A few months ago, we discussed detoxification pathways in the body and highlighted the crucial role of the large intestine in maintaining our health and ridding our body of waste. In today’s blog post, we will deeply dive into all things liver – the liver’s role in the body, how the liver supports us in detoxification, and ways to help our bodies and livers do that significant work!

The Liver: Our Natural Detoxifier

The liver comprises approximately 2% of an adult’s body weight, making it the largest gland in the human body. It serves to support metabolism, immunity, digestion, and storing nutrients. In addition to its various roles, the liver works as a filtration system through its detoxification and deconstruction process of substances that are foreign to the body.

Detoxification Process 

The liver detoxification process occurs in two phases. Phase I of liver detoxification is the first line of defense against harmful toxins and compounds. In this process, certain enzymes help initiate the breakdown of toxins into smaller pieces that can be transported and excreted in the body. In Phase II, the liver utilizes certain amino acids (like glycine) and antioxidants (such as glutathione) to neutralize the more toxic substances that can then be shuttled through the body and excreted. Although the liver is predominant in detoxification, many factors can affect liver function.

What do we need to detox from? 

While we don’t want to sound alarmist, our environment has become increasingly toxic – from the amount of pesticides found in foods, chemicals used in daily household items, and even plastics. Research has demonstrated that environmental exposures,  pollutants, and contamination are significantly related to overwhelming the liver’s detoxification capacity. Ways to reduce exposure to environmental toxins include washing fruits and vegetables, checking air quality before attending outdoor events, investing in an at-home air and water purifiers, wearing respiratory protection when dealing with chemicals and toxins, taking shoes off before entering the home, and limiting artificial candles or laundry scent boosters. The Environmental Working Group keeps an updated list of less-toxic household alternatives, and we also like the app Yuka to help make less toxic choices for  in-store purchases.

Prolonged excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to damaged liver cells due to a buildup of a compound called acetaldehyde, and we know so many individuals that started drinking more in all of the uncertainty of 2020. When the body has a high amount of acetaldehyde, immediate signs include flushing, hangover, increased heart rate, and ultimately DNA damage. Therefore, limiting alcohol intake to two drinks or less a week can reduce alcohol-related complications.

What are some of the signs that I need to support my liver? 

While this varies from person to person, subtle signs of needing a little liver love include:

  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Bloating, constipation or diarrhea
  • Hormonal imbalances / PMS
  • Chemical sensitivities (symptoms like headaches sthat occur after being around strong-smelling substances)

Liver Love 101

Our diet profoundly impacts our liver function. Whole-food, nutrient-dense nutrient can aide in a faster recovery from illness or injury, help overcome  diseases or infections, and as we already mentioned, help support the liver in its’ detoxification roles.

Specific nutrients are very beneficial to supporting the liver’s role in detoxification. Cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, and watercress) are a family of vegetables that supports the liver in detoxification, as compounds found in these vegetables help activate enzymes involved in both phases of liver detoxification. Those compounds are released when the vegetables are broken apart – so cutting cruciferous vegetables before cooking and eating enhances the availability of nutrients available for detoxification.

There are also many herbs and supplements that help support the liver – just remember to work with your healthcare provider to determine which supplements are right for you. N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) improves liver function by helping reduce oxidative stress. Silymarin, an active ingredient in Milk Thistle, also helps support the liver, serving as an anti-inflammaotry and anti-oxidant. And, foods that are green in color (including leafy greens, parsley, cilantro, and green tea) tend to be protective against liver disease.

Summary

It’s not possible to get rid of all toxins – but that’s why we have the liver! To explore ongoing methods of supporting this master detoxifier, reach out to one of our STAT Wellness providers to schedule a visit or book a free 15-minute consult call with one of our providers today.