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What are emunctories?

Emunctories are organs or ducts that are involved in the elimination of waste products and toxins from the body. There are primary and secondary emunctories. Primary emunctories include the bowel, kidney, lungs and skin, and they are responsible for majority of the elimination of wastes. When these primary emunctories aren’t working optimally, the body will use secondary emunctories instead, which include our stomach, liver, spleen, pancreas, lymphatic system, prostate and mucus membranes.

When emunctories aren’t functioning optimally

When our emunctories, especially primary emunctories aren’t working properly, waste products and toxins can accumulate in the body, this can result in chronic inflammation and affect our overall health. Also, when there’s dysfunction with primary emunctories, functions of secondary emunctories can be affected too. Over time, symptoms with both primary and secondary emunctories can occur, and symptoms involved with generalized systemic inflammation can precipitate. Fatigue, sinusitis, bronchitis, vaginitis, muscle and joint pains, eczema/skin rashes/skin itching/skin infections, gastritis, leaky gut, and migraines can all be symptoms of compromised emunctories.

How to optimize the function of our emunctories?

The focus will be on how to optimize the primary emunctories since they are responsible for the health of the secondary emunctories as well.

The bowel

  • Ensure regular bowel movements, preferably daily bowel movements. When waste products and toxins remain in the bowel for too long, it can cause local inflammation of the bowel and some of the toxins can be reabsorbed back into the body.

  • Grow a healthy gut microbiome by consuming adequate fibers and avoid over consuming pro-inflammatory foods like sugar, refined carbohydrates, fried food, animal fats, processed foods, alcohol, etc. When there are too many harmful bacteria in our gut, constipation and inflammation of the intestines can occur, resulting in increased toxin load in our bowel.

The kidney

  • Ensure adequate water intake.

  • The minimum daily water intake is about your weight in kilograms x 30-50ml, or your weight in pounds x 0.5-1 once, depend on the weather and the amount of perspiration. If you have a health condition, always consult with your health care provider regarding how much water you should drink in a day.

  • Ensure the water you’re drinking is clean and safe. For example, use a water filter that’s capable of removing heavy metals, environmental hormones, pesticides, and chlorine. Although in some countries water is clean and safe enough to be drank directly from the tap, sometimes the pipes might not be as clean and safe, especially if you live in an old house. So always do some research about the water quality in your area and the pipes in your house. Always use a water filter if you're not sure about the water quality or safety of pipes.

The lungs

  • Give your lungs fresh and clean air. Aerobic exercise and deep breathing techniques like diaphragmatic breathing can be helpful.

  • Always use an air purifier if you live in an area with air pollutions.

  • Avoid VOCs (volatile organic compounds) – examples would be paints, adhesive agents, formaldehyde from furniture, smoking/secondhand smoke.

  • Avoid mycotoxins – these are toxins emitted from mold and are capable of causing damages to our lungs, which can lead to a variety of respiratory symptoms and diseases.

The skin

  • Avoid absorption of toxicants through your skin.

  • Avoid harmful and harsh chemicals in your personal care products like body wash, soap, and lotions. (EWG Skin Deep is a good resource for checking the safety of personal care products)

  • Ensure the water you use for showering and baths is free of harmful chemicals and heavy metals. If in doubt, always use a shower filter.

  • Sweating

  • Research has shown that sweating can be much more effective in eliminating some heavy metals and environmental toxins, than our kidneys!

  • Exercise, infra-red sauna, and steam sauna are good ways to induce and promote sweating.

Other commonly used modalities include dry skin brushing and castor oil packs. Dry skin brushing can help promote skin health and lymphatic drainage, while castor oil packs can aid in the elimination and detoxification of the bowel and the liver.


  1. Genuis, Stephen J., et al. "Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study: monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements." Archives of environmental contamination and toxicology 61.2 (2011): 344-357.

  2. Myers, Stephen P., et al. "Emunctorology: Synthesising Traditional Naturopathic Practice with Modern Science." Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal 18.3 (2019): 40.

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