What is Detoxification - Liver Focus
Updated: May 3
A Google search will see you scrolling through hundreds of 'detox' diets and protocols - many seem to promise quick fixes, dramatic weight loss, and eternal youth. There's also a large number of websites will tell you that detox diets don’t “work”, they are unnecessary and they may do more harm than good.
So just what is the TRUTH?
What actually is detoxification?
Maybe you have done or heard a friend say that "They are detoxing or following a detox diet" like it is something you have to actively do to yourself for it to occur.
Detoxification, is the body’s process of removing toxic substances.
Detoxification is not a food, or diet, or a pill - it is an ongoing, VITAL process that your body does (all on its own) in order to survive. It happens 24/7, 365 days of the year. Not just for a few days or weeks while a person “does a detox”.
The main detoxification organs are the liver and kidneys. The bowels and urinary tract are extensions of these organs as as the portals for waste to exit your body.
The skin (via sweat) and the lungs (via breathing/expelling CO2) are also considered detoxification organs.
All together, these organs are often referred to as detoxification pathways.
In basic terms: these are the pathways that toxins take to move through and exit your body.
The holistic approach to aiding the bodies already capable detoxification processes is to take a break or minimize foods and beverages that are causing problems for your body; while adding foods, herbs and practices that will encourage these processes to function at optimum and enable healing to take place.
Detoxing your life of dangerous chemicals that are often in personal care products, perfumes, cleaning products and even toxic relationships is a very holistic way to remove harmful obstacles to your health.
Its not just what we put in, but also very much about what we don't!
In this article, I want to focus on the Liver's role in the detox process.
Your liver is one incredible organ. It is a master multi-tasker - efficiently running over 500 different roles.
It is the ONLY organ that can regenerate itself! Did you know that more than half of your liver can be removed, and not only will it grow back to its original size, it will KEEP FUNCTIONING during the regenerative process. You are one master creation!!
Some of the major functions of the liver are:
Vitamin and mineral storage: The liver stores Vitamins A, D, E, K and B12. It keeps significant amounts of these vitamins stored; in some cases, years-worth of vitamins are held as a back-up.
Bile production: Bile helps the body break down and absorb fats, cholesterol, and some vitamins.
Don’t panic about the body absorbing cholesterol! Despite all the misconstrued information that “cholesterol is bad”, it is actually very important. Cholesterol is part of the makeup of our cells, our sex hormones (oestrogen and testosterone), our steroid hormones which regulate inflammation, and is part of our immune response. We need good cholesterol!
Fat and carbohydrate metabolism: Bile breaks down fats to make them easier to digest and carbohydrates are processed to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Immune function: the liver contains high numbers of immune cells called Kupffer cells. These cells destroy any pathogens which enter the liver from the gut.
Detoxification: The liver constantly filters and removes compounds from the body. This includes toxins that our body produces as part of normal metabolism; pathogens like viruses and bacteria, cholesterol, hormones that our body excretes once it's used them eg. oestrogen, external toxins - alcohol, drugs, chemicals we encounter through food, breathing, personal care products and our environment.
Because the functions of your liver are so varied, it is easy to see how an sub-par liver could affect you in many different ways.
These are some of the signs that your liver needs extra support:
- Constipation - Diarrhea after eating fatty foods - Fatigue, low energy - Feeling bloated or sluggish - Food intolerance's/allergies - Headaches - High cholesterol - Irritable moods - in the old days we called this being "liverish" and in Traditional Chinese Medicine the
liver is related to anger - Liver and gallbladder diseases, yellowish skin and scelera (whites of the eyes) - Nausea - PMT, menopausal and hormonal issues
- Clots during your menstrual cycle - Problems shifting weight
- A roll of fat at the bottom of your ribs 'Liver roll' - Skin problems such as acne, eczema - Sleep disturbances, especially waking during the night between 1-3am
Some other reasons to show your liver some care are:
- Family or personal history of digestive issues, high cholesterol, hormonal imbalance, liver/gallbladder
disease - Your diet is often from processed foods - Taking pharmaceutical medication - many of which are hard on your liver
- Drinking alcohol regularly
- Drinking coffee multiple times per day - Toxin exposure - for example, working in an area with pesticide or herbicide spraying, chemical use at
work, travel etc
Some of these conditions are serious and should be monitored under the care of your health practitioner.
The liver’s main role in detoxification is to take toxins like the above, and change them into a form that is less harmful to the body or enable them to be excreted. Sometimes, this means that they need to change the toxin so it is water-soluble. Once it is water-soluble, the kidneys and bowel are called to action.
Supporting the Liver through inclusion of specific wholefoods, reduction of others plus the addition of herbs does wonders for many of the symptoms associated with a sluggish liver.
Let's focus on Ways to support your liver!
When it comes to supporting the liver and the body’s detoxification pathways, it is important to note that it is what we do every day, not what we do once in a while that has the greatest impact. And the good news is, there are plenty of ways we can do this.
Foods to include
Aiming to eat mainly whole foods helps to provide the nutrients that our liver detoxification pathways need to function efficiently. The liver loves colourful vegetables and vegetables from the Brassica family, think broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower swiss chard and kale. Broccoli sprouts are a particularly wonderful liver-loving food and may be a good option for those that get excess gas from the brassica family.
Increase the antioxidant content of what you eat on a daily basis, because, during the liver’s detoxification processes, what are known as reactive oxygen species (ROS) are thrown off.
You need additional antioxidants to mop them up so that they don’t damage your tissues, which is one of the ways we age from the inside out. Antioxidants are found predominantly in coloured plant foods. Berries, beetroot and blackcurrants are particularly high in some superstar antioxidants.
Olive oil and oily fish are high in Omega 3. They have been shown to decrease inflammation and the levels of fat in the liver. Other cold-pressed organic oils such as hemp and flaxseed have similar benefits.
Citrus fruits stimulate the liver and help it turn toxic materials into substances that can be absorbed by water. Grapefruit is especially good as it contains naringin and naringenin, which are antioxidants that reduce inflammation to protect the liver from injury. Grapefruit can, however, interact with some medications and contraceptives, so it's recommended you talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
Garlic is full of sulphur, which activates liver enzymes that help your body flush out toxins. It also is a source of selenium (Brazil nuts are another good source), a vital micro nutrient that helps boost the natural antioxidant enzyme levels in our livers.
Herbs or herbal teas including rosemary, St Mary’s thistle, turmeric, green tea, dandelion and globe artichoke are also very supportive for the liver.
Foods and Drinks to avoid
What you don’t eat, is just as important as what you do eat. Minimizing your intake of ‘liver loaders’, such as coffee, alcohol, energy drinks, refined sugars, trans fats and artificial ingredients, reduce the liver's workload helping it run smoothly.
Eating organic or spray-free produce where possible will also cut down exposure to synthetic pesticides and insecticides.
What you use or apply
The liver has to deal with the many substances that our body ingests but also what we breathe in and absorb through the skin. Swapping to natural, eco-friendly cleaning and dish-washing products (or making your own) helps to reduce the load on the liver by reducing your exposure to synthetic chemicals. You might also like to consider what you are putting on your skin, hair and nails as the ingredients in our skincare and cosmetic products can be absorbed into our bloodstream.
Synthetic and potentially harmful substances, such as endocrine (hormone) disruptors, are found in many conventional products. Actively choosing and using natural skincare, cleaning and cosmetic products helps to reduce the ‘load’ on your liver. A great way to transition to a more liver-friendly lifestyle is to replace conventional products with natural options as they run out, so there isn’t a significant expense or a feeling of overwhelm caused by trying to replace everything at once.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed about where to start, know that it doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’. Just pick one of the above areas to focus on, and the make small, incremental changes.
These can add up over time to have a significant impact on your health.
Your one liver will be so grateful and with each little step you take towards taking better care of it will help you to experience better energy, a more even mood, balanced sex hormones and improved digestion and elimination — just to name a few!