The liver is an extraordinary organ and the only one able to regenerate itself, even from a very small part. While most of us know the liver as our major site of detoxification, it also acts as a filter for our blood, produces bile which helps to break down and absorb fat from our diet, and assists in keeping blood sugar levels balanced. When required, the liver is able to synthesise glucose from amino acids, and store fat. Fat soluble vitamins, including vitamin A, D, E, K are stored in the liver and certain plasma proteins such as albumin, prothrombin and fibrinogen are manufactured by hepatocytes (1).
While it’s essential to human health that the liver functions effectively, we can assist these processes by reducing our toxic load as much as possible. Alcohol, drugs and medications can significantly increase how hard the liver has to work, but environmental toxins are just as much a problem and usually harder to identify and remove from our surroundings.
Phase 1 & Phase 2 detoxification
There are 3 phases of detoxification – phase 1 & 2 occur in the liver, phase 3 happens mainly within the small intestine. Each phase is uniquely different, and requires different supporting nutrients. A deficiency in any one of these nutrients will slow the process.
Phase 1 detoxification is mediated by enzymes known as the CYP450 group. These enzymes break down and in some cases completely neutralise toxins. Not all of these are exogenous (environmental). Some come from biochemical processes happening all the time within our bodies.These include lactic acid, urea, and bacterial endotoxins. For molecules that aren’t neutralised during phase 1, the resulting substrates pass into phase 2 (2).
Phase 2 utilises several biochemical reactions to make toxins water soluble so they can be excreted from the body. Conjugation, acetylation, methylation, glutathionation, sulfation and glucoronidation are largely dependent on certain amino acids, therefore adequate amounts must be supplied through protein in the diet. Of most importance are glutamine, cysteine, glycine, taurine and methionine. (3)
Nutrients necessary for detoxification
The diagram below shows the nutrients important for each stage of detoxification, and supporting herbs and antioxidants.
(Source: Fx Medicine http://www.fxmedicine.com.au/blog-post/organs-detoxification)
Herbs such as Bupleurum, Milk Thistle and Schisandra support phase 1 detoxification. However, an adequate supply of antioxidants is essential to mop up free radicals that are formed as part of this process. Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant, and it’s function can be supported by consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, or supplementing with nutrients such as vitamin A,C, E, selenium, zinc, or herbs like Turmeric, Rosemary, and Green Tea. Of vital importance are the amino acids cysteine, glutamine and glycine that make up each glutathione molecule.
Phase 3 Detoxification
An important process that has only recently become well-known is phase 3 detoxification. It is important because it initiates the actual removal of toxins from the body. Antiporters within cells pump out toxins for excretion, mainly via the small intestine. A certain amount also occurs within the liver itself, where toxins are removed in bile. Antiporter proteins are also present in the blood-brain barrier, the kidney tubules and testes.
Nutrients that support this mechanism include Globe Artichoke, St Mary’s Thistle, Dandelion, Slippery Elm and probiotics.
The importance of gut health
A healthy gut is the primary site of toxin removal and vital in supporting liver health . Inflammation and dysbiosis prevent toxins from being excreted, and in some cases they can be released back into the blood stream due to conditions like leaky gut. Gut integrity is vital and must be addressed before any treatment to enhance detoxification can work effectively.
How the liver affects our overall state of health.
Just like a well run business, our body requires all its parts to be functioning well in order to retain optimal health. As we live in an increasingly toxic world, our organs of detoxification can shoulder a significant amount of burden. Environmental pollution and exposure to synthetic substances may be causative factors in a range of diseases such as metabolic syndrome, cancer, Alzheimer’s, hormone dysfunction, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, ADHD, cardiovascular disease and many more.
Now that we’ve examined the importance of liver health, stay tuned for the next blog post on how to lower overall toxic burden, improve gut health, and avoid toxins in the environment.
If you have any questions about liver health or would like to book an appointment to discuss this, please feel free to contact us here.
(1) Tortora & Derrickson, 2012. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. Wiley, Inc. United States of America.
(2), (3) FX Medicine (2017). Organs of Detoxification. http://www.fxmedicine.com.au/blog-post/organs-detoxification