Why Your Liver Needs A Cleanse
I have been asked many times to prove that the liver needs cleansing. Yes that’s right, the liver itself, the supreme organ of cleansing in the body needs cleansing. My clinical career became side tracked by this fascinating organ, in my search to help my chronically ill and overweight patients.
Now if you ask the public “Does your liver need a good cleanse?”
The answer will be a resounding YES!, as demonstrated by the fact that my little green book titled “The Liver Cleansing Diet” was awarded the Australian People’s choice award in 1997 for the most popular non fiction Australian book. This surprised me more than anyone, as I thought that a book with such an austere title would appeal only to health food and health farm junkies – but I was wrong – it became a best seller!
I thought “why do so many people believe so adamantly that their liver needs a good cleanse?” Perhaps it is because we live in a world of party animals! Anyway, whatever the reason, the public says YES! People are obsessed with cleansing their livers and bowels of toxins, as witnessed by the huge success of regularly advertised do-it-yourself “detox kits”.
Let’s take a look at how the liver cleanses your body
The liver cleanses the bloodstream by 2 mechanisms –
- It is a mechanical filter consisting of spaces (sinusoids) lined by the fenestrated endothelium. As the blood flows through the liver sinusoids, the toxins pass through the fenestrated endothelium into the space of Disse and then into the liver cells. The liver sinusoidal system removes the debris (unhealthy cells, immune complexes, micro-organisms etc).
- The phase one and two detox pathways. A series of enzyme reactions in your liver cells convert toxins into a less harmful state, so that they can be excreted.
So if the liver can cleanse the bloodstream, the liver should be able to cleanse itself and is in no need of extra help – right? Or is the liver filter like the air and oil filters of an engine which need regular cleansing and maintenance. If these filters become dirty, blocked and overworked they malfunction and eventually the engine breaks down.
Well this is what happens in the body and eventually an overloaded or “dirty liver filter” can cause wide ranging symptoms of poor health in the body.
What can overload or impair the liver’s ability to detoxify?
- High exposure to environmental toxins, alcohol, heavy metals, and/or certain medications – there is an unprecedented amount of chemicals that are integrating themselves into our environment – dyes from printing, hair colors, plastics, alkyl-phenols, PCBs, phthalates, paints, insecticides – thousands of tons of these chemicals go into the environment around the world every year and get into the food chain. The effects of these chemicals are not fully studied. An enormous amount of research literature associating toxin exposure to disease has been published and current estimates suggest that up to nearly $800 billion is spent in the US and Canada every year on toxicity-related diseases.
- Generation of excess free radicals from immune complexes or viruses. People with allergies and autoimmune diseases have an immune system that is continually spilling out inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals and immune cells eventually make their way to the liver where they can overwork it. Infection with viruses, bacteria or parasites also places a strain on the immune system. Plus these infectious agents release a number of their own toxins.
- Fatty infiltration of the liver, and we all know that the condition fatty liver is now an epidemic. When fat infiltrates the liver it can displace healthy liver cells. Fat in the liver can damage liver cells, promote inflammation in the liver and cause raised liver enzymes. The majority of toxins are fat soluble; if you have a fatty liver it is like a magnet for toxins.
- Nutritional deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and sulfur bearing amino acids that are required for the detox pathways in the liver. Poor diet, trans fatty acids & excess sugar can inhibit phase one and two pathways. Excess caffeine stimulates phase one detoxification too fast; this is a problem because free radicals build up in the liver before they enter the phase two pathway.
- Enzyme polymorphisms. These are genetic conditions where there is a deficiency or abnormality in an enzyme required for proper detoxification.
- Leaky gut syndrome. This is an extremely common condition whereby the intestinal lining becomes more permeable than it should be, allowing bacteria, toxins and undigested food into the bloodstream. These substances then pass directly to the liver.
- Medications. Several medications can either inhibit or modify detox enzymes eg. anti-histamines, cimetidine and some antidepressants.
- Aging. This results in slower detox pathways.
These factors can cause:
- The intracellular organelles (mitochondria, ribosomes, endoplasmic reticulum etc) and the cell membranes of the liver cells to become damaged, and also can result in less healthy liver cells left in place to do the work of detoxification.
- The unhealthy fat in a fatty liver may inflame and distort the liver cells and compromise the structural and functional integrity of the delicate filtering system of the sinusoidal endothelium.
- Inefficient action of the phase one and two detox pathways.
In such cases. the liver detox pathways can become easily overloaded and toxins build up in the liver – this can be described in lay terms as a “dirty liver”. We get a build up of toxins in the liver and especially the fat soluble toxins which accumulate in the fatty liver and other fatty areas of the body. Thus, the dirty liver becomes in need of a good cleanse.
The best ways to cleanse your liver
In part 1 of our Great Debate we looked at the numerous toxins, chemicals and other factors that impair your liver’s detox abilities. Living in today’s world means that your liver is exposed to an ever increasing quantity of toxins and to some degree we have very little control over this.
Luckily there are numerous strategies to improve the health and detoxification abilities of your liver. So, let’s now look at how you can cleanse your liver:
1. Improve the structural and functional integrity of the hepatocytes and the liver’s sinusoidal system
Your liver cell membranes are largely composed of fatty acids. These fats are delicate and fragile, and easily damaged by chemicals that act as free radicals. It is important to avoid hydrogenated vegetable oil and all food that is fried in vegetable oil, because you don’t want these damaged fats making up your liver cells.
Taking omega 3 fish oil and vitamin E in supplement form can protect and repair liver cell membranes. Increasing the quantity of antioxidants in your diet, through eating more fruit and vegetables will also protect your cell membranes from damage.
The herb St Mary’s thistle contains the substance silymarin; it has the proven ability to repair and regenerate damaged hepatocytes.
2. Correct leaky gut syndrome
Leaky gut syndrome means the intestinal lining has become more permeable than it should be. This means that bacteria, undigested food and toxins can gain entry into your bloodstream, when they should not be allowed to do so. These toxins travel straight to the liver, where they promote inflammation and damage.
The treatment of leaky gut syndrome is complex and is described in great detail on our website here. Nearly everyone with leaky gut syndrome has one or more food allergies or intolerances; these will need to be identified and avoided. Herbs with natural antimicrobial properties help to reduce the levels of harmful bacteria, yeast, fungi and candida in the bowel; these herbs include wormwood, thyme and oregano. Garlic and onion also help to control harmful microbes in the gut.
Glutamine and slippery elm, both provided in my Ultimate Gut Health Powder, help to reduce inflammation and irritation to the intestinal lining and make the gut lining a stronger, healthier barrier. A probiotic supplement, containing beneficial bacteria such as acidophilus is also essential in correcting leaky gut syndrome.
3. Support and facilitate the phase 1 and 2 detox pathways
The efficiency of these pathways is highly dependant on your nutrient intake. There are also specific nutrients and herbs that improve the activity of phase 1 and 2 liver detox pathways. Many of these also act as antioxidants, to mop up the free radicals generated in the liver during detoxification. Some of these substances include:
- St Mary’s thistle: This herb is also known as Milk thistle and it contains the powerful liver protector silymarin. It is found in Livatone and Livatone Plus. This compound can protect the liver cells from toxic damage, enhance repair of liver cells and it is a strong antioxidant. Silymarin increases levels of glutathione in the body; this is the body’s most powerful antioxidant. Clinical trails have shown that the most effective dose of silymarin is 420 mg per day.
- Green tea: Green tea comes from the same plant as ordinary black tea but it is higher in antioxidants because the leaves have not been processed in the same way. It contains a group of antioxidants known as catechins, of which the most powerful is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Catechins are thought to be 200 times more powerful than vitamin C. Along with reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, green tea improves the efficiency of phase two liver detoxification reactions.
- Turmeric: This is a plant in the ginger family. Turmeric has a bright yellow colour, and is a component of curry powder but has a very mild flavour. The active component of turmeric is curcumin; it is a powerful antioxidant, raises levels of glutathione in the body and may offer protection against cancer.
- Sesame seeds: Sesame seeds contain sesamin, a compound that protects the liver cells from damage. It is a powerful antioxidant and reduces the breakdown of vitamin E in the body, thereby increasing levels in the body. Sesamin particularly protects the liver cells from the effects of alcohol.
- Watercress: This herb is in the same family as cabbage and broccoli. It contains the compound pheny-lethyl-isothiocyanate (PEITC). It promotes the excretion of cancer causing substances and may particularly protect against lung and colon cancer. Watercress enhances phase two liver detoxification pathways. Try to include some watercress in your salads and vegetable juices.
- Limonene: This is a compound found in the rind of citrus fruits, particularly lemons. It is responsible for much of the smell of lemons. Limonene is a powerful antioxidant and is capable of blocking the harmful effects of many different free radicals. You can include some citrus rind in your raw vegetable juices and salads, but only if it is organic.
Other nutrients required for a liver detox
- Glycine: This is an amino acid needed for bile production and phase two liver detoxification. When cells of the liver engulf foreign substances they can suffer some damage; glycine helps to minimise this damage.
- Taurine and cysteine: These are both sulfur containing amino acids needed for bile production and phase two liver detoxification. Taurine reduces the tendency to develop a fatty liver and it helps to protect the liver against the damaging effects of alcohol. Cysteine is a precursor of glutathione, the body’s most powerful antioxidant. Cysteine helps to protect the liver from damage caused by alcohol and rancid fats (found in most fried takeaway food).
- Methyl donors: These are a group of vitamins that participate in chemical reactions by donating a part of their chemical structure. Methyl donors include folic acid, biotin, inositol and others. Methylation occurs in the liver and is particularly important in detoxifying fat-soluble chemicals and heavy metals.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease.