I am not a doctor and I have no medical qualifications- I just read a HECK of a lot of research papers.
This post is not to be read and taken as a substitute for medical treatment
This post was designed to be be read by adults, it may or may not contain swear words.
This section of The Cleanse Blog will look at the liver in some detail. Knowledge is power; if one understands how ones liver actually works than better decisions can be made around the subject of cleansing it. This is the second post in the series- for the first one click here
Here are just a couple of reasons that you liver is wonderful:
- Its stores glycogen and helps regulate your blood sugar levels
- It produces bile- bile is very important for the digestion of fats and also as a substance that waste products can be transported out of the body with. I think bile is underrated, it really is incredible stuff and we do not talk about it enough! There should be bile appreciation parties….maybe I will have one….
- The liver stores many of the fat soluble vitamins plus iron, copper and B12
- Oh yeah- it detoxifies stuff!
Most people understand that their liver is where the toxins go, although this is not entirely accurate. Most food substances that enter the human body go to the liver from the small intestine for sorting via the portal venous system. Everything goes there, not just the toxins, what the liver does is sort out what to keep and what to get rid of.
This is how the liver detoxifies the blood (Short version);
The blood passes through the liver which takes out what might be any harmful chemicals hopefully before they get to toxic levels. They are then made water soluble, this is so that they can be sent out of the body via bile, sweat or urine. Therefore what happens in the liver is a form of filtering, but it is not like the screen style lint filter in your tumble dryer that gets all clogged up. In a healthy body, toxins leave the liver pretty soon after they come in.
However, because many toxins are fat soluble, if there are a large number of toxins entering your body, they can get stored in fat. It is true that they may be stored in the fat cells in the liver, this is how conditions like fatty liver disease begin to come about. However, to get these toxins out of storage is not quite as simple as just not eating any food and washing it all away with a juice cleanse. It is a multi stage affair, so cleansing for a few days will not affect the liver directly in the beneficial way that cleanse advocates tell you it will. And regardless, for the majority of the population who do not suffer from a buildup of toxicity or fatty liver disease it seems somewhat arbitrary to go on a cleanse in order to clear the liver, which is probably doing a good job already!
The truth is that most people really do not need to go on a detox for the reasons that they think that they do.
The liver cleanses itself; if you are feeling guilty because you spent the last month eating junk food then you probably need to focus on eating some healthy veggies, proteins and fats, and letting go of your guilt complex. While detox diets can be great for a person whose standard diet is high in processed foods and toxic beverages, in reality, most people who undertake detox diets are those that are already eating a relatively healthy diet. It is unfortunately the already health conscious consumers that are attracted to the health boosting claims that detox diets tout; which is somewhat ironic.
So from this biological point of view one could argue that a detox diet may be largely ineffective, but there are also researchers that point to a detox diet being potentially troublesome to the liver.
This concern arises from the premise that when a person embarks on a detox diet, due to the drastic reduction in calories, fat and protein being
consumed, the body is forced to use its fat stores. As the fat stores are being rapidly converted into more usable energy they release stored fat soluble toxins into the bloodstream in larger amounts than is normal, this then means that the liver has a massive amount to process in a short space of time. Usually detoxification diets are high in carbohydrates and utterly devoid of anything as useful as fats or protein, let alone amino acids. The sudden change in what is being brought into the body causes it to start metabolizing fats, this in turn releases the fat soluble toxins that might have been being stored in these fats. This is how detoxification diets get ones body to release toxins, and this is why some people claim that they feel slightly euphoric when on a detox, others can feel headachy or sick. Those effects are due to a sudden increase in toxins entering the bloodstream.
At first this sounds somewhat contradictory, initially I have stated that detoxing does not affect the liver positively because toxins its probably already doing a good job, and then I go to say that detoxifying does affect the liver in a negative way due to toxins being stored in fat cells getting released all of a sudden. Well guess what? Nutrition is complicated and there are a ton of different potentials that are dependent on your own individual body! Nobody can generalize with this stuff, we are all different! However, for those of you that want a more in depth explanation- lets do that!…….
In order to clarify the nature of the fat soluble toxin needs to be better understood.
This gets a little science heavy, but its cool stuff and I have decorated the post with pictures to help you stay entertained. See you on the other side……
Toxins can be stored in the liver, but if they are, they are stored within the fat cells in the liver. This is because when the liver breaks down fat soluble toxins, these toxins are usually quickly re-absorbed into the fat cells in the liver itself if there are not the enzymes needed to move them out into bile or urine. Why might these enzymes not be present in the numbers that you require you might wonder?
The enzymes that you need in order to fully eliminate fat soluble toxins may not be present in optimal quantities because you have stopped eating fat and protein- amino acids are crucial in the elimination of fat soluble toxins.
Fat soluble toxins are very fast to re- enter fat once they have been taken out of it. If you imagine that you go on a detox diet in order to get your cells to release fat soluble toxins back into your bloodstream ,what happens is that these toxins will hit the liver in a greater mass than they would do had you been eating normally and the nature of fat soluble toxins means that they could simply be absorbed into the fat stores in the liver. In order to understand this fully, lets have a look at the stages involved in fat soluble toxin detoxification:
Stage One– Special enzymes called the P450 group are needed to alter the chemical makeup of the toxin that is being stored within the fat cell. The enzyme from the group that is used is different depending on the specific toxin, but usually this reaction makes the chemical reactive so that it can be attached to something else and pushed out the body. However this chemical reaction causes free radical release, so antioxidants are important, as they reduce the damage that free radicals can do.
You can help the enzymes that are involved in Stage One be ingesting the following nutrients;
- Folic Acid
- Vitamin B3
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin A (Fat soluble)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D (Fat soluble)
- Vitamin E (Fat soluble)
- N- acetyl Cysteine
- Citrus Bioflavoniods
- Milk Thistle
So you see all those vitamins that have ‘fat soluble‘ in brackets. That means that fat needs to be in your diet for those guys to be absorbed by your body. ….juice diets are usually rather devoid of fat……
Activation of the cytochrome P450 enzyme family of liver enzymes requires and adequate supply of dietary protein. Protein deficiency can result in a decreased level of liver detoxification, so any type of fasting which is going to limit your intake of protein is probably not a great idea if you are looking to detox.
Actually, to take this a step further- some studies have shown that protein restriction actually enhances the toxic effects of some chemicals and pesticides. Others have shown that due to the enhanced detox effects of a high protein diet, there are important implications for patients on medication. I liked this study because it illustrated how a persons individual diet can affect their reaction to pharmaceuticals.
In short, many factors determine whether the liver performs its critical functions well, some of them have been recognized by medical science, but I bet that there are lots of things that we do not know about yet that come into play too!
Poor-quality food, environmental stresses, overwork or emotional stress can put pressure on the liver and overload it, leading to a decreased ability to clear toxins and hormones and manufacture bile. A bit like me at work when I have too many things to write about, overload causes stress, and stress means that things don’t work as well as they should! Foods which contain high levels of antioxidants help to protect the liver and keep it healthy in times of toxic overload.
The high carbs that a juice detox puts into the systems of those that embark on them might actually reduce the ability of their P450 enzymes to work efficiently. It appears that the ratio of dietary protein to carbohydrate may be an important factor in determining the ability of the liver to detoxify certain substances. Yikes for those detox advocates who are drinking and eating fruit only!
Stage Two– Here another set of enzymes work on the chemical that we are trying to release from the fat cell. Their job is to make this toxin more water soluble, so that it can be excreted via urine or bile. The liver usually achieves this by adding another substance to the toxin which dilutes it and renders it more water soluble.
Phase II detoxification involves conjugation in which various enzymes in the liver attach small chemicals to the toxin in order to make it water soluble. I like to think of this like a factory conveyor belt, the stage one workers have done their bit and they are passing the hot toxin on to the stage two guys for further detoxification . The stage two workers either neutralize the toxin or make it more easily excreted through the urine or bile. Phase II workers (enzymes) act on some toxins directly, while others must first be activated by the phase I enzymes. There are essentially six phase II detoxification pathways:
· Glutathione conjugation
· Amino acid conjugation
The problem is, imagine a factory where the stage one workers keep on working, and the stage two workers are understaffed, what you get is a pile up in front of the stage two guys. This can happen in the liver, if the stage one enzymes are chugging along and the stage two enzymes cannot keep up, you end up with a backlog of hot toxins in your system. For this reason its really very important that you have the nutrients that your body needs to make those stage two workers strong and fast!
Nutrients that you can eat to help your body in Stage Two:
- Calcuim d-glucarate
- Amino Acids:
- L- glutamine
- L- lysine HCL
- L- carnitine
- Sulfer metabolites
- N- acetyl Cysteine
– All those amino acids…yep found in protein.
On Wednesday I am going to publish a blog with the foods that you should eat in order to get your liver enzymes working fabulously. Hit that follow button on the bottom right of your screen if you don’t want to miss it!
This is a massive simplification of what is a very complicated system. Simply doing a juice cleanse is not only usually not required by your liver in order to help it do its job, but it could potentially be unhelpful and rather meddlesome. This is because you are giving your liver a ton of work all in one go and may deplete the enzyme stores that it needs in order to break down the fat soluble toxins that your detox has triggered the release of.
There is another way that you can detoxify your liver, and that is by eating healthy foods- especially fats. In the simplest form, when you eat fat, your liver releases some bile so that fat can be metabolized. As bile is made of fat, when you eat fat, older, stored fat is used to be made into bile and the newer, fresher fat is stored. If the old fat had fat soluble toxins in it, these would be released when the fat was turned into bile, and if you are eating a normal diet, your liver will have the time and resources needed in order to excrete these toxins because they would be being released at a reasonable rate.
Imagine the fats in your body are like the oil in a car. If the oil is dirty you simply change it for fresh, clean oil. A relatively simple process where the dirty oil is taken out and thrown away. In the human body the toxins stored in fat cannot simply be taken out and thrown away. But they can be gradually removed. If you body were a car, it would be a case of each day putting in a little fresh oil, causing the dirty oil to overflow out and leave. Its happening, the oil is getting less toxic, but not all in one go. There are not many systems in the body that just change instantly. By design our bodies tend to change themselves incrementally. For this reason, it might be a better idea to consider a liver cleanse as a long term habit of healthy eating rather than a short bout of justice cleansing.
In short- Fasting may have some significant adverse effects upon overall safety and effectiveness of liver detoxification due to the lack of protein, fat, and micronutrient intake, and may result in lowered cytochrome P450 enzyme activity and increased exposure to secondary oxidants.
Here are some other ways that you can detoxify that do not involve fasting or juicing:
Reduce Stress- when you are stressed, your liver will focus less on detoxification. Stress affects our body in a way that diverts its resources away from repair and renewal. For this reason, your body will store more toxins in its fat cells when you are stressed because it does not have the energy required to convert and excrete them.
Eat well – Seriously. Its ridiculous the lengths that people will go to in order to avoid good old healthy eating. Like one can do a cleanse every 6 months and other than that eat a load of junk and pretend that the cleanse contracted all of that. Dream on!
If a persons diet is full of highly processed foods and toxic drinks, a cleanse may be a good idea, but not as good an idea as turning to long term healthy eating.The best thing that you can do for your liver is to eat foods that are low in toxins in the first place, so choose organic produce that has not been sprayed with chemicals and limit your intake of processed commercially produced foods
Exercise- As far as detoxing and the liver is concerned, you may be better off focusing on adding something to you life rather than taking food out of it. That something could be exercise. In a study with laboratory rats whose running wheels were removed from the cages, it was shown that they began to show signs of fatty liver disease after only a week of a sedentary lifestyle. This study incidentally was remarkable because demonstrated that fatty liver disease developed in 100 percent of the rats that had their running wheels removed, a staggering case for the role of physical activity in health. I am guessing because the circulation of blood when one exercises means that blood is passing through the liver well in people that move more often….
Take home message for those of you that skipped all the science bit to get here:
You liver is awesome, it does not need you to cleanse it, it does that on its own. However, it does need you to look after yourself on a daily basis my making sure that you give it the nutrients that it needs in order to do its job. i.e A balanced diet!
Comments are welcome- especially those that do not agree with me, I want to hear from you and why- I am not scared of criticism 🙂
“Cessation of Daily Exercise Dramatically Alters Precursors of Hepatic Steatosis in Otsuka Long-Evans Tokushima Fatty (OLETF) Rats,” The Journal of Physiology
Harvard Health Publications. The dubious practice of detox
Lipid Detoxification- Whole Health Network- Mark Sqibb
Timbrel JA. Principles of Biochemical Toxicology. 2nd ed. Washington,
DC: Taylor and Francis, 1992
Nutritional Support for Detoxification
BY DR. MARK PERCIVAL