When you come across the liver detox programs, diets, and prescriptions, do you automatically have a skeptical look on your face? (Just like I usually do?)
If you’re nodding your head while you read, pat yourself on the back – most liver detox programs out there are often useless! But more importantly, many of these programs can be downright dangerous since they have no scientific basis whatsoever.
So, before you try any liver detox programs, make sure to understand (i) how your liver works and (ii) what this impressive organ needs to do its job properly.
In this article, you’ll discover why we should give our liver some extra love. And how to detox safely without relying on expensive supplements.
Don’t worry: This liver detox is NOT about starving yourself by drinking only lemon juice. Nor is it about drinking (practically) nothing but protein shakes for a month.
I’ll also provide you with a list of nutrients your liver needs to perform its innate detoxification functions. Make sure to read the entire article – you’ll be surprised to discover which food is the best when it comes to liver detox.
Important note: Make sure to get clearance from your doctor before trying this or any other liver detox.
What’s the liver’s job anyways?
Saying that the liver is hard-working is an understatement.
Did you know that this impressive organ has hundreds of functions? For instance, the liver:
• Acts as a detoxifier
• Destroys worn out red blood cells
• Produces clotting and immune factors
• Stores vitamins A, D, K, B12, folate and minerals
• Monitors the synthesis and excretion of cholesterol
• Helps keep blood sugar levels within a normal range
• Processes amino acids, the building blocks that give proteins their structure
• Produces bile which is stored in the gallbladder and released during digestion of fats
• Manufactures triglycerides which are a type of fat that acts as an energy store for later use
• Stores sugar (glucose) as glycogen and transforms it back to sugar (glucose) when the body needs energy
But for this article, I’ll focus on one of the liver’s primary duties, namely detoxification.
Because I’ve had way too many patients who jumped on the liver detox bandwagon without fully understanding what detoxification is really about.
What goes on during detoxification?
Everybody knows that detoxification involves the removal of toxins. And that toxins are poisonous substances that can damage cells or increase the risk of diseases.
But this (not very helpful) definition is why practically everything we eat and drink has been categorized as a toxin by a health figure at some point.
So, here’s what you need to know about toxins
- We’re exposed to different toxins daily and these come from different places. What you want to do is minimize your exposure to environmental toxins. It is impossible to avoid them all.
- Some toxins come from external sources like medications, alcohol, drugs, contaminants, pesticides, and microorganisms.
- Toxins may be produced as byproducts of internal reactions. For example, bacteria in the gut produce enterotoxins.
- Most of the time, it is prolonged exposure to these toxins that can cause disease. For instance, our body produces ammonia when it digests protein. Since ammonia is very toxic, our body will not allow it to accumulate. That’s where the liver comes in: it converts excess ammonia into urea which is then ultimately excreted via the urine. And this process occurs whether you consume plant protein or animal protein.
- The sinusoidal system (or liver filter) contains specialized cells known as Kupffer cells which ingest and break down toxic matter so that they can be excreted.
- Irrespective of the toxin’s origins, the liver will first neutralize that toxin by transforming and combining it with another substance. These two processes facilitate, and make safe, the toxin’s elimination from the body.
Phase I liver detox mechanism – the transformation process
Also known as ‘enzymatic transformation’, this phase begins the detoxification process.
During phase I, a family of enzymes known as the cytochrome P450s (CYPs) enhance various reactions that modify the structure of the various harmful chemicals we encounter.
Good to know:
- Most of the toxins we are exposed to are fat soluble. What this means is that most toxins only dissolve in fat or oil and thus accumulate in our body fat.
- The more toxins accumulate in your body, the more inflammation they will cause and the more weight you’ll gain. Especially around your belly.
- To lose weight and keep it off, it is crucial to support your body’s innate liver detox mechanisms.
Factors that can impair Phase 1 by decreasing the activity of the P450 enzymes:
- Certain medications
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Liver damage (often caused by alcohol)
- Toxicity of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and aluminum
Phase II liver detox mechanism – the conjugation process
The reactions in phase I do not make the toxins water-soluble enough. Plus, after phase I, some toxins are rendered more active – they become potentially more dangerous than they initially were.
And that’s where phase II comes in.
Phase II liver detox is also called ‘enzymatic conjugation’. During this phase, the liver will add small molecules to the partially- processed toxins.
Phase II has four main conjugation pathways namely:
• Glycination, where glycine (an amino acid) will bind to benzoic acid, salycilates, and some antihistamines and decongestants.
• Sulfation, where sulfate binds to various substances including artificial food ingredients, steroid hormones, and amines produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures.
• Glutathonation, where glutathione attaches to toxic metals, carcinogens (like aflatoxins), some drugs, and foreign substances.
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