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How Detoxification Will Improve Your Mental Health

Yes! There is both science and cultural wisdom to this new buzzword.

In this blog excerpt from my book, Rhythms of Recovery: Trauma, Nature, and The Body, I explore the basic science and cultural wisdom of detoxification that is a powerful aid for recovery from PTSD, depression, and the addictions. Detoxification refers to a cleansing or purification process. It involves the transformation and elimination of bodily waste: toxins that impair physical organ function and affect mental well-being and cognitive function.

Trauma is toxic beyond the metaphor often used to describe toxic relationships; stress creates inflammation and metabolic byproducts that cannot be as easily excreted.

Many people are exposed to chemical and biological toxins in the course of trauma, for example, war, natural disasters, and genocide or have used toxic substances such as alcohol. These toxins affect all aspects of physical and mental health including brain function.

Poor quality nutrition also contributes to the buildup of toxins in the body as a natural by-product of daily life, which suggests everyone can benefit from engaging in detoxification strategies. Everyone can benefit from activities that support detoxification.

Detoxification is an essential part of a prevention and treatment program for the recovery of mental health, including PTSD, depression, and addictions. Every culture includes a variety of detoxification methods in their traditional medicine repertoire.

The Science: The Liver Is the Major Detox Organ

The liver and the skin are the major organs of detoxification in the body. The liver is the human body’s largest organ and a primary organ of detoxification.

Whether one is detoxifying from pharmaceuticals, drugs or alcohol, or undertaking detoxification strategies to enhance health, the process is similar.

The liver is the center for detoxification in the body and undergoes two interrelated processes, phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification. During phase 1, the liver makes fat-soluble toxins water-soluble by activating the Cytochrome P-450 enzymes. These enzymes attach to toxins and prepare them for phase 2 detoxification, where they are then excreted by the kidneys. Symptoms of liver and gall bladder congestion include nausea, morning headaches, bloodshot eyes, skin problems, constipation, light-colored or poorly formed stools, pain in the upper shoulders or under the rib cage.

Plants That Help the Liver Detox

Many Indigenous societies use alternative (blood-purifying) plants like Burdock to detoxify. Bitter plants that stimulate digestion like, dandelion and bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) are prized by Pacific Northwest natives for their cleansing properties. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), also called verdolaga in Mexico is eaten to enhance digestion and stimulate the liver's work. Japanese people use charcoal made from bamboo to purify spaces; activated charcoal remains the treatment par excellence for accidental poisoning (this should be used only under professional guidance) in humans and animals. Fibers and, barks are also used to absorb and eliminate toxins as well as soothe the sensitive lining of the stomach and intestines like the nutritious slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra).

Foods That Help the Liver Detox and Aid Alcohol Recovery

Foods are important as both a cause of toxins and in supporting the elimination of toxins. The cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts enhance the liver's P-450 enzymes, and sulfur-containing onions and garlic, both raw and cooked, should be used daily.

Bread and yeast-based products can cause toxicity especially for those sensitive to alcohol. Yeast ferments sugar into alcohol and endogenous alcohol production is high after eating foods rich in carbohydrates). Yeasts convert the alcohol (ethanol) into acetaldehyde affecting levels of gut flora and leading to chronic candidiasis. The acetaldehyde toxins can also cause leaky gut which is implicated in allergies and autoimmune illnesses.


Seaweed is one of the most important detoxifying foods because they bind toxins in the intestinal tract. Adding seaweed is to soups or bean dishes or as a snack is healthy for the thyroid and also as part of detoxifying. Alginates from the brown seaweeds bind toxic metals and radioactive isotopes in the digestive tract.

Seaweed Detox Recipe

This salad uses hijiki or arame sea vegetables, which are among the mildest seaweeds. This salad is a good first step in exploring seaweeds in recipes. It is especially beneficial for fatigue, depression, and hypothyroidism.

  • 1 cup of dry arame or hijiki seaweed
  • 3 scallions
  • 1 cup tofu
  • 1 carrot
  • ½ cup peapods
  • ½ of a red bell pepper
  • ½ of an English cucumber
  • A handful of broccoli florets
  • ¼ cup walnuts or pine nuts
  • Sprouts (optional)


  • ¼ cup toasted sesame oil
  • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon wheat-free tamari
  • Juice from of 2 cloves of garlic and a chunk of fresh ginger
  • Dash of hot red pepper flakes (optional)


  1. Soak the seaweed in warm water for 15 minutes until soft (save the water for soup or to put in your animal companion’s bowl).
  2. Dice the scallions, tofu, carrots, peapods, red pepper, cucumber, broccoli, nuts, and sprouts (if using) into small (equal size) pieces.
  3. Mix all of the dressing ingredients together in a bowl and whisk until well combined.

Combine the vegetable mixture with the softened seaweed and pour the dressing over it. Mix and allow to marinate for a few hours. Eat and enjoy!

Purge-and-Cleanse Systems That Detox

Purge-and-cleanse systems traditionally include the use of clays, plant and animal-derived oils, sweat lodges and saunas, water therapies, induced-regurgitation, and enemas to detoxify the body and reestablish metabolic balance. The use of sweats and enemas and cleansing teas are found throughout world cultures.

In future posts, I will explore many of these specific science-based strategies to detoxify the body and thereby enhance mental function.

Your Next Steps?

Reduce your exposure and actively incorporate methods to aid your natural detox process.