Introducing the Emunctories
Emunctory is a fancy term naturopaths use when referring to an organ of elimination. These organs which include skin, lungs, liver, small and large intestines and kidneys, help us get rid of toxins that accumulate from the environment and food, as well as, hormones and metabolites. When they are overburdened or not functioning properly, we may become fatigued or have headaches, skin problems and a whole host of other health conditions. Making sure that these organs are functioning optimally is one of the basis of naturopathic medicine. In essence, illness tends to result from the inefficient removal of waste products. Thats why having a quarterly or yearly detoxification routine is essential for a healthy life. Here are some of the ways that we can keep our emunctories operating effectively to ensure great health.
The skin is actually our largest body organ system covering a surface area of approximately 2 sq meters and weighing an average of 4 kilograms. It detoxifies waste products through the sweat and oil glands. Unfortunately, the skin often bears the brunt when other detoxifying organs such as the liver become overtaxed showing up as acne and eczema. One of the best ways to enhance skin detoxification is sweating. To achieve the maximum benefit from sweating, it is recommended to use a sauna for 30-60 minutes 3-5 days a week. Sauna is not recommended for everyone particularly those with heart conditions or who may be pregnant so it is best to consult with your physician first.
Often we don't think of our lungs as organs of elimination. This organ with the surface area roughly the size of a half a tennis court is the principal organ to eliminate gaseous wastes from the body. One way to access it is by practicing deep relaxed breathing twice daily. To perform: while lying on the back, place one hand over the chest and the other on the lower abdomen: inhale deeply; first feel the lower lungs fill with air as the lower hand rises, then the upper lungs fill as the upper hand rises; exhale deeply; feel the upper then lower lungs empty of air.
Acting as the main organ of detoxification in the body, the liver breaks down toxic substances and hormones into less toxic and water-soluble substances to be excreted by the kidneys. One way to support the liver is through foods, which include beets, artichoke, mustard greens, collard, kale, chard, and turnips. There are also many herbs such as milk thistle, burdock and dandelion root, which keep our liver healthy and functioning properly. For additional liver love, consider using a castor oil pack. This is my go-to for my PMS and fibroid patients at my New York City naturopathic office.
Small and Large Intestines
No one can debate the importance of our intestines in elimination. Chronic constipation can really curtail our detoxification endeavors. Increasing fiber with foods, such as whole grains, apples and ground flaxseeds, helps to ensure bowels move wastes smoothly. Good hydration is important in ensuring the effectiveness of dietary fiber. Moving will also get you moving by facilitating the transport of food through the digestive tract. Besides this, we want to make sure our gut is populated with the good bugs. So eating fermented foods and taking probiotics keeps our digestive tract healthy.
The kidneys are often the final organs in the detoxification of waste products from the liver. One way to enhance this function is by using kidney supportive herbs including astragalus, milk thistle, and gingko. Gingko in particular has been shown to counteract kidney damage associated with some chemotherapeutic agents. Antioxidant nutrients such as CoQ10, Vitamin E, alpha lipoic acid and selenium are also important. One study showed that CoQ10 improved kidney function and reduced the need for dialysis in people with chronic renal failure.