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To appreciate the importance of a healthy liver, we need to understand the key areas it has a role in. Sadly, most of us are walking around with compromised livers due to toxins, protein, sugar and fat overload! Nourishing and protecting the liver has never been more important.
Learn how to support LIVER HEALTH
Being a very active organ and gland (involved in over 500 different functions), let’s recognise it, it is all about the liver! I will scratch the surface on the most important and researched ones.
Follow my TOP 5 TIPS to LOVE YOUR LIVER at the end of this article.
First things first….
BLOOD SUPPLY: The liver has a double blood supply. The portal vein, rich in nutrients from the food we eat, carries blood from the stomach, spleen, pancreas, and intestines to the liver. This blood contains nutrients and toxins from the foods we consume. The hepatic artery carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the liver.
The liver detoxifies the following toxins. There are 5 main categories:
- In-house (endobiotic) toxins: produced by the body through biochemical processes. For example, ammonia is a by-product of protein metabolism.
- External toxins (xenobiotic): ingested by-products such as alcohol, tobacco, recreational and prescription drugs, environmental pollutants
- Environmental toxins: pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, dioxins, heavy metal.
- Food-based toxins: foods naturally contain substances that fight off predators. For example, mushroom poison.
- Bacteria induced toxins: in food poisoning.
We evolved to constantly detoxify by default, provided we limit the exposure to the above 5 points!
There are THREE PHASES to this nutrients demanding process. These phases involve a series of enzymatic reactions to neutralize and solubilize toxins and transport them outside of the body.
PHASE 1: essentially, this phase is a series of chemical reactions (mainly oxidation) to prepare the toxins for Phase 2. Phase 1 begins the transformation of the fat-soluble substances into water-soluble forms. Enzyme family, cytochrome P450s (CYPs), are the key players here. In this phase the toxins are modified for easy metabolism in Phase 2. While Phase 1 does the legwork for Phase 2, it is good to know that in Phase 1 the toxins become more harmful due to the production of free radicals (through chemical reactions) which can be even more damaging than the original toxin itself!
PHASE 2: this process is about adding (conjugation) enzymes to the by-products of Phase 1 to neutralise the toxins and ensure they are fully water-soluble. There are six different pathways that complete Phase 2. Why do we need Phase 2 conjugation?
As mentioned this phase is about adding substances, more precisely, enzymes to the toxins to further transform them into a form that is easy and safe for the body to eliminate. What more, it is these enzymes that protect against the development of carcinogenic substances.
Let’s look at the 6 pathways, briefly!
Glutathione, the major antioxidant, detoxifies the following: alcohol, fat-soluble vitamins, bile acids, bilirubin, inflammatory agents, heavy metal, pesticides, and mycotoxins.
How do we support Glutathione levels? The first and, of course, the most obvious way to support is to reduce the need for it. Reducing and minding the toxic load can be very handy! Sadly, we can’t control the ingestion of all toxins such as environmental pollutants. And there is more and more of it!
Supplementing with glutathione orally or with nutrients that support its productions are much more needed than ever.
The best form of glutathione is prepared using liposomal technology. My preferred and best-used brand is Altrient Glutathione from Abundance and Health. Some brilliant articles on why liposomal technology is the best and the essentials to know about glutathione can be found here: https://www.abundanceandhealth.co.uk/en/blog/category/4-glutathione/1
Methylation: Are you thinking, what on earth is she on about? Methylation is a biochemical and reoccurring cycle where methyl groups are transferred around, either by addition, or substitution to substances such as DNA or protein so that they can function. This pathway mainly detoxifies xenobiotics, DNA, estrogen, heavy metals, histamine, arsenic, neurotransmitters and certain drugs. It can’t take place without SAM (S-AdenosylMethionine) which is the main methyl donor in this process. Digestive disturbances negatively impact methylation. Bacteria produce vitamins on their own and have their own methylation cycle. For example, candida releases toxins that inhibit some of the components needed in the methylation cycle. The most important nutrients in this process are Folic Acid, Vitamin B12, Choline, and Methionine.
Sulphation: cholesterol, bile acids, steroid, thyroid, and adrenal hormones, Vitamin D, neurotransmitters such as dopamine and adrenaline and medication all go through sulphation. Sulfur-rich foods, amino acids such as cysteine, methionine, and taurine, as well as, molybdenum are essential for this process to run well.
Acetylation: Acetyl-CoA added to toxins such as car exhausts, cigarette smoke, fluoride, histamine and medication. Nutrients needed are Vitamin B5, Vitamin C, and support butyric acid.
Amino Acid (glycation): as the name suggests amino acids added to the toxins. Glycine is one of the major amino acids used in this process. Xenobiotics, bile acids, salicylic and benzoic acids are common toxins to go through glycation. Protein is an absolute must for amino acid conjugation.
Glucuronidation: this process is carried out by the use of glucuronic acid. Estrogen, T4 (thyroid) hormones and the majority of all prescribed drugs pass through this pathway. High level of beta-glucuronidase (an enzyme produced by gut bacteria) in the gut reverses this process and may lead to diseases. Calcium d-glucarate has been shown to inhibit the work of beta-glucuronidase. Essentials: Omega 3, cruciferous veggies, vitamin B complex, zinc, magnesium.
Each pathway has inhibitors and supporters. As you appreciate it is much needed to investigate which pathway may be compromised and work around that. For example, someone with estrogen dominance needs to look at glucuronidation and methylation pathways first.
It is important to understand that Phase I and II reactions may occur simultaneously or sequentially.
PHASE 3: the magic word here is WASTE REMOVAL. Transportation of the waste out of the liver then eliminating them via either urine or poo.
What is the big hype about detoxification then? How things can go wrong? Why do you need a professional to help you through the process?
During Phase 1, the toxins become more reactive and harmful. This means if you have a fast Phase 1 and a slow or inefficient Phase 2, you will end up with increased toxicity. Phase 1 harmful by-products are produced faster than Phase 2 can detoxify them. Top this with slow Phase 3 and you are in for a chllanege.
Phase 1&2 must be in balance. Most people have an imbalance in either of them! Choosing to detoxify with the right method, at the right time and intensity are all key to minimise the harsh side effects (healing crisis) that may appear during the detox.
Phase 3 doesn’t enjoy that much publicity which is so wrong! Key question: Are you pooping well? Not having proper bowel function means the by-products of Phase 1&2 remain in the body for longer and so re-circulated and re-absorbed. For proper bowel movement, we need a good flow of bile and fibre. “You need to clean downstream before you can clean upstream”.
Nutritional Professionals can guide you through these complex processes safely with the right tools.
What is bile? Bile is a fluid containing substances such as water, bile salts, cholesterol, electrolytes, and bilirubin. Its main function is to facilitate the exit of fat-soluble toxins, cholesterol, hormones, and the emulsification of dietary fat. Congested bile will result in slow metabolism and constipation. Luckily, there are foods which support a health and adequate bile flow.
The liver is the main organ in the maintenance of hormonal balance!
- Regulates steroid hormones
- Metabolises cortisol
- Converts thyroid hormone into its active form
- Secretes IGF-1 (promotes cell growth)
- Angiotensinogen (involved in blood pressure regulation)
- Thrombopoietin (involved in blood clotting)
- Hepcidins (involved in regulating iron levels)
I will only touch upon steroid and thyroid hormones in this article.
Steroid Hormones (refer to HORMONES for what they are)
To recap, steroid hormones are made from cholesterol. Cholesterol is produced by the liver and the intestines. Surprising fact: 80% of the cholesterol is produced by the liver. Steroid hormones are constantly secreted into the blood so both inactivation and deactivation are key to maintain hormonal balance. The liver takes care both of these. Inactivated hormones leave the body via either urine or poo. Steroid hormones are fat-soluble by nature, therefore, if one of the detoxification pathways do not work efficiently (as I mentioned fat-soluble substances must be converted into water-soluble forms), well, HELLO HORMONAL IMBALANCE!
Thyroxine (T4) is secreted by the thyroid gland then converted in the liver to triiodothyronine (T3) which is the active form. Thyroid hormones regulate the basal metabolic rate of every cell in the body, including liver cells. Consequently, thyroid issues negatively affect liver function. The last couple of years more and more research papers confirmed the link between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and hypothyroidism. One of the main characteristics of hypothyroidism is slow metabolism which leads to fat depositing, including the liver, and slow detoxification. Logically, liver support is extremely important to have a healthy thyroid and vice versa.
Red blood cells and neurons can only use glucose for fuel. Because of this, the maintenance of blood glucose levels is fundamental. The liver regulates blood glucose levels by releasing glucose from stored glycogen when needed. How does this happen? Digested carbohydrates (mainly glucose) are absorbed in the small intestine, any excess glucose not needed are transported to the liver and stored in the form of glycogen. When blood glucose levels drop, glycogen is converted back to glucose and released by the liver.
When the body is deprived of glucose, it turns to fat stores to get energy. Fat metabolism is a complex and lengthy process. The most important two things to consider are the type and the level of fat we consume. While the liver has an amazing capacity to produce bile to break down fats and store them, its reserve will eventually be used up.
The liver stores fat for two reasons:
- release it later for energy when glucose is not available
- to protect the heart and the pancreas. Why do they need protection? Too much fat in the blood creates obstacles for glucose to get into the cells, which means they remain in the blood and so the pancreas keeps on producing insulin. Too much fat in the blood also thickens the blood and harms the vascular system.
When the body is deprived of glucose and fat, it turns to protein to make glucose for energy. Once the dietary protein is broken down into amino acids and absorbed in the small intestine, just like other macronutrients they are transported to the liver. Most amino acids are used to build and repair body cells, or to form enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and some to make glucose. Amino acids not needed are broken down in the liver, forming urea and excreted in the urine.
- glycogen (mentioned in carbohydrate metabolism)
- fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K)
- iron and copper
note: an excessive amount of fat-soluble vitamins and iron can become toxic!
What is JAUNDICE ?
When the liver fails to function properly, bilirubin may accumulate. Bilirubin is broken down as part of the normal process of recycling old or damaged red blood cells. It binds with bile so that it can be eliminated from the body via stool. If the elimination fails, it builds up in the blood and is deposited in the skin. The result is a yellow appearance to the skin.
WHAT LEADS TO COMPROMISED LIVER?
prescription drugs such as
- anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- anti-infective drugs (anti-tubercular drugs)
- anti-cancer drugs
- hormonal drugs
- immunosuppressive agents
- sedative and neuropsychiatric drugs
alcohol: heavy and regular use over a prolonged time damages the liver in different ways. Firstly, the ethanol content in the alcohol stimulates fat build-up, eventually, to have an enlarged liver. The immune system detects this and responds with the natural response: inflammation. Inflammation causes the death of the liver cells.
excessive consumption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K): once they are utilised they deposit themselves in the liver and fat cells. Therefore, megadoses can lead to toxicity as they remain the body. For example, overdoes of Vitamin A can lead to birth defects.
overdose of herbal supplements: excessive consumption of herbs can be toxic.
high-fat and sugar diet: excess fat and sugar may lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The fat is deposited in the liver leading to inflammation and scar tissue formation.
infections: Hepatitis A, B, C
5 TOP TIPS to LOVE YOUR LIVER
STAY HYDRATED start the day with a cup of warm water. It aids the transportation of substances in the body by thinning the blood, stimulating toxins clearance, and breaking down fat and fibre. Also, liver cells need to be hydrated too.
SUPPORT BILE PRODUCTION Add lemon and ginger to the warm water. Consume 1 cup of bitter greens daily including rocket and kaleDrink a cup of dandelion tea daily
- consume a bowl of cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts daily. They are rich in sulfur. Sulfur is needed for several detoxification pathways.
- consume foods that are high in B vitamins. Meat is the best source! Vitamin B12 can only be sourced from meat. Non-meat eaters should consume 0.5 cup legumes and supplement with Vitamin B complex.
- make a paste from turmeric, fresh black peppercorn, and coconut oil. Turmeric contains curcumin and black pepper is rich in piperine which is needed for curcumin absorption. Add it to smoothies, soups, or serve it as a condiment. Support both phases.
- have an apple daily. Apples contain pectin which helps to bind and excrete heavy metals.
SMART ALCOHOL INTAKE: reduce alcohol consumption to 1-2 weekly and go for healthier options such as red wine or gin tonic. Limiting or completely avoiding mixing spirits with soft drinks, and drinking a glass of water between are both life-savers!
REDUCE FAT & SUGAR INTAKE: as I mentioned, excess fat is deposited in the liver. Excess sugar is converted into fat. Too much sugar and fat consumption burden the liver to do its already demanding job.
BONUS TIP! SAY BYE TO ANGER: Chinese medicine recognises that each emotion affects an organ. Anger negatively impacts the liver. Anger is part of our lives and while it is ok to feel angry for a little while we should not hold onto it. Here are my tips for release:
- boxing or kickboxing
- shout into a pillow or in naturerub the acupressure point to balance and release the anger