is to keep your floors free of dust, dirt and mold spores. Use a high quality HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) vacuum and don’t forget to empty the vacuum canister outside.
  • Clean up your indoor air. Use HEPA air filters for rooms you use most often like your bedroom, kitchen and office. 
  • Use non-toxic cleaning products. Consider making your own inexpensive and effective all-purpose home cleanser: To four parts pure water, add one-part white vinegar and ten to twenty drops essential oils like lavender, cinnamon or lemon. Store in a glass bottle so oil does not degrade plastic. 
  • Check for and eliminate sources of mold. If you live or work in a building that has had water intrusion, a damp basement or musty smells, it’s highly likely you have mold and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) produced by mycotoxins. Get an ERMI(SM) (Environmental Relative Mold Index) test done through mycometrics.com. Safe removal of mold, called “remediation,” can be daunting and pricy but imperative to assist in health recovery. 
  • Remove shoes at the door. It’s not just a Zen concept, but a very practical way to keep your home free of weed killers, fertilizers, coal tar dust, and harmful bacteria and parasites from dog waste, etc. 
  • Minimize your electromagnetic (EMF) exposure. Science has linked exposure from artificial or “non-native” EMF from cellphones and WiFi networks with chronic diseases including heart disease, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. (5) Put your electronics on airplane mode when not in use, consider turning off your WiFi router at night, use a wired headset with your cell phone and keep your phone far from your body. 

Optimize Your Organs of Elimination

Prime your body’s inherent ability to detoxify by supporting the main organs of elimination: 

  • Liver/Gallbladder: Start the day with warm water and lemon, minimize alcohol and caffeine, and increase hydration with pure water and a splash of organic, sugar-free cranberry juice. Eat organic, nutrient-dense foods like leafy and bitter greens (e.g., arugula, chard and collard greens), cruciferous vegetables (e.g., kale, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage), sulfur-containing foods (e.g., garlic, onions and eggs), and amino acid-rich foods that support phase two (bind and excrete) liver detoxification (e.g., bone broth, gelatin or collagen, meat, poultry, fish, spinach, and pumpkin seeds). 
  • Kidneys: Minimize alcohol, caffeine, and excess protein consumption. Adequate hydration is key for optimizing excretion through the kidneys. Nourishing foods for the kidneys include those that are very dark in color, like dark berries — especially 100 percent unsweetened cranberry juice (add stevia for sweetness) — beets, seaweed, black sesame seeds and black walnuts. 
  • Colon (large intestine): The main idea is to keep things moving daily. Three keys to supporting colon health include increasing hydration, eating more fiber and moving your body throughout the day.  
  • Skin: Do what you can to work up a sweat daily and use a sauna a few times per week, if possible, to promote sweating. Keep well-hydrated and rinse off afterwards to prevent toxins from reabsorbing.
  • Lungs: In addition to using a HEPA air filter in the room(s) where you spend the most time, practice breath holding. Take ten conscious breaths with a 1-4-2 ratio. For example, inhale for four seconds, hold for sixteen seconds and exhale for eight seconds. Get regular, moderately intense exercise and use herbs and oils that relieve congestion and improve circulation to the lungs like ginger, oregano and eucalyptus.
  • Lymphatic/Glymphatic Systems: The best ways to support your lymph system is to eat an anti-inflammatory, Paleo diet, increase hydration, exercise daily — any way you can and will — dry brush your skin toward your heart, and soak in Epsom salts baths. The best way to support your brain’s glymph system is to get restorative sleep since that’s when it takes out the trash. 

Summary: Top Five Detoxification Actions

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or resistant to change, consider getting started with one of the top five actions below. 

  1. Eat organic food — especially animal products — to minimize your exposure to pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones.
  2. Eat more fiber to both bind and remove toxicants from your body. To keep things moving, don’t forget to increase your water intake.
  3. Use filtered water for drinking and showering to avoid fluoride, chlorine and other chemicals.
  4. Use a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) vacuum to remove ultrafine toxic particles from carpets and floors.
  5. Use chemical-free home and body care products to avoid plasticizers and other hormone disruptors.

And keep in mind the words of wisdom from Sherry Rogers, MD, who wrote in Detoxify or Die

Every night you can go to bed knowing you have made your cumulative load better, [the] same or worse. The choices you make every day add to that total package. You are truly captain of your own ship.

Get Your Free Gift. Palmer beat autoimmune, and you can, too! Do you have an autoimmune condition or are you struggling with mysterious symptoms? Healing starts with what you eat. Click here for a complimentary copy of Palmer’s Optimal Food Guide which will help you identify your trigger foods, discover your optimal foods, and embrace healthy food habits for life!


Josh Axe

Get FREE Access!

Dr. Josh Axe is on a mission to provide you and your family with the highest quality nutrition tips and healthy recipes in the world...Sign up to get VIP access to his eBooks and valuable weekly health tips for FREE!

Free eBook to boost
metabolism & healing

30 Gluten-Free Recipes
& detox juicing guide

Shopping Guide &
premium newsletter

More Health

Ad