Our livers are true superheros. Did you know that our livers are responsible for over 500 different functions? It helps the body digest fats, regulates our energy, keeps poisonous waste from entering our blood and is the only organ that can actually grow new cells when some have gotten injured or destroyed by disease. It's basically our garbage collector, so we want to make sure we aren't overloading it, causing it to work too hard. Think about the toxins we encounter each day. Sometimes our livers have trouble keeping up with their jobs! From basically the generation of Baby Boomers and on, people have been constantly surrounded by an ocean of chemicals and artificial contaminants, from what we consume for sustenance to the air we breathe. Everything we come into contact with contains chemicals and potential poisons... Our mattresses, clothing, makeup, cleaning and beauty products, furniture, junk food, medications, cocktails, even the receipt paper we're handed after checking out at Target. Chemicals are everywhere. We can only control so much as far as coming into contact with them, so the rest of our job is to support our liver.
Our liver is the largest internal organ our bodies have! It sits in the upper right-hand quadrant of our abdomen, under the lower right part of our rib cage, underneath our diaphragm. Part of it also goes up toward the upper left part of our abdomen too, but most of it is on the right side. It's got two lobes and a rich blood supply that it gets from two sources - the portal vein receives blood flow from the gastrointestinal tract and the spleen, and the hepatic artery, which gets blood supply from the heart.
So the liver is where all of the contaminants inside our bodies go to be broken down or transformed into a form that can be excreted from the body. As blood enters the liver, it's filtered by rows of cells that are separated by spaces which act like a sieve filtration. This process is known as the sinusoidal system, and is designed to take out toxins, dead cells, ammonia, drugs, pathogens, metabolic waste, alcohol, and chemicals from our blood stream. Metabolic waste are things like sulphates and phosphates. Cells called Kupffer cells ingest and break down the toxins. Because most toxins are fat soluble (can dissolve in fats and oils), they’re hard for the body to eliminate. Neutralizing them takes two main detox pathways known as Phase 1 and Phase 2 reactions. Phase 1 is basically like putting your trash in the trashcan and Phase 2 is then taking the trash bag outside.
HOW PHASE 1 WORKS - Detoxification Pathway of Fat-soluble Toxins
Enzymes start breaking down fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble molecules that connect to bile. Certain toxins like pesticides can upset this enzymatic system that are necessary for this process. Toxins include micro-organisms, pollutants, insecticides, pesticides, food additives, drugs, and alcohol.
HOW PHASE 2 WORKS - Removal of Water-soluble waste eliminated from the body via the Gall Bladder (bile, stool) and Kidneys (urine).
Once the toxins have been broken down to more benign compounds, they’re excreted in Phase 2 from the body. This is known as the conjunction pathway, where oxidized chemicals from Phase 1 mix with sulfur-containing amino acids, turning drugs, hormones, and other toxins into substances that can be excreted in bile. Things like nutritional deficiencies, toxic exposures, alcohol consumption, and low-protein intake can deplete glutathione, a nutrient that is essential for detoxification, and can upset this phase of detox.
Typically this detox process works wonderfully to remove the harmful things we come in contact with each day, but so many chemical byproducts and pollutants in the environment overwhelm our body’s natural detox system. We’ve got to support our body’s natural phases so our liver doesn’t overwork itself and cause greater issues for our health.
Steps to Reduce the Toxic Load of our Livers
Avoid air-borne toxins like second-hand smoke, gasoline fumes, paints, glues, household cleaners, nail polish, and perfumes. Switch to natural plant-based cleaners and products.
Reduce your exposure to toxins found in foods, and opt for organic foods that have reduced the amount of preservatives, fake dyes, pesticides, and fertilizers to ingest. Choose wild-caught fish, because farm-raised is both high in heavy metals and pesticides.
Drink purified water, avoiding chlorine, lead, fluoride, and other chemicals fond in municipal water supplies.
Avoid the use of over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol (acetaminophen) as often as you can. Lots of commonly prescribed meds like psychiatric drugs, antibiotics, and acid blockers can cause liver problems.
Importance of FIBER
The importance of fiber in our diets can not be forgotten as part of our detox process. After our livers have processed toxins, it dumps into the digestive tract. If enough fiber is there, it helps to move the toxins out of our body when we use the bathroom. If there isn’t enough fiber, the toxins can be reabsorbed into the blood and the leaver has to process them all over again.
Fiber Sources: Whole grains like quinoa or millet as well as fruits and veggies are great. Ground flax seed is also a good source especially in smoothies and protein shakes. If you aren’t getting enough (or going enough!) consider a fiber supplement.
Support the Liver with nutrients!
These are some herbs and nutrients to help optimize your liver function and it’s detox mechanisms. As always, consult your healthcare provider before trying any of these, or incorporating anything new into your diet or routine.
Aged Garlic Extract - it helps to protect the liver from injury due to oxidative stress and may help inhibit the development of cancer cells in the liver, according to research.
Amla Fruit Extract - One of the most important foods in Ayurvedic medicine because it’s got major antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s been shown to help boost the liver’s defense system by markedly increasing glutathione levels.
L-Glutathione - most powerful antioxidant made by the body, and the highest levels of it are found in the liver. It’s made up of three amino acids, cysteine, glycine and gluamine. Glutathione plays a huge role in Phase 2 detox! Usually the body creates all of the Glutathione it needs but with a poor diet, illness, the use of certain medications, and exposure to environmental toxins, our storage of it diminishes.
Milk Thistle Extract - This may just be the best known herb for liver supporting. It boosts the activity of the body’s own antioxidants and inhibits inflammation, stimulates new liver cell production, and prevents glutathione depletion. Pretty cool! It also plays a big part in helping the integrity of the liver’s cell membranes stay intact so they can resist toxin penetration.
Picrorhiza Kurroa Root Extract - an old Ayurvedic medicine for treating liver issues and native to the Himalayas, this extract has the ability to scavenge free radicals and help stimulate liver regeneration.
Add a little Curry to your dishes! And try this supplement…
Curcumin which is the compound in Turmeric that gives Curry it’s golden color, is a potent antioxidant helping to treat numerous liver disorders. It increases bile which helps protect the liver from chemical and toxin damage. Lots of curcumin supplements are poorly absorbed by the body so to make sure you’re getting the bioavailable form, look for a supplement that has both curcumin and phosphatidylcholine. It’s 29 times more bioavailable than regular cucumin supplements!
Choose foods that are naturally detoxifying. Fresh fruits and veggies, sulfur-rich foods like onions, garlic, brussels, broccoli, cabbage, and kale are all good choices. Cabbage supports both Phase 1 and 2 of detox.
Eat a good amount of fiber to keep the digestive tract moving along, which helps reduce stress on your liver.
Make sure your fresh fruits and veggies especially are organic, because pesticides over time can accumulate in the body and cause the liver to work harder. Choose organic and grass-fed meat rather than conventional options that are laced with growth hormones and antibiotics. And again, get low-mercury wild caught fish.
Drink moderately, indulging in no more than about one to two drinks per week. If you have a liver condition, don’t drink alcohol at all. Drink water! All of us need to drink more water - half of our weight in oz. is how much we should drink daily. If you’re 150 lb, you should drink about 75 oz of water each day, which is just over 9 cups.
Eat at least 2 servings of antioxidant-rich foods each day
Start each morning with a glass of water with the juice of half a lemon
Avoid processed foods
Lay on your back and gently massage your lower rib area on the right side, stimulating circulation to the liver area
Add Chlorella and more green nutrients into your diet/supplements
Enjoy these foods:
And don’t forget the importance of Exercise for optimizing your liver function!
How do you plan on supporting your liver?? I plan on doing as much of the above as I can!
Sonnewalds Natural Foods booklet entitled “Love Your Liver”, Healthy Living Guide No. 5