We hear about toxins all around us—in the air, in the water, in the food, in our homes—but what about toxicity that comes from within? Think about your digestion. When you eat a big cheeseburger and fries with a milkshake, or a number of other foods found in the Standard American Diet (SAD), digestion slows. Tick. Tock. You may not actually pass that food out of your system for days.

What happens during all that time? Well, the bun breaks down into sugar almost immediately, causing a blood sugar spike followed by an energy crash. The protein portion from the wheat found in bread may not break down completely, possibly triggering a reaction in your gut known as gluten sensitivity, which you may or may not feel. The fries also break down into sugar, and fat—a lot of fat. Also released from the fries is acrylamide, a compound thought to be carcinogenic, formed when starches are fried at high heat. If you don’t produce enough of the digestive enzyme lactase, the milk sugar lactose in the milkshake will not break down, resulting in gas and bloating when bacteria ferment the lactose in your gut. Now for the meat, which breaks down slowly and possibly incompletely depending on your system. Meat cooked at high temperatures contains the cancer-causing heterocyclic amines. Further, when meat is broken down by gut bacteria, more toxic compounds are formed.

As all of these harmful toxins are released in the gut some of them get absorbed into the bloodstream. First stop? The liver. Metabolically, the liver works harder than any other organ in the body. That’s a good thing because it has a lot of toxins to process. In today’s world more toxins than ever are processed in the liver. Often, not all toxins can be detoxified, so some are stored in the liver, in fat cells, or are released back into the bloodstream. Those toxins that are able to be processed by the liver are sent with bile to the gallbladder and then released into the small intestine to be excreted with a bowel movement.

If your intestinal transit is slow, however, with food sitting in the intestines for long periods of time, these toxins can be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream to the liver once again (a process known as enterohepatic circulation). It’s a vicious cycle, and highlights the importance of regular bowel elimination. Do you experience 2-3 bowel movements daily? Or even one daily? You need to be eliminating either 2-3 times daily, or once daily in large quantity. This is the first step to reducing toxicity.

Consuming a high fiber diet (at least 35 grams daily) or taking a fiber supplement if you can’t get it all from food, supporting gut microbial balance with probiotics, lubricating the bowel with anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils and increasing food digestion with digestive enzymes can help to achieve digestive regularity. For some people who are very constipated, an herbal laxative formula can help jumpstart elimination.