How surgery slows natural detoxification flow

Aside from the physical damage during the surgery itself, the nature of surgery means that it affects more than just the region of the body you are being operated on. For instance, our body relies on its own natural detoxification processes to help us recover from surgery, yet surgery has a major impact on the ability to detoxify.

Detoxification is essential to life and luckily for us, nature has come up with several ways for our body to filter, breakdown and remove the myriad of chemicals and compounds that our body encounters every day. 

Whilst the liver is the main detoxifying organ that most people think of, it has other tasks to take care of as well, such as making proteins and hormones, helping to manage the immune system response and regulate the storage of fat. For the liver, detoxification is the main priority, so when it is under stress from a high volume of toxicity, these other tasks are put on the back burner! Keeping toxicity down and supporting detox processes not only takes care of the liver physically by reducing damage, but also allows the liver to spend energy on keeping us fit, slim and fighting strong. 

Fortunately for a stressed out liver, we also have other ways to detoxify and eliminate wastes, some of which you may not have thought much about! We of course excrete wastes through our bowels, but also through our urine, lungs and skin. The body works in harmony to keep detoxification processes flowing – if one route is blocked, sluggish (or removed altogether), the other routes of elimination will try to pick up the slack. For some, sluggish elimination is an underestimated factor in why they are not getting results, whether it is with weight loss, congested pimply skin or constipation and bloating. 

What has all this got to do with surgery? Surgery is a unique human intervention that most people will undergo at some point, whether it’s a quick removal of wisdom teeth, life-saving surgery or a knee replacement. Surgery puts stress on all systems of the body, particularly our detoxification and elimination pathways.

Lymph and the liver

All roads in the lymphatic system lead to the liver. The liver not only produces a large portion of lymph fluid but filters and detoxifies the toxins and cellular waste products that the lymph delivers there! 


Regardless of how invasive the surgery is, the duration of the operation and its proposed recovery time, unless you’re travelling back to the 19th century, you will be given some sort of pain management. Thank goodness. Whilst we are incredibly fortunate to have effective drugs to manage pain, these can take their toll on the gut and liver. Anaesthetic drugs are metabolized inside liver cells, and being under anaesthetic alone can reduce the flow of blood in the liver by 30-50%! At a time when the liver has a lot of extra work to do, this reduction in function can slow detoxification down significantly. The liver will be working like the clappers to metabolise and clear both the anaesthetic and pain medications for some time after surgery.


Anaesthesia and pain medications can also bring on constipation, which is the last thing anyone needs when trying to recover. Given that the liver will direct toxins on to the gut to be excreted through our stools, keeping those bowels moving is pretty key. We certainly do not want stagnant, toxic waste building up in the bowel, because we will reabsorb some of this through the lining of the bowel and recirculate that in the blood. Not ideal for a liver and lymphatic system that is already under the pump!

Physical damage to the lymphatic system

All surgery will damage the delicate network of lymphatic vessels within the skin and deeper tissues of the body. It can take time for these lymph vessels to link up and move the lymph fluid from the injured tissue. This is why swelling and bruising are served up by the body after surgery. Because the lymph isn’t pumped around the body by a heart, we need gentle compression on the tissue to support lymph drainage away from the affected area. Combine this with bed rest and a reduction in general mobility (let alone strenuous exercise) and lymphatic fluid will be more likely to pool in immobile tissues and increase swelling. Lymph is also an important detoxifier after surgery, as it drains inflammation, toxins and other wastes away from the operated area to the liver for detoxification. 

In essence, surgery significantly affects three of our main routes of detoxification and elimination.

So how to support our natural detoxification flow after surgery?

Prevention is better than a cure! By supporting our natural detoxification processes prior to surgery, we are reducing the pressure on our liver, gut and lymph before even getting on the table. You can play your part by prioritising hydration in the lead up to surgery as well as afterwards. Lymph is largely made up of water and dehydration can contribute to sluggish lymph flow. Optimising your water intake will also reduce the risk of constipation, as the gut will reabsorb water out of the stools to replenish its needs. Lastly, water is key for effective liver detoxification because everything the liver works on will be broken down into water soluble pieces! So the liver needs water to create bile and keep everything moving. 

Lymphatic drainage massage for post-op detox

Lymphatic massage is one way to take care of your detoxification flow. This gentle therapeutic massage assists by encouraging lymphatic drainage, metabolism, liver detoxification and even gut function. It is beneficial both before and after surgery, in fact you can read all about how it can help here.