Toxins are molecules that cause tissue damage and disease in the body. The liver is the major organ for detoxification. Although it carries out hundreds of functions in the body, one of its main duties is processing toxins (from the foods we eat, alcohol, industrial and traffic pollution, medication, chemicals, cleaning products, cigarette smoke and even by-products of normal metabolism) and preparing them to be eliminated from the body. This detoxification process occurs in two phases.
Phase I: Most toxins undergo Phase I detoxification, which involves a variety of chemical reactions carried out by groups of enzymes called the Cytochrome P450 enzymes. Some toxins are rendered water-soluble and eliminated in the urine at this phase. But others become temporarily more toxic, and if they are not quickly processed by phase II, they can start to damage the liver. A good supply of antioxidant nutrients, like vitamins A, C, E and glutathione helps to prevent this damage, by neutralizing the toxins or free radicals.
Phase 2: Phase II is about reducing a toxin’s reactivity and preparing it for excretion. This is done by one of six different chemical pathways, each of which involves attaching a water-soluble chemical group on to a toxin so that it can be removed from the body in the urine or faeces.
Think of phase I as putting the rubbish in the rubbish bin, and phase II as carrying it out of the house. It is vital that phase I and II work in balance. If phase I is much faster than phase II, it can cause excess build-up of free radicals, resulting in liver and other tissue damage. Certain substances can upregulate phase I, making it work too fast. These include paints, industrial chemicals, exhaust fumes, tabacco, organo-phosphorus pesticides, and certain preservatives. Increasing your antioxidant intake can help to protect against the by-products of phase I. Vitamins A, C and E all help prevent oxidative damage. Carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, apricots, tomatoes are all rich in vitamin A. Bell peppers, kiwi fruits, lemons, watercress and oranges are all good sources of vitamin C. And wheat germ, avocadoes, spinach, almonds, and sunflower seeds are all rich sources of vitamin E. Additional liver supportive foods and recipes are listed below.
Liver Supportive Foods
Brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, broccoli sprouts and cauliflower):
• Contain indole-3-carbinols, which can reduce phase I activity while increasing phase II glutathione conjugation, helping to clear toxins more effectively
• Broccoli and sprouts especially good because they contain sulphurofane, a powerful antioxidant compound
• A good source of glutathione, the major antioxidant compound involved in 60% of phase II liver detox pathways
• Increases the activity of alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that metabolises alcohol
• Supports the activity of the liver enzymes glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase and superoxide dismutase, helping to reduce oxidative stress and free radical damage
• A powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
• Induces glutathione production
Garlic and onions
• These sulphur-rich foods help with sulphation, one of the liver’s detox pathways
Signs of compromised liver function
Compromised liver function is different to liver pathology like cirrhosis, hepatitis or liver cancer, because the liver has not yet been permanently damaged. At this stage, blood test results are usually normal. However, if you have more than a few of the symptoms listed below, you would likely benefit from a structured detoxification plan:
Difficulty digesting fatty foods
Poor appetite or nausea (especially in the AM)
Pale, fatty stools that float
Itching on the arms, legs, hands and soles of feet
Dark circles under the eyes
Intolerance to alcohol
Insomnia, walking from 1-3 AM
Excessive sweating or body odour
Feeling of overheating
Mood swings, anger and irritability
A weakened immune system
Weight gain, especially around the abdomen
Poor concentration or brain fog
Multiple allergies and sensitivities
Recipes to support your liver & boost your detox potential
Enjoy these liver-healthy recipes to boost your natural detox potential.
1 large raw organic beet, washed
l large raw organic carrot, washed grated
1/4 chopped red onion
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
A small handful of dulse, soaked in water, drained and roughly chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon,
Black pepper, to taste
Toss all ingredients together, let marinade in the fridge for 30 minutes. Serves 2-3 as a side salad.
A large handful of watercress
A large handful of baby spinach
A mixed handful of fresh basil, parsley and coriander
1 tablespoon of flax oil
A squeeze of lemon juice
Toss all ingredients together and enjoy with your lunch or dinner.
Coriander and Walnut Pesto
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno chili, seeded, and cut into chunks
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup water
In a blender or food processor, combine the cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, walnuts, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cumin. Process to a paste. Add the water and process to combine. Taste for seasoning.