The liver is your body’s superhero. It does not get as much credit as the heart or the brain, but we wanted to give credit where credit is due. And after the recent bout of holidays we’ve just experienced, your liver may be in need of some TLC.
Your liver is the largest organ in the body, and has about 500 important jobs to do. It removes all toxins from your body, clears medication from your body and metabolizes all your food. It also adjusts cholesterol levels, builds proteins, and makes bile, stores sugar for when you really need it, and regulates hormone levels1. As you can see, the liver wears many hats! To keep it running smoothly and efficiently, a liver cleansing/detox every once in a while is beneficial. By the time you finish this article, you will be an expert in what you can do to keep your liver healthy, and how to detox it.
How do you know when your liver needs to be cleansed/detoxed?
The liver, being the jack-of-all-trades that it is for our bodies, gets overtaxed from time to time. There are some pretty clear signs that your liver is a little stressed out2:
Excessive fatigue: Fatigue is a common symptom, and is usually experienced when the liver is under stress. The liver converts glucose into glycogen, a form of sugar that can be stored, and then later released as glucose when the body needs a burst of energy. By storing and supplying the body with glucose, the liver helps combat fatigue and make us feel more energetic. If the liver is overworked, it may become less efficient at regulating blood glucose, and you may have more sugar cravings than normal.
Hormone imbalance: The liver detoxes more than chemicals and pollutants. It also detoxes our own hormones, including excess estrogen. When the liver is overworked, extra estrogen may not be excreted, and can build up. Signs of excess estrogen in women can include PMS, moodiness, weight gain, fibroids, and more.
High levels of heavy metals: Our exposure to heavy metals and environmental toxins has exponentially increased, due to an increase in metals in industrial, agricultural, and technological applications. From textiles to electronics, to paper processing and so much more, metals are a part of our everyday life, whether we like it or not. Heavy metals can cause DNA damage and can contribute to a variety of illnesses. When the liver’s detox pathways are impaired, heavy metals can accumulate in the body. Specifically, the liver’s stores of glutathione, which safely and effectively bind to toxins and metals, can become depleted. This can result in nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, weakness, and more. A comprehensive medical test can be run to see if your body’s heavy metal content is too high.
How your liver deals with toxins
The liver is pretty much ground-zero for dealing with toxins – it’s where all of the contaminants within the body are broken down or transformed into a form that can be excreted from the body. As blood is pumped through the liver, it is filtered by rows of liver cells that are separated by spaces which act like a sieve through which the blood flows. This filtration process, known as the sinusoidal system, is designed to remove toxins such as dead cells, ammonia, metabolic waste, pathogens, drugs, alcohol, and chemicals from the blood stream.
But this detoxification process is not quite as straightforward as it sounds. Because most toxins are fat soluble, they are extremely difficult to eliminate. Neutralizing them requires two primary enzymatic pathways known as Phase i and Phase ii reactions. In a nutshell, Phase i is equivalent to putting your garbage in a bag and Phase ii is like carrying it out of the house. Here’s how it works: 3
Phase i: Phase l enzymes begin the transformation process that turns fat-soluble toxins into water molecules that are bound to bile. This transformation requires a specific family of enzymes, known as Cytochrome P-450 mixed function oxidase enzymes that convert a toxic chemical into a less harmful substance through oxidation. However, as well as this works, the process produces harmful free radicals. What’s more, excessive levels of certain toxins like pesticide can disrupt the P-450 enzyme system.
Phase ii: Once the toxins have been broken down into more benign compounds, they are then excreted from the body during this phase. Known as the conjugation pathway, the oxidized chemicals from Phase l are combined with sulfur-containing amino acids like taurine or cysteine. This turns drugs, hormones, and various toxins into substances that can be excreted in bile. This phase can be put into jeopardy, though, by nutritional deficiencies, and alcohol consumption.
Make good choices to support your liver
While we can’t eliminate the hundreds of harmful chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis, there are things we can do to minimize our exposure. One thing we can do is to avoid at-home toxins like second hand smoke, and also try to steer clear of gasoline fumes, paints, glues, household cleaners, and nail polish. Eating healthily can also help greatly, as there are certain toxins that can be found in some foods. Opt for organic, to minimize the consumption of foods containing preservatives, synthetic dyes, pesticides, and fertilizers. Choose wild-caught fish, which are low in mercury, to help avoid both the heavy metals and the pesticides commonly found in farm-raised fish. Also, drink purified water whenever possible, since tap water can contain chlorine, lead, fluoride, and other chemicals.
One last tip is to add a supplement to your routine that contains healthy nutrients for your liver. The ingredient Aged Garlic Extract® is rich in beneficial organosulfer compounds and is a potent antioxidant. Studies have shown that it can also help fortify liver function thanks largely to an organosulfer compound called S-allyl cysteine4. Milk thistle extract is also a great herb for liver support. Milk thistle’s most active compound is silymarin, a polyphenol with powerful antioxidant activity that scavenges damaging free radicals. It also boosts the activity of the body’s own antioxidants, such as glutathione. Studies suggest that milk thistle also inhibits inflammation, stimulates new liver cell production, and prevents glutathione depletion5.
Another supplement that can help support liver function is a probiotic that contains enzymes. A probiotic that contains enzymes can assist the body’s natural ability to break down proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and dairy into absorbable nutritional elements, and can also regulate your body’s healthy bacteria and normalize your GI system.
Incorporate some of these tips into your day-to-day life, and your liver will be refreshed and detoxed in no time!