Detoxification is a constantly active process that takes place in the GI tract, lungs, kidneys, skin and blood brain barrier. But 95% of the detoxification system happens within the liver.
Your liver is an organ that has the job of breaking toxins down into smaller molecules through 3 phases of detoxification, which allows your body to safely excrete them out via urine, feces, and sweat.
The liver is hard at work anytime you:
- Rub lotions with petroleum/petrolatum/parabens/chemicals on your skin
- Eat conventional (non-organic) foods that contain pesticides
- Use plastic water bottles or containers (especially bad if you microwave them, or drink from them after they’ve been in the car.)
- Drive in a car (dashboards off gas Bromine which is a known thyroid disruptor)
- Swim in a chlorinated pool
- Put unsafe chemical laden makeup on your face (MAC is one of the worst!)
- Breathe polluted air (ex: China has the top deadliest polluted air)
- Take any medications (acetaminophen, tylenol, synthetic estrogens, anti-psychotics, pain killers, blood glucose regulators, statin drugs)
- Eat farm raised meats with antibiotics as opposed to grass-fed, wild, free range meats that are not given antibiotics.
- Drink polluted water
- Drink caffeine, alcohol
- Exposed to mold toxins, paint, solvents, dyes, perfumes, pain thinners, water-repellents, flame retardants, commercial detergents,
- Consume high fructose corn syrup
- Internally we also produce endotoxins: neurotransmitters, excess hormones, homocysteine, bacterial endotoxins (LPS – affiliated with leaky gut).
- Prolonged fasting or in a state of starvation. Toxins are stored in fat cells, so when you lose fat, all of those toxins come out at once. This is a heavy burden for the liver. If you release a load of toxins and not eating antioxidants via fruits and veggies, your liver suffers.
If we aren’t able to get rid of all these toxins that we are exposed to on a daily basis we are left with chronic illness. Each year, 2,000 new chemicals are introduced for use in everyday items including: foods, personal care products, prescription drugs, household cleaners, pesticides and lawn care products. That’s astounding isn’t it?
Bisphenol-A is one of the most common xenbiotics and known endocrine disruptors. It can mimic the effects of estrogen, it’s linked to cancer, liver inflammation, disrupts thyroid function and can cause fertility issues. BPA is a commercial plasticizer that is readily absorbed via the skin and intestinal cells. Roughly 8 billion pounds are produced every year (lining of canned foods, plastic water bottles, plastic containers) and more than 90% in the USA have measurable BPA levels in their body.
In Phase 1 of Liver Detox–Transformation phase: The goal is to break the toxin down into a compound that is more water soluble so it can be excreted easier. But sometimes after that toxin is broken down, it can be turned into something even more toxic than what it started out as.
In order for Phase 1 to work, you must have adequate levels of:
- Riboflavin, Niacin, B6, B12, Folate, Glutathione, flavonoids, phospholipids and Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). Without these, your liver will not be able to break down toxins right out of the gate.
A negative by product of Phase 1 detox is Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). These ROS damage cell membranes, DNA and can lead to cancer if they are not checked. Essentially, ROS are like a kid who will just keep eating a bunch of candy without adult supervision. The kid will keep going without stopping until something really bad happens and he gets sick. Luckily, there is an antioxidant defense system that puts a stop to those nasty ROS.
In order for this antioxidant defense system to function optimally it needs the following nutrients:
- Zinc, Manganese, Selenium, Copper. You can take a supplement but the best way to get all of these nutrients are from the right foods (which we will get to.)
In Phase 2 of Liver detox–Conjugation Phase: the goal here is to add another substance to the toxin (cysteine, glycine or sulphur) in order to reduce the reactivity of that super toxic intermediate metabolite that just came out of the Phase 1, so it can be eliminated from the body. There are about 6 processes that go on within Phase 2, but what you need to know is that
For Phase 2 to work properly it needs:
- Glycine, Taurine, L-Glutamine, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), Cysteine and methionine. All of these are amino acids.
Phase 3 of Liver Detox —Transport phase: The main goal of this phase is to act as a barrier system against toxins from entering, as well as moving toxins in and out of the cells. These transporters are present in the liver, intestines, kidneys, and brain.
What Affects Our Ability To Detox?
- Age: The older a person gets, the less ability they have to properly detox. I believe this is because we have done more damage to our bodies as an older person as opposed to a young child who is new to life.
- Gender: Pre-menopausal women have more Phase 1 enzymes to efficiently detox vs. Menopausal women.
- Genes: Genetic mutations are extremely common in liver detox pathways.
- Diet: Charbroiled meats affect liver function. Not eating enough antioxidant filled fruits and vegetables
- Environment: Firefighters/construction workers, careers that place you around paint, solvents, metal fumes. Home surroundings: pesticides, cleaning chemicals. Personal habits: Smoking, drinking, etc.
- Medications: SSRI’s, antibiotisc, H2 blockers, inhibit phase 2 enzymes.
Manifestations of Detoxification Imbalances:
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Multiple drug sensitivities
- Multiple chemical sensitivities
- Gilbert’s Syndrome
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Hormonal Imbalance
What You Can Do:
- Exercising & Weight loss: Exercise is so amazing for every system of the body. But do NOT lose weight too fast. Remember, xenobiotics and toxins are all stored in adipose tissue. If you lose more than 2lb/week, you will be overloading your body with toxins.
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of pure water each day. Water allows your body to flush out toxins more readily.
- Sweat it out: Infrared saunas & dry heat saunas help to eliminate toxins.
- Protein: Low protein diets are associated with lower detox capacity. High Protein diets can overburden the detox system by excessive production of ammonia. So which type of protein should you choose?
- Animal proteins that are wild/free range/clean/not raised with hormones or antibiotics are rich in sulfur amino acids which are important for Phase 2 detox.
- Plant proteins higher in methionine: sunflower seeds, Non-GMO oats, cashews, almonds. Plant proteins are rich in ellagic acid & fiber, which protects the liver and eliminates toxins. Fiber traps toxins and promotes elimination.
- Plant proteins are also alkalizing, which promotes higher clearance of toxins in the liver.
- Carbs to Eliminate: Gluten/Wheat as this causes leaky gut.
- Non-starch Carbs: Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, kale, chicory root, bitter greens, beetroot, onions, garlic, all increase activity of Phase 1 enzymes. These also prevent against estrogen dependent cancers.
- Fat: Eliminate trans fat, hydrogenated oils. Increase vitamin E, plant oils and fish oils, sardines, salmon, cod fish, olive oil.
- Herbs: Turmeric (curcumin), Anise, caraway, celery seeds, cilantro, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, parsley, mint, all increase Glutathione levels which is the most powerful antioxidant in your body. Ginger increases antioxidant capacity
- Herbs: Milk thistle, paprika, saffron, green tea, Garlic and Onions – all amazing for liver detoxing.
Superfoods & A Daily Detox Regimen:
- Probiotic – Absolutely everyone should be taking a probiotic everyday.
- Fiber: Non-GMO Oats, Flax meal, Chia seeds
- Chlorella & Spirulina
- Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, turnips, rutabaga, mustard greens, cauliflower
- Green tea
- Spice: Rosemary, garlic, curry, ginger
- Raspberries & Strawberries
- Dark Chocolate – at least 70%,
- Milk thistle
- NAC – This amino acid is the precursor to Glutathione, an extremely important antioxidant. Take 500-3,000 mg/day.
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- Vitamin D. You should have your levels checked. For optimal health they should be between 70-80.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Take a high quality fish oil every day, not one from a drug store. 1-3 g/day
Of course the goal is to always try and get these nutrients from food. But unfortunately our food quality is not what it used to be so that is where high quality supplements come in to bridge that gap. As always though, TEST, don’t GUESS.
Remember, the body is amazing and it can heal anything! For a more individualized detox plan, you should consult with a functional medicine practitioner.
Never give up or lose sight of your goals ~
Grant, D. M. (1991). Detoxification Pathways in the Liver. Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disease, 421-430. doi:10.1007/978-94-011-9749-6_2
Hodges, R. E., & Minich, D. M. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2015, 1-23. doi:10.1155/2015/760689