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Detoxification and the Liver

This article looks at the important role the liver plays in detoxifying the body and helps to identify what lifestyle and environmental factors might be overloading this vital organ, as well as what changes you can make to help it do its job.

The liver is the most complex organ in the body performing a multitude of different functions (from regulating blood sugar levels, to making 13,000 different enzymes, to metabolising hormones, manufacturing cholesterol and breaking down toxins).

Toxins come from various sources:

  • The human body produces toxins as a byproduct of many chemical reactions taking place in the body daily.

  • Microbial toxins are toxins produced by microorganisms in the body.

  • Herx reactions refer to the adverse reaction of the body to the toxins released by fungus, parasites and bacteria when they ‘die-off’ causing inflammation.

  • Hormones such as estrogen, once used by the body, need to be effectively detoxified by the liver and eliminated. If not, this can lead to the hormones recirculating, leading, for example, to estrogen dominance and a greater risk of estrogen related cancers.

  • Environmental toxins from food, water, air, household and beauty products.

  • Heavy metal toxins from dental and medical procedures (mercury amalgams). and other sources such as air, water etc

Most of the toxins go through three stages in the liver-GI (Gastro-Intestinal) and liver-kidney detox systems. Toxins that are water soluble are easily excreted through sweat and urine. Other toxins (such as heavy metals, pharmaceutical drugs, hormones) have to be converted into a form that enables the body to excrete them. This is where Phase 1 and Phase 2 of liver detoxification come in.

Phase 1 detoxification

Phase 1 is the first line of defence, converting toxins into smaller or water-soluble particles, making them ready for Phase 2. A side-effect of Phase 1 is that it creates free radicals which can do lots of harm, even to DNA, if they are not moved quickly through Phase 2 pathways and out of your body.

In order to aid your Phase 1 detox, it is essential that you try to get your 5-10 servings of fruit and veg per day as this is the best way to load up on antioxidants that protect you from free-radical damage. Increasing your intake of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, collard greens); vitamin C rich foods (bell peppers, strawberries) and herbs such as milk thistle, help activate Phase 1 detoxification. Be aware that grapefruit shuts down Phase 1 detox. Supplements you might want to consider to aid Phase 1 detoxification include:

  • CoQ10

  • vitamins A & E

  • resveratrol

  • minerals selenium, copper, zinc, manganese, magnesium and iron

  • Liposomal glutathione

Phase 2 detoxification

Phase 2 detoxification involves several different conjugation pathways, each designed to take the Phase 1 metabolites out the body through bile, urine and stool. The problem is that Phase 2 detoxification is often sluggish, mainly due to a deficiency in the nutrients that support the various detox pathways such as:

  • Vitamin B12

  • meat is a good source of B12.

  • Sulfur

  • from cruciferous vegetables, eggs, meat, garlic, onions.

  • Amino acids

  • taurine, methionine, cysteine, glycine, which combine with, and remove, toxins from the body.

  • Molybdenum

  • which is important to help break down the neurotoxin acetaldehyde produced by alcohol and intestinal fungal overgrowth, and which is an important component of as many as 50 enzymes involved in detoxification. Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils are a rich source of molybdenum.

  • Flavonoids

  • found in fruit, vegetables and many herbs.

There is increasing evidence suggesting that when Phase 1 detox is activated (also by external factors such as caffeine and alcohol) and Phase 2 is sluggish, the harmful intermediate metabolites from Phase 1 detoxification can result in damage to the body, resulting in diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, lupus and immune dysfunction.

Phase 3 detoxification

This final phase is all about transporting the Phase 2 conjugates either to the kidneys (for further filtration and out of the body via the bladder and urine) or to mix with bile and out the body via the GI tract (small intestine, large intestine and out through stool). Phase 3 detoxification requires proper functioning of the GI system to ensure you are having a bowel movement at least once a day. It also requires adequate hydration to help avoid constipation, and for kidney-urine elimination.

You do not want to push Phase 1 detox if Phase 2 is not optimal, and you do not want to push Phase 1 and 2 if elimination is not working. Recirculating toxins are more toxic to you. It is never a good idea to do any detox programme without the advice of a healthcare practitioner. In particular, heavy metals need specific attention as different chelators (compounds which bind to metal atoms and help pull them out the body) are required for different heavy metals. In addition, many chelators also bind to important minerals in the body and this can lead to deficiencies and other adverse symptoms. There is also the risk of simply moving heavy metals from one location in the body (the gut) to another (the brain) where they can cause more harm.

Final word

The liver can become easily overwhelmed if it is not looked after properly. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is on the increase world-wide and affecting a younger and younger population. Fatty liver disease is just what the name suggests: an accumulation of fat in your liver. This is completely reversible with changes in diet, exercise and liver support. In particular, more and more research shows that eliminating refined sugar, refined carbs, fructose (particularly high fructose corn syrup), trans-fats, artificially sweetened beverages and junk foods and replacing them with a healthy diet of whole foods, fruit and vegetables, good sources of protein (organic grass fed if animal protein), nuts and seeds and oily fish can completely reverse NAFLD. Often the first sign of liver disease is elevated liver enzymes, AST and ALT.

Toxins = Symptoms = Low Energy = Weight Gain = Pain = Brain Fog

The next article will discuss other methods of detoxification, including body brushing, tongue scraping, saunas and exercise. It is important to know that it is not 7 days or 14 days or 30 days of toxins that get you sick, but a build-up over a lifetime. It is therefore not a 7-day / 14-day / 30-day detox programme that is going to get rid of your toxins. As you become more mindful of removing the sources of your toxic exposure and you start implementing gentle detox strategies regularly, over time you will feel the difference to your overall health and well-being.

If you listen to your body when it won't have to hear it scream

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