Detoxification of Liver and Kidney

  • Nature's Source

The New Year is traditionally a time when people pledge to reform their ways, clean up their act and embrace a healthier lifestyle. Things that can be done fall into two categories:

  1. Things you stop I will stop smoking. I will tame my alcohol intake. I will curb my intake of junk food to lose weight.
  2. Things you will do to improve well-being. I will exercise. I will eat healthier foods. I will cleanse my body of accumulated garbage.

This article will focus on liver detoxification.

Toxins are classified as internal and external. External toxic insults are those we are commonly exposed to in our daily lives from food, water or air. More specifically, environmental toxins present as pathogenic microorganisms, pesticides, solvents, agricultural and workplace chemicals, air pollution and water pollutants. Internal toxins include those that are stored or produced in or by our bodies. Fat soluble chemicals accumulate in our fat cells and cell membranes. A gut dysbiosis will generate high levels of pathogenic yeast, bacterial and viral toxins. Internal toxins also include those that are the result of normal metabolic products. The improper formation or metabolism of hormones, neurotransmitters or other chemicals produce harmful effects.

The safe removal of internal toxins involves normalizing homeostasis by upregulating organ systems that are designed to undertake this work but are typically over-burdened and under-performing. These organ systems include the skin, kidneys, lymph and lungs but most importantly the liver and the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract.


How Liver Detoxification Works

The liver plays a central role in detoxification. To a great extent, the health and vitality of the liver conditions our overall health and vitality. The liver is constantly bombarded with both internal metabolic substances that require processing to transform and neutralize them. The liver is also front-and-centre in the dealing with environmental toxins.

The ‘heart’ of the liver’s detoxification system is divided into what is termed Phase I and Phase II. In Phase I the liver uses oxygen and enzymes to ‘burn’ toxins. This means they are oxidized which results in the toxins being transformed so they are water-soluble. This permits them to be more easily excreted. Although Phase I is crucial, it poses risks because water-soluble intermediates are often more toxic than the original compounds. A healthy liver efficiently moves these substances through Phase II but this is not often the case. Tobacco, alcohol, trans-fat vegetable oils, pesticides and many medications inhibit this process which results in a toxic debris burden being inflicted on the body. On the other hand, nutrients like zinc, dandelion and burdock root, milk thistle, vitamin C, glutathione and cruciferous vegetables are especially effective at increasing the effectiveness of Phase I detoxification.


[sidebar: Products that upregulate Phase I liver detoxification]

Phase II detoxification typically involves conjugation by which enzymes in the liver are attached to the Phase I metabolites. This action either neutralizes the toxin or transforms it so that it can be more easily excreted safely through the urine or the bile. There are six main pathways of Phase II detoxification –glutathione conjugation, amino acid conjugation, methylation, sulphation, acetylation, and glucuronidation. Each of these pathways are dependent on the steady supply of nutrients to perform their work. When the amount of toxic debris present exceeds the available nutrients to do this then your sewer backs up and you won’t like it. Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to increase the supply of nutrients to ‘upregulate’ Phase II detoxification.

Firstly, note the specific nutrients whose deficiency inhibits Phase II. These include selenium, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, zinc, folate, molybdenum. Aspirin specifically inhibits Phase II. Secondly, there a good range of nutrients that upregulate Phase II. These include brassica family foods (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts), limonene containing foods (citrus peel, dill and caraway oils), the amino acid glycine, green tea, beets, choline, methionine, betaine, cysteine, taurine and omega-3 fish oil fatty acids (see below).


[sidebar: Select products that upregulate Phase II detoxification]


Eating for Liver Detoxification

Following a healthy diet is an important part of supporting liver detox.  Here is a list of foods to include….as well as a list of the foods that must be eliminated. Foods to include:


Fresh fruits and vegetables -Eat plenty of these, organic if possible and ensure you eat a wide variety of colors (they are packed full of flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants). Eat vegetables raw, lightly steamed or stir-fried with water instead of oil.


Wholegrains and legumes – Legumes must be soaked before cooking (preferably overnight), so plan ahead. Try to avoid too much wheat and eliminate entirely if you are sensitive to it.


Protein foods – Easy to digest protein is a great way to provide the amino acids for detoxification as well as aid in tissue repair. Sources of easy to digest proteins are: Raw unsalted nuts and seeds(all types except peanuts), fresh fish (steamed, poached or baked), natural unflavoured protein powder or natural unflavoured yogurt (an exception to the no dairy rule).


Natural dressings – Try a combination of any of the following: Cold-pressed olive oil, flax seed oil, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice.


Foods to avoid:

Processed foods -practically everything from a packet. The best thing to do is make everything fresh and avoid any foods with additive numbers or words you don’t understand in the ingredients.Sugar, caffeine, artificial additives (colours, flavours, preservatives and sweeteners), alcohol and fried foods – you know that these have to go!


Changing your diet is generally proves the most stressful part of a detox.  You can minimize the stress and stop yourself binging if you plan ahead and mentally prepare yourself.  Work out what you’ll be eating for each meal and make sure it is easy to prepare on time, as you are most likely to binge if you are hungry.It is also important to make sure you add the eliminated foods back into your diet gradually when you finish the detox. Eating too much or eating large amounts of these foods straight after a detox (even if you are craving them) is a guaranteed way to make yourself feel sick and undo all of the hard work you’ve just achieved.  So take it slow and remember - everything in moderation.


Specific Herbs and Nutrients to Support Liver Detoxification


Taking a functional food product that contains the following nutrients is an effective way of stimulating your liver to detox.  In addition to stimulating your liver, the following nutrients also provide cellular support and assist with toxin elimination by encouraging healthy gastrointestinal function.


Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), also called St. Mary’s Thistle, believed to have liver protective, liver regeneration, antioxidant and bile stimulating properties.The main active constituents are collectively called silymarin.  Its liver protective effects have been proven against many chemicals and hormones, including paracetamol, alcohol, oestrogen, antibiotics, iron overload and even Amanita mushroom (death cap) poisoning .

Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) contains a unique compound called cynarin, which has been found to increase bile production, help lower cholesterol, support kidney function and protect liver cells.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) fruit is traditionally used for its liver protective, antioxidant and stress-reducing properties.  Schisandra fruit, as well as many of its individual constituents, have been shown in studies to enhance both phase I and phase II liver function. Numerous in-vitro and in-vivo studies have also shown it to protect the liver from chemical induced damage. Several compounds isolated from Schisandra have been shown to have a stronger antioxidant activity than vitamin E at the same concentration.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) root can help to decrease high phase I liver activity and also enhance the phase II glucuronidation pathway. It also enhances digestion by stimulating bile production and secretion.  

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) may protect the liver, act as an antioxidant and be beneficial for memory function. It’s effects on the liver are believed to be mainly due to its antioxidant effects and also by improving the phase II glutathione pathway.

Black pepper (Piper longum) contains the compound piperine, which has been shown in in-vitro and in-vivo studies to have liver protective properties against a number of chemicals.


Antioxidants for Liver Protection


Green Tea (Camilla sinensis) can improve phase II liver detoxification. It also contains antioxidants called epicatechins, most notably epigallocatechin 3 gallate (EGCG), which may have protective effects against a range of different cancers.

Glutathione is an extracellular antioxidant that protects cells against free radicals, prevents lipid oxidation and recycles vitamin C and E.  It is also required for the liver’s phase II glutathionation pathway which detoxifies chemicals, such as DDT and epoxides in glues. Furthermore glutathione supplementation may help facilitate liver regeneration.

Alpha Lipoic Acid is known as the universal antioxidant as it is effective in both fat-soluble and water-soluble environments, meaning that it can travel easily throughout the body.  It can also help maintain glutathione levels, thereby increasing its benefits for the liver.

Calcium ascorbate is a non-acidic form of vitamin C, making it gentle to the stomach.  Vitamin C has a number of important functions, including its role as a water-soluble antioxidant.  It also increases the antioxidant activity of vitamin E.

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that works closely with vitamin E as an antioxidant.  It can also help to maintain glutathione levels, thereby assisting phase II liver detoxification. It also protects the body against heavy metal toxicity and is required for normal thyroid hormone production, activation and metabolism.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that is needed for the function of over 300 enzymes in the body, including carbohydrate and protein metabolism, protein and DNA production and antioxidant protection.  Adequate zinc levels are important for detoxification reactions and intestinal health.


Liver Supporting Amino Acids:


L-Glutamine is a precursor to glutathione which has antioxidant actions in the liver and is involved in phase II liver detoxification. It also nourishes intestinal cells thereby improving gastrointestinal immunity and allows acid (ammonia) removal via the kidneys.

L-Methionine is essential in the liver for the phase II methylation and sulphation pathways, which detoxify many drugs, heavy metals, hormones and neurotransmitters.  It also functions as an antioxidant, protects DNA and is required for choline and taurine synthesis. 

Glycine is required for the liver’s phase II glycination pathway, where it detoxifies many compounds including some found in cigarettes, artificial flavours and preservatives. It also assists liver recovery from alcohol and liver damaging toxins and is required for the production of bile. Other important functions of glycine include uric acid elimination by the kidneys and growth hormone release.

L-Taurine is required in the liver for the phase II sulphation pathway, as well as for bile synthesis.  It also acts together with glycine and GABA (glutamine) to calm the nervous system, and is required for the release and function of many hormones including growth hormone and insulin.


Special Liver Nutrients:


Choline is a vitamin that is required by the liver for the detoxification of chemicals.  It is also needed for the production of bile, thereby helping reduce blood cholesterol and aiding in the transport and metabolism of fats.

Inositol is also required for liver function as it is necessary for the production of lecithin – a compound that may prevent the accumulation of fats in the liver.  It functions closely with choline, folate, B6, B12, betaine (TMG) and methionine.

Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) is involved in numerous chemical pathways in the body including detoxification of homocysteine, fat metabolism in the liver and the production of important neurotransmitters including the mood regulators, serotonin and dopamine.

Folate (Vitamin B9) also known as folic acid, is essential for DNA, protein and cellular growth and differentiation. This makes it necessary for the health of red blood cells, bones, and hair, as well as the nervous, digestive and immune systems.

Methylcobalamin (Vitamin B12) is necessary for the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, as well as the production of fatty acids and DNA.  It is also necessary for detoxifying homocysteine, a compound that is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.


Fruits and Vegetables that Support Liver Detoxification:


Beetroot is traditionally believed to benefit the liver and blood.  You can’t beat beets! They contain various polyphenols, betaine and trimethylglycine (TMG).  TMG is beneficial for lowering high homocysteine levels, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  TMG may also increase cellular oxygen uptake, assist energy production, lower homocysteine and improve circulation.

Cranberries contain a variety of antioxidant phytonutrients, including flavanol glycosides, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins and phenolic acids.  They have also been shown to have potential anti-proliferative effects on cancer cells.

Blackcurrants are a rich source of the antioxidants Vitamin C, quercetin and anthocyanins. 


Sidebar: Nutrients and Products that upregulate Phase I liver detoxification


  • Biotta Beetroot juice 17 fl/oz
  • Nature’s Way Dandelion root capsules
  • Celebration Herbs Burdock root tea bags
  • New Roots L-Methionine capsules
  • AOR C + Bioflavonoids capsules
  • Botanica Milk Thistle tincture
  • Flora Milk Thistle Plus capsules


Sidebar: Nutrients and Products that upregulate Phase II liver detoxification

  • Salus Dandelion juice 200 ml
  • Himalaya Liver Care caps
  • AOR Glycine powder
  • New Chapter Turmericsoft gels
  • Salus Organic Beet Crystals 300 gm
  • Sisu Full Spectrum Omega soft gels
  • AOR D-Glucarate + Milk Thistle
  • Flora Organic Flax Oil (various sizes)
  • Biotics Research M0-zyme forte tablets
  • Trophic selenium amino acid chelate (bisglycinate) capsules
  • Trophic zinc amino acid chelate (bisglycinate) capsules
  • BronccoGen 10 capsules