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What are Toxins?

At a Glance

  • We will be using the definition: any substance that causes a harmful effect or disease within the body, including materials of organic and nonorganic origin.
  • Toxins exist in our diet and in the environment.
  • Detoxing is important, but please be careful!

In the holistic health word, the term toxin is thrown around A LOT.  It is used and abused everyday.  We are as guilty as everyone else when it comes to how often we say the word ‘toxin’.  We don’t want to be yet another blog dropping the term all over the place, #stopclickbait am I right?  I believe that if we use the term, we need to have a good definition and more importantly a good understanding of what toxins are.

In the world of chemistry the word toxin means:

An antigenic poison or venom of plant or animal origin, especially one produced by or derived from microorganisms and causing disease when present at low concentration in the body.

Solid definition.  I would like to draw particular attention to the ‘plant or animal origin’ part.  That is so important because when we use the term toxin in nutrition and holistic health, often times what we really mean is toxicant, which means anything that is poisonous to the body.  That being said, so long as you understand this, there seems to be an unspoken agreement that we can use word toxin in a much broader sense.  Moving forward, whenever we use the term toxin, we will be following a more general definition:

Any substance that causes a harmful effect or disease within the body, including materials of organic and nonorganic origin.

Much better!  Good.  Now that we are all on the same page we can move on.

When looking at toxins, we have two different main types: endogenous and exogenous.  This boils down to toxins that come from within the body, and those that come from outside the body.

Endogenous Toxins

The main form of endogenous toxins comes in the form of metabolites.  Every moment our cells are taking in what they need to perform their metabolic functions, and getting rid of waste.  All of this waste is called “metabolites”.  The good thing is, our body is amazing at dealing with metabolites.

Our liver and kidneys are more than able to handle even the heaviest load of endogenous toxins with little effort.  That being said, if you have been pushing your body to the bitter edge for years with a combination of stress, poor eating habits, and general bad lifestyle your liver or kidneys (or both) may not be functioning properly, and you may not have the resources required to deal with the toxins.

If this is the case, which happens, a detox is in order!

Exogenous Toxins

Alas, the world is not what it once was.  Even 50 years ago, this planet was much different.  We are dealing with an unearthly amount of exogenous toxins that come in the form of environmental toxins and dietary toxins.  I would be foolish to state the number of toxins we deal with because that number is increasing every single day.  The exact extent in which endogenous toxins are affecting our health is beyond the scope of this article, but here are some basics.

Dietary Toxins

This is the stuff that we eat.  All of the preservatives that are in our food, the herbicides and pesticides that are used, chlorine and fluoride added to tap water, the xenobiotics that come from plastic such as BPA and also sugar is a toxin.  The list is long.

Both the EPA and CFDA have very strict regulations on herbicide and pesticide toxicity.  They claim that all foods treated with herbicide and pesticide have zero risk of health issues.  While I am sure they are telling the truth as far as they know it, I also know that the agricultural industry is a just that: an industry.  They want to make money at any cost, so at the risk of sounding like a nut job, I say it is better to be safe than sorry.

We need to reduce dietary toxins as much as possible.  While the agencies responsible for our food safety are working hard to make sure we get good quality food, it can’t hurt to reduce the levels as much as possible.

Environmental Toxins

Unfortunately there is more to the story.  Environmental toxins are everything we don’t eat but still affects us.  The best example is air pollution. With the endless stream of exhaust, coal burner pants, and mountains of burning garbage, our air is full of chemicals that once were never there.

While Dietary toxins are refutable, most of the environmental toxins are not.  It can be more difficult to reduce environmental toxins, so one’s best bet is to make sure you are doing your best to rid yourself of toxins by regularly detoxing.

The other side of the coin

As always in the world of holistic health, there are plenty of good arguments against the idea of toxins.

In the world of toxicology, for the most part all of the toxins described above fall into the realm of quackery and pseudoscience.  Our two most powerful detox organs are the liver and kidneys, they do a remarkable job of ridding our body of toxins.  As Toxicologist Peter Thorne says “For the vast majority of people, if you’re living a healthy lifestyle and you have [a well-balanced] diet, you have no need to even think about some of these extreme measures I’ve seen advertised,”.

To be honest a big part of me would like to agree.  However, as many of you know, I would rather play it safe and not risk the damage.  Many of the biggest players in the world of longevity, nutrition, and biology agree that we really don’t know the long term effects of low dose exposure to all of the exogenous toxins we deal with every single day.

That being said; yes, I am a huge fan of regular detoxification in almost every sense of the term.  At best, we are saving our own lives, at worst we are getting more of what we can all agree are very healthy foods.


Depending on what exactly you are trying to get rid of, and what organ you are focusing on, the detoxing process varies.

The easiest way to deal with toxins is to reduce your intake.  This process takes time to apply, but the benefits are huge.

If you plan on running to the store to buy a boxed detox, or you have already Googled a few, please read the rules and warnings below.


While I do agree with detoxing, I also believe there are a tremendous number of noneffective, and in some cases flat out dangerous detoxes on the market.  If ever you decide to embark on a detox, please follow these basic rules:

  • Go slow
    • There is no hurry, really.  In fact if you rush some cleanses (such as a heavy metal cleanse) you will do way more harm than good.  A good cleanse takes time.
  • Make sure you are getting LOTS of fiber.  
    • As our liver is doing one of its many jobs and getting rid of toxins that have been stored in the body, we need fiber to help eliminate toxins.
  • Never do anything extreme without talking to a Health Care Professional.
    • Anything that requires long term fasting, or only eating one type of food, or drinking only one thing is pretty extreme in our opinion.  While they may be effective, unless you are 100% confident in your pre-cleanse condition, they could do more harm than good.
  • Make sure you drink lots of water.
    • Lame, I know.  You have heard it a million times. For good reason!  Your liver needs fiber and your kidneys need plenty of water.  




Jess Reynolds
R.Ac, RMT, C.HT, C.Hn

Jess Reynolds is a true jack of all trades, he is a acupuncturist, herbalist, hypnotherapist, nutritionist, researcher, professor and inspirational speaker. With foundations laid in Chinese medicine Jess takes modern western science and research and merges both eastern and western worlds of medicine. He delivers a refreshingly unique perspective on health, that is both rooted in eastern medicine and driven by western medicine. His approach is holistic and understandable.

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