The liver is our main detoxification organ. As unglamorous as it sounds, the liver acts as our garbage disposal system. It is designed to help our body get rid of anything potentially harmful or toxic. The liver should be able to handle detoxification without any help from us, but with today’s lifestyle, eating habits and environmental pollution, we are exposed to more toxins through more avenues than the liver was ever designed to handle. The number of toxins we put into our system can be reduced while we actively work at reducing the toxic load the body has already accumulated. This is where detoxification and cleansing regimens come in.
The liver receives two litres of blood per minute, from general circulation and the gut. It acts as an immune system filter and as a filter of the blood. It also stores or converts nutrients as required and controls blood glucose. Without the liver functioning optimally, there would be extreme swings in blood glucose (think extreme mood swings).
There are many more vital functions performed by the liver, including balancing the actions of the digestive system, endocrine system, immune system and blood. When the liver is overloaded, we can experience many symptoms such as fatigue, a weakened immune system, blood glucose imbalances and hormonal imbalances.
A Liver Primer
There is a two-step process involved in neutralizing potentially harmful or toxic compounds called Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification.
Phase 1 liver detoxification or “bagging of garbage” starts with the cytochrome P450 system.
In this phase, toxins are neutralized by cytochromes to get ready for excretion and many free radicals are produced. Phase 1 enzymes detoxify by oxidation, hydrolysis and reduction. Antioxidants such as glutathione-s-transferase, glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutase and peroxidase deal with the free radicals that are formed.
Cofactors (vitamins/minerals used by the liver to optimize this process) for phase 1 enzymes include zinc, manganese, copper and molybdenum. A good way to test the efficiency of phase 1 is to see what effect drinking one cup of coffee in the afternoon has on your ability to sleep. If you are unable to fall asleep at bedtime, that is an indication that you have poor clearance. This can also be determined through saliva samples. A few years back, whenever I had a cup of coffee in late afternoon, it invariable would affect my sleep. Now, I can have an occasional cup of coffee after dinner and my sleep in not affected. I have spent the last four years being cognizant of ways to support my liver processes.
Aging, lack of exercise and poor nutrition can also significantly impair phase 1 detoxification.
Phase 2 liver detoxification or “take the garbage out” is controlled by the antioxidant system of enzymes.
In this phase, the active intermediaries of phase 1 are turned into water-soluble forms so they are easier to dispose of. A number of systems are involved, each of which can be supported by different nutrients. For example, one of the Phase 2 systems is glutathione. Glutathione conjugation requires cysteine, selenium, zinc and vitamin B6. Amino acid conjugation needs glycine.
Nutrients that support phase 2 liver detoxification include cysteine, garlic, glucarate, glycine, glutathione, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), taurine, high quality protein, folic acid, vitamin B complex, germanium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, sulphur and zinc.
Hormones deserve special attention when we talk about the liver. The liver is also responsible for eliminating excess hormones. Of primary concern for women’s health is the liver’s role in regulating our estrogen hormones. This is a consideration for women undergoing hormone therapy, whether it is conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or biologically-identical hormone therapy (BHT). When I was feeling the effects of peri-menopause, I decided to embark on BHT. I was on this for about 4 years, prior to my diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Could this have been a contributing factor to my diagnosis? Yes, I believe it was. One of the issues was that my liver was overburdened and stressed due to many factors and I’m also absent a couple important genes that our liver needs to process toxins out of the body. Throw in too much oils, processed and sugary foods as well as pesticides and chemicals bombarding me, I was behind the eight ball. When the liver is not functioning optimally, excess estrogens that the liver should be shunting out of the body, can easily build up, getting recirculated in our system. This can lead to build up of excess estrogen, in particular estradiol, which is the strongest and most toxic form of estrogen in our bodies. Estrogen dominance has been implicated in many women’s cancers as well as prostate cancer in men.
One way to test if your liver is clearing estrogens is to request a hormone panel called The Dutch Test by Rocky Mountain Analytics – you collect urine samples over a 24-hour period. This test will, among other things, check ratios of the 3 estrogens in your body – estradiol, estriol and estrone. If the liver is not detoxifying estrogens adequately, there will be an abnormal ratio.
Ways To Support The Liver
Real cranberry juice (organic, unsweetened and 100% real) provides nutritional support for the liver’s cytochrome P450 Phase 1 and 2 detoxification pathways. In simpler terms, the phytonutrients help keep the detoxification pathways open. Beets contain betaine, which protect liver cells and aid in regeneration.
The phytochemical d-limonene in lemon juice is a liver tonic that clears the detoxification pathways and helps produce more bile. D-limonene is an inducer of both phases of detoxification enzymes that neutralize carcinogens. Fresh lemon in hot water, especially first thing in the morning, is recommended for optimizing liver function.
A liver flush and fasting can clear the liver and give it a rest. Caution is recommended with fasts and cleanses, as they can cause severe detoxification symptoms. I have done many successful liver flushes and it is paramount to work with a professional who can guide you and closely supervise your cleanse. Before I realized this, back in 2005, I did a liver cleanse (recommended by a non-medical practitioner – I just purchased a bunch of pills that I took for 3 weeks) and when I had my liver enzymes checked (through blood tests) they were through the roof – meaning triple digits. A qualified functional practitioner can help guide you to focus on supporting your liver on a regular basis using gentle cleansing techniques.
I need to be diligent with daily liver support due to the fact that I have an overactive phase 1 and under active phase 2, which is not a good combination at all. Interestingly, curcumin stimulates phase 2 detoxification but inhibits phase 1, and research claims it can be useful in preventing certain types of cancer. Curcumin has also been shown to directly inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Optimize Liver Function
Keep pathways clear by avoiding trans-fats, commercial vegetable oils high in omega-6 and sugar. Ditch alcohol (or reduce where you can) as it is a toxin in any form and will use up a lot of the liver’s energy to get rid of it. Eating organic is important since pesticides, herbicides and fungicides toxify the liver. If you can’t afford all organic, at least purchase the Dirty Dozen organic.
Increase your fiber intake as insoluble fiber (such as that found in ground flax seed) moves food and waste through your intestinal tract. It absorbs water in your digestive tract and bulks up your stool. If you are deficient in fiber your cholesterol and bile acids are reabsorbed and recirculated placing additional stress on the liver. If you don’t want to use flax seed, you can use psyllium husk.
Milk thistle and artichoke leaf help cleanse the liver. Milk thistle is the king of detoxification herbs and helps eliminate buildup of heavy metals, prescription medications, environmental pollutants and alcohol. The active ingredient, silymarin, protects hepatocytes and enhances liver function. Consuming bitter herbs such as dandelion, parsley and endive is beneficial as they stimulate the production of bile to aid in digestion.
Coffee enemas can also aid in liver detoxification. Organic coffee is retained in bowels and enters liver through intestinal wall. This results in stimulation of bile flow and production of glutathione which helps release the build-up of toxins in your system.
Castor oil packs have been said to help improve liver detoxification. I aim to do 2 or 3 weekly. Castor oil is extremely high in ricinoleic acid, which is known for its anti-inflammatory and lymph stimulating benefits. Castor oil covered by a piece of cloth should be kept on the skin for at least an hour. Place a heat source over it (as hot as you can tolerate) to stimulate lymph and liver function.
Your health and well-being depends on how your body removes toxins from your body.
Rather than resorting to radical liver cleansing, the most efficient way to detox your liver is by doing a little every day.
Lessard-Rhead, Brenda. Nutritional Pathology. CSNN Publishing. Richmond Hill. 2013.