How to Detox Your Liver?
The liver is the largest glandular organ in the body, with numerous vital functions including glucose, fat, and protein metabolism; regulation of blood sugar levels; storage of vitamins; and digestion. It is also one of the major organs of detoxification, playing a key role in the neutralization of external substances such as drugs and alcohol, processing metabolic waste, and breaking down insulin and other hormones. The liver also has the unique property of being the only internal organ capable of regeneration. Several nutrients and herbs support liver function, protect against hepatotoxicity, and encourage the regrowth of damaged hepatocytes.
Before we can address treatment options it is important to understand that there are 2 phases of liver detoxification and we have different genetic predispositions that can support or hinder our bodies' capacity to detoxify.
When we look specifically at the liver, we have phase 1 which is mainly guided by a family of genes called cytochromes. One of these is the CYP 1A2 (Cytochrome P450 1A2). With your CYP genes, you receive one copy of each gene from each of your parents.
Phase 1 is a process where the liver takes substances such as estrogens, some medications, alcohol, or other toxins and changes its shape to notify or ‘flag’ phase-2. Phase-2 detoxification works at the same time and identifies the toxin created through phase 1 and works to clear it from the body. The substances that are created by phase 1 are generally more toxic for the body than the original substance and can either be carcinogenic or pro-inflammatory. If both phases of this process are working well, you are likely eliminating toxins effectively. If not, then we can begin to see symptoms associated with poor detoxification and elimination. When it comes to hormones this can include things such as flare-ups of endometriosis, acne or skin changes, fatigue, and mental fog.
The CYP 1A2 gene codes for your phase one. At this spot, you can carry either 2 A’s, 2 G’s, or one of each. If you are someone who carries 2 A’s you are known as a fast metabolizer. Usually, we would think that this is a good thing to get rid of toxins quickly. This is however not ideal because if Phase 2 isn’t able to keep up with this fast metabolism you can end up with a buildup of flagged toxins that can create inflammation or DNA damage before they are eliminated from the body. If you carry 1 or 2 G’s then you are classed as a slow metabolizer which is ideal for phase one. If you are a fast metabolizer there are herbs such as curcumin that will help slow down phase one and counteract the negative impact the fast metabolism can have on both inflammatory processes and cancer-causing effects.
Phase 2 is a process known as glucuronidation. This is coded by a series of genes called our GSTs. GSTs are different from SNP’s in that instead of having 1 copy from each parent you can have 0 copies or multiple copies of each one. These are known as copy number variant genes and essentially the total number of copies of each gene helps or hinders your phase 2 detoxification. If you are someone with multiple copies then it is easier for your liver to clear the phase 1 intermediaries if you have only a few copies your liver has to work harder to keep up. This often becomes more noticeable with symptoms as we age.
Some multiple nutrients and botanicals can support each phase of detoxification. Botanicals such as milk thistle, dandelion, and brassica vegetables are supportive for phase 1 detoxification. Milk thistle also helps to protect hepatocytes from oxidative damage. Dandelion also works as a diuretic and has anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic properties. Brassica vegetables help support estrogen detoxification.
For phase 2 curcumin, Schisandra and calcium-d-glucarate can all help encourage the clearance of the phase one metabolites through the glucuronidation pathway.
Our liver is an amazing organ as it does have the ability to regenerate. Generally, your liver needs to be functioning at a 30% reduced capacity before we will see changes in blood work. Since the liver is critical to maintaining our ability to detoxify it is important to help support your liver function and try to minimize the load we put on our livers. Toxins such as alcohol, acetaminophen, hydrocarbons as well as other toxins and medications add the burden your liver has to process on top of its regular job of dealing with internal metabolic waste. If you want to support your liver and your overall ability to detoxify reduce your toxic load where you can and then focus on nutrients and foods that will help support liver function. When your liver is working optimally, we can often find improvements:
- Energy levels
- Hormonal balance
- Immune function
- Blood sugar regulation
- Cardiac function
- Skin Health – acne, eczema
If you have concerns in any of these areas speak with your naturopathic doctor about how best to support your liver and make sure you are supporting both phases of liver detoxification.