Liver detox is important because the liver is the main site of detoxification in the body and there are several different phases and pathways that are involved. This article explores the processes involved in this process and will help you to understand them in clear and easy to understand language. (Warning: There is some biochemistry involved, fortunately it is translated here into plain English.)
Healthy detoxification is very important for virtually everyone, but it is especially vital when working with people who are chronically ill or those with functional metabolic disorders.
(Our main source for the material below is Dr. Datis Kharrazian, DC.)
These issues include:
Endocrine disorders: thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, pituitary, ovarian or testicular issues, etc.
Digestive disorders: acid reflux, Crohn’s disease, IBS, malabsorption issues, candida issues, etc.
Liver/Gall Bladder disorders: elevated liver enzymes, gall stones, inflammation of the liver or gall bladder, fatty liver issues, etc.
Cardio-vascular issues: elevated cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, athlerosclerosis, low HDL, high LDL, etc.
Blood sugar imbalances: Type II diabetes, Syndrome X (metabolic syndrome), hypoglycemis, insulin resistance, etc.
Chronic illness: Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, lupus, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, etc.
Want to know how well your liver is detoxing? Check out this test for liver detoxification.
Poor Detoxification Can Lead to Poor Results
If liver detoxification is not addressed treatment will often not work or success will be severely limited. For example, much of conventional healthcare treatment looks at lab levels to determine which hormones a person is deficient in. Most therapy is aimed at giving the same hormone therapies to everyone.
The truth is, however, that many hormonal imbalances are there because of compromised detoxification function. This is especially true when a patient’s blood work does not match their symptoms or if they have a previous history of toxic overload in the form of chemical or drug exposure.
In addition, if people have detoxification issues that are causing their problems,then using hormones or drugs may actually make their problems worse. And this is not limited to hormonal issues, this may be true for all of the ailments described above.
For example, many studies have shown the adverse affect of poor detoxification on neurological disorders, chemical sensitivities, adverse drug reactions, fatigue, and auto-immune disorders.
Coming soon: Click here to view this research.
If proper liver detoxification is not restored, the chances of returning a person back to optimal health are really low. This is not to say that this is a simple process, there are many factors involved.
Liver Detoxification involves 2 basic steps called Phase I and Phase II. There is also what could be termed Phase III and this involves the gallbladder.
Want to know how well your liver is detoxifying? Check out this diagnostic test.
Phase I Detoxification
The ultimate goal of detoxification in the liver is to
transform fat soluble compounds into water soluble compounds that can be
excreted by the kidneys, perspiration, and into fecal matter from bile.
compounds (called lipophilic chemicals) come from sources inside the
body, such as: hormones, neurotransmitters, intercellular mediators
(calcium, sodium, potassium, etc.), bacteria, toxins produced by
intestinal bacteria, and broken down immune complexes (like antibodies
The liver also transforms chemicals from outside
the body like drugs, pesticides, and environmental toxins, etc. into
these same water soluble compounds so that they can be eliminated from
The steps involved in phase I detoxification were
initially discovered by Dr. R.T. Williams in 1947. Dr. Williams proposed
that these lipophilic (fat-loving) agents could be converted in two
ways: functionalization which uses oxygen to form a reactive site (and is the origin of cell damaging free radicals) and conjugation, which results in the addition of a water soluble group to the reactive site.
Cytochrome 450 Enzyme
To date, over 10 families of phase I enzymes have been identified, and these include at least 35 different genes. Phase I detoxification involves the cytochrome 450 enzymes.
These enzymes directly neutralize some chemicals, but most others are converted into intermediate forms that are then coverted by what are called phase II enzymes. This
process is what is called conjugation.
It is interesting to note that once a compound has been converted by a phase I enzyme into an intermediate form it becomes much more active and toxic. Some people have very active phase I detoxification systems and slow or inactive phase II enzymes. These are the people who have severe reactions to toxins and they often suffer some chronic pain or illness.
As mentioned above, one side effect of phase I deactivation of toxic compounds is free radical production. For every molecule of toxin metabolized by phase I, one molecule of free radical is generated. This is why consuming anti-oxidants is so important.
Anti-oxidants neutralize these free radicals. One of the most important anti-oxidants is glutathione; it is extremely important in neutralizing phase I side effects, and serving as a platform for phase II conjugation.
(At Green Health Acupuncture, we have often prescribe a product called Oxycell that delivers glutathione using liposomal technology directly into the skin over the major vessels, it can also be applied over the liver to reduce inflammation.)
Phase II Detoxification
Phase II liver detoxification usually involves the conjugation of phase I intermediates, but some toxins are directly acted upon by phase II enzymes. This conjugation reaction either neutralizes the toxin or makes it more easily excreted through the urine, bile or sweat.
There are 6 main phase II pathways including: glutathione conjugation, glycine conjugation, methylation, sulfation, acetylation and glucuronidation.
Let’s briefly examine each and look at foods and supplements that help strengthen these pathways.
Glutathione is an amino acid consisting of glycine, cysteine and glutamic acid and is also known as (the impossible to pronounce) gamma-glutamylcysteinylglycine. In addition to playing an important role in phase II conjugation, glutathione is also primary cellular agent of cells and is involved in “reducing” which basically means donating electrons.
It helps to maintain the structure of red blood cells and other cellular proteins. It also is responsible for the creation of hormones involved in inflammation and allergic reactions and it functions as a carrier of sulfur containing amino acids (amino acids that are important in fat metabolism) in the cells.
As a phase II detoxifier, glutathione binds with phase I compounds to produce water soluble materials that are excreted from the body via the urine. It is available via 2 routes: diet and synthesis.
Dietary Sources of Glutathione
Many foods contain glutathione including fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, fish and meats. On the other hand, there are many different disorders that can cause glutathione conjugation problems including: lack of nutrients used to synthesize it, problems with enzymes that help produce it and smoking, which depletes it.
Glutathione levels are also depleted by conditions that place the body under stress, such as: infections, cancer, gastrointestinal or respiratory inflammation, etc.
Curious about your glutathione levels? Check out this diagnostic test.
Magnesium and potassium are important electrolytes used in glutathione production. Conditions that deplete these important minerals can also be problematic. For example, adrenal
overactivity can deplete potassium.
The synthesis of the 3 amino acids that combine to make glutathione is dependent on vitamin B6, folic acid, choline, riboflavin, methionine, cysteine, n-acetylcysteine, vitamin C, betaine, glycine, glutamic acid, potassium, copper, zinc and selenium.
Acetylation pathways bind toxins with acetyl-CoA (the major fuel for the
oxidative processes in the body, made from the breakdown of glucose and
fatty acids.) These pathways are dependent
on pantothenic acid, thiamin, and vitamin C.
Methylation involves binding methyl groups with phase I end products. Methyl groups are a group of molecules that have a strong influence on bioactivity, adding a methyl group can make DNA inactive. For example, methylation is able to inactivate estrogens, supporting the use of methionine in conditions of estrogen excess, such as PMS.
Proper methylation requires methionine, betaine, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, choline, magnesium, methylcobalamin (Vitamin B12), folic acid, and Vitamin B6.
Smells like rotten eggs
Sulfation involves binding phase I end products with sulfur containing compounds. It is one of the major detoxification pathways for neurotransmitters, toxins, steroids and protein based hormones.
Vitamin B6 and magnesium are important for sulfur amino acid metabolism, as are foods containing sulfur such as: eggs, cheese, meat, poultry, nuts and legumes.
Its important to choose animals products wisely, buy organic because organic foods have far fewer toxins like antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides which you are trying to get rid of in this process.
Another important point regarding phase II sulfation is that this requires sulfate which is often poorly absorbed by the digestive system. Sulfate is the oxidized, inorganic form of sulfur produced by an oxidation step called (you guessed it) sulfoxidation.
This step is made possible by an enzyme that is called sulfite oxidase which uses the essential mineral molybdenum.
Problems with sulfoxidation can be seen in people who are sensitive to foods that contain sulfites (garlic) or dugs and food additives (in dried fruit and herbs, preservatives, in salad bars used to keep vegetables looking fresh).
These people may also have an abnormally strong odor in their urine after eating asparagus.For these people one should consider molybdenum supplementation or organic sulfates like sodium sulfate or magnesium sulfate.
Glucoronidation is the binding of toxins with glucoronic acid and it requires the enzyme UDPGT.
This pathway is supported by B vitamins, magnesium, and glysine, which help support the uronic acid pathway that synthesizes glucoronic acid.
Phase III Detoxification
Once the liver has detoxified chemicals, they are delivered to the bile for elimination via feces. If bile synthesis or secretion is compromised, liver detoxification of toxins,adverse chemicals or hormones will not be eliminated.
Improving bile function should be considered with anyone who complains of gallstone-type symptoms such as problems digesting fried foods, flatulence several hours after meals,excessive burping after meals, etc.
This should also be considered in people who have had their gall bladders removed. When this organ is removed, the cystic duct acts as a resevoir for bile. Therefore, it is very important to have proper elimination of bile.
Finally, bile synthesis and elimination can be very helpful when balancing hormones, due to its ability to aid in the clearance of hormones.
Nutrients that support bile production include: taurine, beet concentrate, Vitamin C, and lecithin.
Herbs and Supplements that
Improve Bile and Liver Function
Here are some effective herbs that can be beneficial for both the liver and gall bladder.
We recommend that you see a trained herbalist who knows how to use these in the appropriate combinations and dosages. Just because they are natural, does not mean that herbs do not have risks.
At Green Health Acupuncture we have a full herbal pharmacy of over 300 single herbs and formulas including all of the nutrients, vitamins, minerals and herbs mentioned above.
In addition, we offer many different diagnostic tests for determining liver and gallbladder health and for determining what kinds of levels of oxidation are present in your body.
Ginger: this common food contains chemicals that have been shown to increase bile secretion and to reduce cholesterol levels by up regulating an enzyme responsible for bile acid production (cholesterol-7-alpha-hydorxylase).
Dandelion: The root of this common weed promotes the production of bile and its delivery to the gall bladder.It causes the gall bladder to contract and release bile.
Milk Thistle: This herb increases the solubility of bile and has been shown to significantly reduce biliary cholesterol concentrations. It has potent anti-oxidant activity which
supports phase I detoxification and it prevents depletion of glutathione in the liver.
It also has anti-inflammatory properties and it promotes protein synthesis to replace damaged liver cells.
Panax gensing:This herb has been shown in several studies to have numerous positive impacts on hepatic function. It has been shown to reverse fatty liver in animals and has profound anti-liver toxin affects. It has also been shown to promote Kupffer cells (specialized macrophages located in the liver) as well as to increase messenger RNA biosynthesis.
Herba sargassi, Laminaria Kun Bu: These seaweeds have important detoxification properties and can be used to treat metabolic toxicosis with arthritis, rheumatism, dermatitis and psoriasis. They are quite mild and has very few if any side effects. In addition, they are rich in trace minerals and are helpful in reducing swelling, particularly in the lymphatic glands.
Fructus Gardeniae: This herb is the seed pod of the gardenia plant. It has potent anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and can be used to reduced liver and gallblader congestion and infections.
Caution: Liver infections can be quite serious, consult a trained physician if you suspect that you have any form of hepatitis or liver disease.
Rhubarb Root: This herb is a potent laxative that can be used to treat acute gall bladder and pancreatic infections. It has potent anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.
Dosage is critical with this herb and too much can cause gastric pain and diarrhea. Never use during pregnancy or lactation or with gout, hemorrhoids or oxalic acid stones. Consult a trained professional before using this herb.