The liver is our most important detoxifying organ. It is masterful at identifying toxins and neutralizing them so that they can be safely excreted from the body. Toxins include chemicals, food additives, alcohol, caffeine, and medications to name a few. The liver is also responsible for detoxing our hormones and end-products of metabolism. It also stores glucose for energy production and produces bile to help us break down and digest fatty foods.
There are two phases of liver detoxification, and each requires vitamins, proteins and minerals to work effectively. In Phase 1, enzymes called Cytochromes add an oxygen molecule to the toxin, which prepares it to enter Phase 2. This is called oxidation, and it actually makes the toxin MORE harmful to the body. It’s a “take one step back to take two steps forward” type of process. In Phase 2, we deactivate the toxin through a process called conjugation. This neutralizes the toxin so that it can be excreted safely by the colon or bladder.
In some people, one phase or both phases of liver detoxification are sluggish. This is especially damaging when Phase 1 is working more quickly than Phase 2 because we get a build-up of oxidized toxins that are harmful to the body. Sluggish liver detoxification can be caused by genetic deficiencies, nutrients missing from the diet, or a high toxic burden from alcohol, medication use, or exposures to toxins in the environment.
Most of us are bombarded with more toxins than we realize. Think about how many toxins your liver deals with solely from your morning routine: you wake up, have a shower and put soap, shampoo, shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, face wash and moisturizer on your body. Each one of these products absorbs through the skin and has to be detoxed. Then you drink a coffee (caffeine) and have a bowl of cereal (food additives), adding even more work to the liver’s busy morning. Your liver is already overwhelmed before you have even left the house!
When the liver isn’t able to keep up with our detox demands, we may experience fatigue, headaches, poor memory, acne, hormonal imbalances, nausea and/or abdominal pain caused by a build-up of toxins in the body2. Prolonged strain on the liver can lead to liver damage, which reduces liver function and perpetuates the cycle of toxicity in the body.
Dr. Hilary’s Lifestyle Tips To Support the Liver
Drink more water: After the liver neutralizes toxins they are eliminated from the body through the bowels and bladder. Even minor dehydration will limit your body’s ability to get rid of toxins. Aim to drink at least 2 litres of water daily, and more if you’re active or in a warm climate.
Support elimination: When we’re constipated, toxins can be reabsorbed from the bowel, adding to the toxic burden in the body. We should have at least one fully evacuated bowel movement daily. Increasing fibre in the diet, drinking plenty of water, and being active are great first steps to support bowel health.
Healthy nutrition: The liver requires vitamins, minerals, proteins and other nutrients that we get from food to function optimally. Foods also contain antioxidants that heal damage caused by Phase 1 oxidation. Top liver supportive foods include:
Cruciferous veggies: brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale
Foods containing sulphur: eggs, garlic, onions
Protein-rich foods: meat, fish, beans, chickpeas
Mineral-rich foods: nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, beans
Antioxidants: berries, beets, spinach, artichoke, dark chocolate
Limit caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol are detoxified by the liver and add to its workload.
Use natural products: Transition to natural and scent-free cleaning products and personal care products. This can be a gradual change over time, as you run out of items try to replace them with more natural products. Top chemicals to avoid are phthalates, synthetic fragrances, and parabens.
The liver is the body’s most important detoxifier. It is continually working to neutralize toxins so they can be safely eliminated from the body. The overall burden of toxicity on the body may be higher than we think, due to chemicals in our products, food additives, alcohol and medication use. If the liver can’t keep up, we experience symptoms of fatigue, acne, hormonal imbalance, and brain fog, and it can eventually lead to liver damage.
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