While it may actually be anatomically impossible to hug your own liver…it really deserves your love! Your liver is working 24/7/365 to keep you healthy, but it is no easy job, and even your awesome liver needs some help.

In our last article we reviewed the Dangers of Toxins. Now we will get into some more detail on how our body attempts to detoxify. Don’t worry, we will try not to get super technical, but there is some science involved, so now might be a good time to grab a mug of green tea…

How the Liver Works Its Detoxification Magic

When most people think of their liver, they think of the negative effects alcohol has on it. The liver is damaged from exposure to too much alcohol, and it is responsible for clearing alcohol from our systems – but that’s just one of its many jobs. Our livers also work to neutralize and eliminate the other chemicals we are exposed to twenty-four hours a day.

Chemicals constantly enter our bodies from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat (and drink!), and the products we use. The liver is working hard all of the time, and its proper function is dependent on the right nutrients.

There are five main detoxification organs:

1. Liver
2. Kidneys
3. Colon
4. Skin
5. Lungs

The liver is the most important of these five organs and does the majority of the work.

Understanding the Phases of Detoxification

The phases of the moon … that has such a nice, gentle and romantic feel to it. The phases of detoxification of the body … yeah, doesn’t really roll off the tongue … but still important!

The liver has two primary detoxification pathways called, simply, Phase 1 and Phase 2. The purpose of these two detoxification pathways is to transform toxins from fat -soluble chemicals (chemicals that prefer to dissolve in fat) to water -soluble chemicals (chemicals that prefer to dissolve in liquid). Most of the toxic chemicals that enter the body are fat-soluble. Since they cannot dissolve in water, they are difficult for the body to excrete. The liver must transform these toxins into water-soluble chemicals in order for them to be excreted through the kidneys (in urine) and the intestines (in bile/stool).

Phase 1 – Dissolving Fat-Soluble Toxins

As toxins meet the liver for clearing, most must first enter Phase 1 of detoxification. Phase 1 is driven by oxidation, reduction, and hydrolysis. This first line of defense protects the body from a wide variety of toxic substances. Think of Phase 1 as dissolving the fat-soluble toxins into more water soluble toxins and readying them for elimination.

When Phase 1 is finished, the toxins have been transformed into an intermediate chemical ready for Phase 2.

Phase 2 – Absorb and Eliminate

Phase 2 liver detoxification involves the liver cells adding another substance to the toxic chemical to make it even more water-soluble. Think of Phase 2 as wiping up the dissolved toxins. Once bound or wiped up, the toxin is water-soluble and can be excreted from the body in watery body fluids such as urine and bile. If it is a large molecule, it is excreted into the bile and released into the stool for elimination. If it is a smaller molecule, it is excreted through the kidneys into the urine for elimination.

If the Liver Is Doing Such a Great Job with Detox, What’s the Problem?

The liver, like any organ in our body, needs the right nutrients, AKA fuel, to operate at peak performance. With the large amount of toxins in our environment, it can be very difficult to give the liver all the nutrients it needs for peak detoxification, without additional supplements.

When It Comes to Phases, It’s All about Balance! – Phase 1

Each phase of detoxification is dependent on certain nutrients. If Phase 1 transformation is underactive, a back up of chemicals waiting to be transformed for elimination results. This backlog can lead to an excess of fat-soluble toxic chemicals circulating in the body. Since they prefer to dissolve in fat, they often find a resting place in the body’s fat cells. In addition to our fat tissue, toxins are stored in fatty organs such as the brain and endocrine glands. Deposits of toxins in these tissues can result in neurological and hormonal dysfunction. Once stored in fat cells, they may remain there for years until they are released through exercise, stress, weight loss, or a detoxification program.

If Phase 1 transformation is overactive an excess of intermediates will be produced for entry into Phase 2. Some substances that stimulate Phase 1 and cause it to become overactive include: carcinogens, alcohol, exhaust fumes, heavy metals, paint fumes, dioxins, and organophosphate pesticides. Too much activity from the presence of these toxic substances may over activate Phase 1 and overwhelm Phase 2 by driving more intermediates into Phase 2. Often these intermediates are more toxic than the original substance and are reactive molecules that can generate free radicals and damage tissues. These reactive molecules need to enter Phase 2 detoxification without delay, and proper antioxidants need to be present to protect the tissues from the free radicals.

Balancing Phase 2

If Phase 2 liver detoxification is underactive, the toxic intermediates from Phase 1 will back up and damage tissues. This second phase is dependent on many amino acids (protein building blocks) and antioxidants to run efficiently. Without the right quality diet and nutrients, this phase of liver detoxification will run out of the wipes necessary to bind the excess of toxic intermediates. This results in free radical damage and a sluggish liver that often needs extra support.

For example, it is well known that large amounts of acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause liver failure. Like many drugs, acetaminophen metabolizes in the liver and excretes in the urine. During Phase 1, a small percentage of acetaminophen transforms into a very toxic intermediate, NAPQI. Ideally, during Phase 2, glutathione (an antioxidant) neutralizes NAPQI, making it harmless. Glutathione, essential for both phases of liver detoxification, are dependent on one’s nutritional status. If there is not enough glutathione during Phase 2 (not enough wipes) to mop up the NAPQI, then NAPQI backs up and liver damage can occur. Glutathione levels are low in people who don’t eat well, are malnourished, or are chronic alcohol users (three or more drinks a day). Because chronic alcohol users typically have depleted glutathione levels, they are more at risk for liver failure if they take multiple high doses of acetaminophen.

It’s most common for people to have an overactive Phase 1 from the constant chemical insults in our environments, and an underactive Phase 2 from depleted stores of essential nutrients due to poor diet and lifestyle habits. The result is a liver that can’t keep up with its workload, referred to as a “sluggish liver”. A sluggish liver can produce symptoms of toxicity that include: headaches, joint pain, sinus congestion, digestive disturbances, fatigue, environmental allergies and sensitivities, infertility, neurologic dysfunction, food intolerances, nausea, elevated cholesterol, constipation, skin disorders, acne, anxiety and depression.

How Can I Support My Poor Overworked Liver?

Here is the good news – by making subtle changes to your diet, avoiding key toxins and adding all natural supplements to your diet you can have your liver detoxing like an all-star!

In our next article, learn about all natural Perfect Liver Detox Support; a supplement developed by a Naturopathic Doctor, Erica LePore, with over 14 years of experience helping thousands of patients through a science-based detoxification program.


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