It’s the beginning of a new year and a great time to “reboot” your liver and your health! Due to the amount of toxic substances in our air, water, food, personal hygiene and cleaning products, it is easy for our detoxification systems to become overwhelmed. One of the best ways to improve your health, increase your energy, lose weight and improve mental focus is through a liver detox.
There are many chronic diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity disorder, fibromyalgia, cancer and others that are the result of impaired detoxification. Common symptoms of poor detoxification include difficulty losing weight, bloating, heartburn, rosacea, fatigue, sleep disturbance, headaches, fluid retention, easy bruising, anxiety, depression, decreased appetite, constipation, dark urine and jaundice of the eyes or skin.
Your liver is the most important organ for detoxification, however, your intestines, kidneys and skin also play an integral role. The liver transforms compounds from your intestine, pancreas and other abdominal organs into safe by-products through a process called biotransformation before excreting them in the stool or urine. As you will see, it is a process that is dependent on proper nutrient cofactors, protein and is an energy dependent process. That is why cleanses and fasts are not the same as detoxification programs.
Detoxification/Biotransformation is a complex process that involves 2 phases. Although this may seem boring to most, I am going to explain a bit about the process so that you understand the later recommendations. In phase 1, fat-soluble toxins go through various reactions to get converted into reactive oxygen intermediates or intermediary metabolites through the activation of a group of enzymes (cytochrome p450 enzymes). If you don’t have the nutrients required for these enzymes to work properly, detoxification will be impaired. These nutrients include many B vitamins, folic acid, glutathione, branched chain amino acids, phospholipids and flavinoids.
In the middle of the detoxification process, the toxins that were fat-soluble become less fat-soluble through oxidation and other reactions, however, they can also cause secondary tissue damage at this stage if levels of antioxidants are insufficient. Many plant derivatives and antioxidants can protect the liver from damage by free radicals at this stage.
In phase 2, the intermediary metabolites go through conjugation pathways that render them less reactive and water-soluble. These more water-soluble metabolites can then be excreted into the bile and ultimately the feces. They may also enter into the arterial circulation, go through the kidneys and ultimately be excreted in the urine. In phase 2, nutrients such as glycine, taurine, glutamine, N-acetylcysteine, cysteine and methionine are all essential.
Improper detoxification can occur from a genetic tendency towards low detox activity, insufficient nutrient support and lastly, excessive intake of toxins.
So, what can you do about the sea of toxins our liver has to process on a daily basis? As many of patients have heard before, I like to focus on what you “can do”, and not on what you “can’t do”. Now that you know a little more about how your liver works, let’s get into the practical application of all of that science.
1. Decrease your toxin load. If you think about all of the toxins that we are exposed to on a regular basis, it can seem like a monumental task to stay healthy. The best start is to clean up your diet and drinking water. Consume whole foods, plenty of colorful vegetables and low glycemic fruits without additional pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Additionally, when choosing animal proteins, opt for hormone free, antibiotic free and grass fed options. Try to avoid buying conventional produce that fall on the 12 dirty dozen list from the Environmental Working Group. These are the foods that retain the most pesticides.
Leafy greens (beet greens, kale, spinach, collard greens), cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli) citrus fruits (lemon is my favorite), apples, berries and orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potato/yams) contain many nutrients essential for detoxification. Healthy fats from nuts and seeds as well as avocados provide many beneficial nutrients as well. Drinking clean filtered water with lemon is another way to improve your body’s ability to flush out toxins and improve your blood pH.
2. Cut down on alcohol and caffeine for periods of time and quit smoking. After working a long day many people look to their glass of wine or a cocktail as a way to decompress. Some even light up a cigarette. Although one or two drinks or a cigarette here and there may seem like “no big deal”, when you consider the many other toxins your liver must process on a daily basis, you may want to think twice!
Although small amounts of caffeine do not seem to cause a negative effect on your liver, excessive amounts will add to the overall burden. If you are a cigarette smoker, working with your doctor to quit smoking is one of the best decisions you will ever make when it comes to improving your health.
Choose other ways to reward yourself for all of your hard work like going for a short walk outdoors, practicing yoga and/or spending time in meditation for 10 minutes can be healthy ways to de-stress.
3. Add supplements to boost your detox potential. Glutathione is one of the main antioxidants responsible for detoxification. You can take glutathione as a supplement and IV therapy for patients that need more intense treatments may also be helpful. You can test your levels of glutathione as well as other antioxidants to see if you are optimizing your body’s ability to detox. Taking a methylated B complex will improve methylation and helps with phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification. Minerals such as selenium, copper, zinc and manganese can all protect the liver during the production of the intermediary metabolites, which can cause free radical damage. Milk thistle or silymarin, pycnogenol, turmeric, co Q10, quercetin and resveratrol are all helpful supplements that aid in creating a healthy functioning liver.
4. Clean up your gut! There is a saying in functional and integrative medicine that “healing starts in the gut”. If there is inflammation or toxin build up in the GI tract, elimination of toxins from the gut and liver is impaired and the work of detoxification gets shunted over to the kidneys. Ingesting foods that create inflammation, dysbiosis, (an imbalance of bacteria or yeast in the gut) and accumulation of heavy metals such as mercury and others can all impede detoxification. Proper testing for all of the above is crucial to figuring out why you aren’t feeling your best.
5. Know your Genes (or SNP’s) There are many variations in your genetic makeup that affect your ability to detox. These are called SNP’s (single nucleotide polymorphisms) and one of the most commonly discussed is the MTHFR mutation. A SNP in the MTHFR gene affects the enzyme that plays key roles in your body’s processing of amino acids and folate (vitamin B9), as well as other biochemical pathways. Although you are born with a certain set of genes, they can be turned on or turned off and this is achieved via methyl groups.
Impaired methylation is a factor in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, chronic miscarriages, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and autism. There are many other SNP’s that play a role in detoxification as well. Once you know about your SNP’s you will understand your body and how to improve your health on an even deeper level.
From B vitamins to glutathione to structured liver detoxes, CentreSpring MD has a range of options to help you keep your liver healthy. For additional guidance on understanding detoxification and improving your ability to detox, make an appointment with any of the providers here. We look forward to empowering you with the information you need to take control of your health and the health of your loved ones.
|Dr. Tanya Lehine is a board certified physician specializing in family medicine and functional medicine with expertise in women’s health and the mind-body connection to health and wellness.|
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a visit with Dr. Tanya Lehine D.O..