I wrote a chapter in The Science of Skinny called “Alkalize and Liver-ize.” I made up the word “liver-ize” because I wanted an action word to describe how to eat to cleanse the liver.
Liver cleansing is all about healthy eating–it means eating foods that contain all the important nutrients to support cleansing the liver and bowels. I don’t think of it as a “cleanse” per se, but rather a healthy processed-free lifestyle.
When I wrote about liver-izing foods, my intention was to inform readers about why our body needs these foods and how they work to support the liver in it’s role of detoxification. Detoxification is what cleanses our body of toxins.
The liver is designed to convert fat-soluble toxins (think food additives, pesticides, medications, environmental pollution, household cleaning agents, skin and hair care products, etc.) into water-soluble non-toxins so that they can be excreted from the body via the water-based fluids such as bile, sweat and urine. This conversion is done by a complex system of enzymes that exist inside the liver cells.
But these enzymes don’t just magically appear in liver cells. They have to be made by the body–and the body uses nutrients to make them. We have to eat those nutrients in order for the magic in the liver to happen!
This is why cleansing is a more effective way to detoxify than fasting. When you fast, you don’t take in nutrients, so those toxins that are released from your fat cells during fasting may actually make you more sick if the liver cannot break them down.
The liver breaks down toxins in a 2-step process called Phase 1 and Phase 2 Detoxification.
In Phase 1, the liver enzymes convert a toxin into a less harmful chemical. This is achieved by various chemical reactions which break the bonds that hold the toxin molecule together, turning it into a free radical. This free radical is called an “intermediate” (because it is supposed to be the temporary intermediate step between Phase 1 and Phase 2).
Phase 2 Detoxification is known as the “conjugation” phase. Conjugation means “to link two things together.” Sometimes I call this the “handcuffing” phase, because in essence the toxin is handcuffed (conjugated) to another substance.
In Phase 2, the free radical intermediate is conjugated to another substance (such as amino acids or a sulfur molecule) to render it less harmful. This also makes the toxin water-soluble, so it can then be excreted from the body via watery fluids such as bile, urine or sweat.
In other words, during Phase 2 conjugation, the liver is able to turn drugs, hormones, pesticides and various other toxins into water soluble excretable non-toxic substances.
The body needs large amounts of antioxidants, amino acids, and sulfur-bearing compounds to perform both Phase 1 and Phase 2 efficiently and safely. If it doesn’t have enough of these nutrients, the liver can become overwhelmed, and the free radical intermediates can become extremely dangerous.
For example, if excessive amounts of free radicals are formed in Phase 1 and are not immediately dealt with by Phase 2, they can damage the liver cells. (This is often what happens from excessive alcohol or fructose consumption, which leads to fatty liver and eventually cirrhosis of the liver.)
Antioxidants (such as vitamins A, C and E and natural carotenoids like beta-carotene, and minerals such as selenium and zinc) reduce the damage caused by these free radicals. If antioxidants are lacking, (due to poor diet or long term fasting) and there are a lot of toxins being turned into free radicals, these excessive free radicals can cause damage to the body.
Likewise, if there are not enough nutrients available to conjugate the free radicals, they can’t be rendered non-toxic and may end up in the bloodstream, causing a person to feel very sick.
Here’s an image of which nutrients are needed for Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification:
If the body needs nutrients in order to produce the enzymes that help our bodies naturally detoxify, do we also need supplements to help with liver cleansing? The answer is, it depends, but in many cases they supplements may be necessary. With all the toxins in our environment and the chemical additives in the foods people eat, it’s not out of the question to recommend a high potency formula of herbs and nutrients designed to support and strengthen the body’s detoxification pathways to help rid the body of toxins, heavy metals and excess cholesterol.
High quality formulas for cleansing the liver, also called “liver tonics”, will contain a mixture of psyllium husk (which cleanses the bowels), dandelion, milk thistle, globe artichoke, slippery elm bark, lecithin, barley leaf, carrot, beet, and alfalfa powder. All good liver tonics should contain the amino acid taurine, which plays a major role in good liver function via the formation of bile acids and detoxification. Low levels of taurine are common in many people with chemical sensitivities and allergies.
Taurine is the major amino acid required by the liver for removal of toxic chemicals such as the breakdown products from prescription drugs, alcohol, environmental chemicals like the chlorine in tap water and pesticides on produce. Taurine is found in high amounts in animal protein like meats and seafood, and is often deficient in vegetarians. There are also some factors that increase the need for taurine (thus a supplement may be needed) such as fad diets for rapid weight loss, alcohol consumption, taking birth control pills, high stress levels, and a high intake of MSG (which is not uncommon in the processed foods that make up the Standard American Diet).
Below is a list of my recommended supplements that can be used in conjunction with the liver cleansing food plan in my Dee-Tox program.
HELPFUL FOR CLEANSING
Renew Life Liver Detox 30-Day Program Dr. Miller’s Holy Tea
HELPFUL FOR SUGAR CRAVINGS WHILE DETOXING
CLICK HERE to hear Dee’s Podcast on L-Glutamine
HELPFUL FOR ONGOING NUTRITION AND LIVER SUPPORT