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Liver & the Detoxification Process

The burden we place on our body determines how well the liver and our detoxification processes can occur in our body to keep us healthy. This burden falls mostly on our liver whose primary job is detoxification.

Picture showing Liver with toxin types entering and going through Phase I, Phase II and then excreted via the elimination channels.
Toxin types, and how they are cleared in Phase I and II of our liver detoxification process.

The Digestive Process and Liver Detoxification

Let us in basic terms follow our digestive process so we understand what is happening in our bodies.

We eat food and chew it up. Chewing tells our stomach it's about to get some food so get ready for it. Chewing also breaks certain food types down with the help of enzymes from our saliva in our mouths.

Showing all the enzymes and their actions in the digestive tract
The Digestive process

The chewed food goes down our oesophagus and enters our stomach which is highly acidic because it's pumped out acid in preparation for the food coming its way. The acid is needed to break down our food even further. This process of breaking down food is important so we can get the nutrients extracted from our food. If we gulp food down without chewing, our stomach has a hard job of breaking big chunks of food down. This is when we can suffer gastric reflux as increasing amounts of acid keeps pouring into our stomach trying to break down the chunks of food, and the acid can climb back up as reflux. If the stomach isn't acidic enough because we are drinking fluids with our meals (imagine fiery flames being put out by water), then we can also negatively impact on the breakdown process.

Once the broken down food leaves our stomach and enters our small intestine, further fluids pour in. The fluids are from our pancreas which pumps out bicarbonate to put the fire out from the acid, as we now don't want an acidic environment in our intestines. Bicarbonate comes from eating fruits and vegetables. If there isn't enough bicarbonate pumped out and the acidity isn't dampened down, we can alter our microbiome allowing bacteria in our gut to live in places it shouldn't which causes a lot of digestive issues. The gall bladder also secretes stored bile to help emulsify fats much like getting fat dissolved off frying pans. Once the food is broken down into its smallest building blocks, it gets absorbed across the walls of our small intestine through the villi and enters our bloodstream and our body's cells for use.

Our blood travels to the liver. The liver filters the blood coming from our intestines and 'detoxifies' it. This occurs in everyone's body regardless if you have an ultra clean lifestyle or not. It is a normal, essential process.

Toxins that need detoxifying that enter our body can be summarised as:

  • pollution (e.g. smoking, vaping, car fumes, bush fire smoke)

  • contaminants (e.g. heavy metals from dental fillings)

  • micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses, etc)

  • mould

  • alcohol

  • caffeine

  • drugs (pharmaceutical and recreational)

  • food additives in processed foods

  • pesticides sprayed on our fruits and vegetables that we don't wash off effectively

  • hormones and substances that recirculate in our bodies after we've used them if they're not eliminated effectively, for example:

- recirculated oestrogen (which can lead to hormonal imbalances)

- histamine

- bilirubin

- adrenaline from stress

- cholesterol etc.

We need these things removed once they've done the job they need to do, not to be recycled and recirculated again else they accumulate at higher levels. A good microbiome in our bowels will ensure this happens, and a good microbiome comes from fruits and vegetables.

The process of detoxification of those toxins occurs in our liver where the process is to take things that can't be excreted by the body and made into products where it can be excreted safely by the body, either in our poop or urine or sweat.

To enable the detoxification process in the liver to occur, we need lots of vitamins and minerals every day. We need:

  • all of the B vitamins (green leafy vegetables)

  • vitamins A,C,D,E (fruits, vegetables, seeds)

  • calcium (from almonds, tahini, cheese)

  • antioxidants from our fruits (the more colourful the better), and vegetables (especially cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower, garlic, onion, shallots)

  • choline (from eggs)

  • magnesium (from nuts and seeds)

  • glutathione which is affectionately known as the 'mother of all antioxidants" (we make it ourselves but we support the production through antioxidant foods like all fruits and vegetables from all the colours of the rainbow)

  • detoxifying herbs (St. Mary's thistle, Dandelion) and spices (turmeric)

  • good quality protein (peas, organic meat)

  • green tea etc.

There's always a reason why eating well is important.

Once the detoxification phase 1 and phase 2 are complete, the body eliminates them via our kidneys as urine, or via our bowels as poop with the assistance of bile.

If you're not eating the mentioned foods, and you've got a toxic burden, your liver won't be happy and you'll start to see signs and symptoms (see below).

Simple, helpful messages

To help the process, the following messages apply:

Message 1: Chew your food slowly into very small pieces.

Message 2: Don't drink with your meals as it will dampen down the acidity in your stomach. Don't get confused here - we want acid in our stomach. We do not want acid climbing back up our oesophagus and giving us heartburn which occurs if we have poor digestive acid.

Message 3: Don't overburden your body with known toxins. Restrict alcohol, keep drug use to essential requirements only, eat an organic whole food diet that has limited pesticide exposure, and limit processed foods. Eating an organic, whole food diet will also ensure we have a healthy 'microbiome' or healthy bacteria in our colon that will assist the detoxification process, and not hinder it.

Message 4: If we don't get rid of toxins, they'll stay in the body and tuck away in dark corners (like our fat cells) and become nasty and reactive. This is why if we've lost weight we can sometimes begin to feel unwell after a while, as all the stored toxins from our fat cells start to get released. Our body can protect us from this toxin release by preventing further weight loss, hence why sometimes we can hit a plateau. This period of adjustment needs additional support with a toxin binder and should be assisted by a clinical naturopath who can help you with this.

Message 5: Eat an array of colourful fruits and vegetables, make your meals flavoursome with herbs and spices, eat good quality, organic protein sources (whether that be plant or animal sources), get sunshine, and move your body gently each day, and the detoxification process will work well.

Message 6: Don't routinely overburden your body with known toxins. If you do (parties, celebrations, Christmas etc), really ramp up the healthy living afterwards to help your poor liver deal with the load. It will need a good supply of the vitamins, minerals, protein sources and detoxifying herbs and spices to deal with the burden.

An important note on alcohol

The human body cannot eliminate alcohol without it being altered via the detoxification process. It gets altered into acetaldehyde (which is what causes hangovers and headaches). Acetaldehyde is poisonous if left so the body ensures that detoxifying acetaldehyde becomes a priority. If you bombard your body with alcohol, the liver will be very focused on detoxifying it which means everything else doesn't get detoxified with the same priority. Eventually, if this is a common occurrence, the liver won't cope with all the detoxifying it needs to do and that is when the onset of liver disease starts. Fat cells start to occupy space in the liver to lock away the toxins, and so the liver function begins to be depleted. Moderation is the key to all things in life if we want to keep healthy.

Signs and symptoms your body needs help with detoxification

  • Increased cholesterol levels (the liver makes about 80% of our cholesterol and inflammation increases the level)

  • Hormonal imbalances

  • Skin issues as the bowel struggles to eliminate waste so the skin takes over the burden (eczema, acne, dry skin, rosacea, rashes, itchy skin)

  • Unexplained weight gain, sluggish metabolism, can't lose weight (stubborn inability to lose weight), pot belly

  • Digestive symptoms (bad breath, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea, wind and bloating, coated tongue, gall bladder issues, pain, intolerance to fatty foods, intolerance to alcohol)

  • Fatty liver (from alcoholic or non-alcoholic sources)

  • Body odour

  • Joint pain, back aches

  • Cellulite - when we stop exercising our muscles shrink in size and fat occupies the space. If we also increase the toxic burden on our body and the liver can't keep up with detoxifying the load, the body will protect itself from the potential toxic damage by stuffing the toxins in our fat cells.

  • Liver roll - fatty roll above the navel and below the breast tissue (this is a big message that the liver needs support and can be reduced when the liver is assisted).

  • Pain in the upper right hand quadrant of abdomen under bra-line (highlights the gall bladder needs help)

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Mood swings where you get angry at everything

  • Depression

  • Brain fog and inability to concentrate

  • Overheating in your body

  • Headaches

  • Anxiety

  • Immunity issues

  • Sensitivity to smells

  • Sinus congestion

  • Dark circles under your eyes

  • Menstrual issues (passing clots)

  • Brown liver spots on skin

  • Pimples around your nose

  • Itchy palms and soles of feet

  • Flushed appearance to face (broken, tiny blood capillaries)

  • Hot flushes in menopause are worse

  • Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is difficult

  • Insomnia and regularly waking at 2am

  • Bone weary tiredness

  • Not hungry for breakfast (only wanting coffee)

  • Angry when hungry ("Hangry")

A more detailed graphic of what is happening in the body is shown. If you would like to understand this further I would be only too pleased to take you through it and how your body may be affected by certain reactions in the normal, everyday detoxification process the liver performs.

Picture of the liver and the required nutrients for each phase of detoxification required.
The supportive nutrients taken from our diet and how they help ensure liver detoxification works well.

If you would like to discuss further how you can deal with these symptoms, please don't hesitate to make an appointment. We just need to be consistent in our efforts, not perfect.

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  • Hodges R & Minich D, (2015), Modulation of Metabolic Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application, J Nutrition Metabolism doi:10.1155/2015/760689

  • Weaver L, (2018), Exhausted to Energised, Little Green Frog Publishing

  • Liska DJ, 1998, The Detoxification Enzyme Systems, Altern Med Review; 3(3):187-198


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