By Susanne Booth, ND, PT, CPM
Emunctories are organs of elimination. Most of us will immediately think of the bowel as our main organ of elimination, but, in fact, there are some other useful paths that the body uses to detoxify and eliminate waste.
The skin is an emunctory; we excrete toxins and heavy metals through our skin. Unfortunately this doesn’t just happen without some provocation. We need to sweat, at least once a week. During the summer in Vermont this is not a difficult task, but in winter it is easy to go weeks without breaking a sweat. This can lead to a build up of toxins. Spending time in a sauna is a wonderful way to help maintain an open pathway for elimination. Another way to stimulate skin elimination is skin brushing—brushing the skin with gentle strokes, using a soft bristle brush.
Another overlooked emunctory is the lung. We are able to eliminate toxins in the breath we exhale. Deep breathing techniques are useful as a method of relaxing and clearing the mind, and also as a way to eliminate toxic waste. My favorite deep breathing technique is square breathing. To do it, you breath in for a count of 5, hold your breath for a count of 5, breath out for a count of 5 and then hold your lungs empty for a count of 5. Repeat the cycle several times.
The liver is a very important emunctory. All of our own hormones and the many chemicals released during normal metabolism are broken down for elimination by the liver. Also, medications and alcohol go through the liver to be prepared for elimination in the bowel or kidney. I often see patients who want to do some intense liver cleanse. This is good, but it is always important to make sure the bowels are moving regularly first so that once the liver has done its job, the waste can be moved out through the bowel. Some great liver supporting foods and herbs include beets, artichokes, burdock (Articum lappa), dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinale) and Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus).
Kidneys are also important in elimination and detoxification. The best way to ensure optimal kidney function is to drink plenty of water… water, not juice or soda or coffee or beer. Juices are recognized as a food by the body; caffeine and alcohol actually increase your body’s need for water. To determine how much water is enough, use this formula: half a person’s body weight (pounds) in ounces of water. For example, a 150-pound person is wise to drink 75 ounces of water every day.
Lastly, we have the bowels as an emunctory. Regular and easy-to-pass bowel movements help ensure good gastrointestinal health and good elimination of toxic waste. At least once a day is great, but going twenty minutes after each meal is optimal. To increase the frequency of bowel movements, we need to have lots of fiber. Some of the best sources of fiber are leafy greens. Beans, such as black, kidney and garbanzo are also great sources of fiber.
Emunctories are an important part of health. Keeping the body clean and free of toxins helps the immune system stay strong and able to defend against any diseases or cancerous processes. As Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Susanne Booth is a naturopathic physician, primary care provider, and physical therapist at Sojourns Community Clinic. For more information, please contact Sojourns at (802)722-4023, 4923 US Route 5, Westminster, VT 05158, www.sojourns.org, find us on facebook, and visit our blog, www.reformer802.com/journey2wellness.