Foods That Support Liver Detoxification and Health

Cabbage Bud

Although I may have already beaten this subject to death, I’m gonna keep going. Proper liver function is of paramount importance in the quest for total health and wellness. This amazing organ has a hand in many indispensable processes such as: the production of bile, which helps breakdown dietary fat and aids in waste elimination; the manufacture of certain blood proteins used to synthesize blood plasma; the production of cholesterol and lipoproteins, which, contrary to popular belief, are an integral component in cell structure and function; the conversion of glucose into glycogen, the storage form of glucose, or cellular fuel; and the production of immune factors that help the body remove bacteria from the bloodstream. Further, the liver’s role in the detoxification and elimination of environmental and lifestyle toxins lays the foundation for all the other health promoting activities it performs. If the liver is unable to clear chemical debris from the body, every organ system will falter and we will gradually lose the ability to live happy, health and productive lives.

Got your attention? Good!

Liver Detoxification

As mentioned in my recent video Liver Health and Raw Detox Salad, liver detoxification occurs in two phases in order to convert typically fat-soluble toxins that like to hang out in our fat cells into water-soluble substances that are more easily eliminated via urination (pee) and defecation (poo).

Phase I detoxification is facilitated by special liver enzymes known as the cytochrome P450 enzyme group, which reside in the membrane of our liver cells and function to convert toxins into chemical intermediates that are easily accessed by phase II detox. Unfortunately, Phase I detoxification and the conversion of toxins into intermediates produces a tremendous amount of free radicals, which, if not properly neutralized by the antioxidants naturally produced within the body or obtained from our food, can have a very detrimental impact upon cellular health. Further, certain substances like caffeine, alcohol and pesticides disrupt the P450 enzyme system by causing P450 over activity or the accelerated production and accumulation of free radicals.

Phase II detoxification, or conjugation, combines the intermediates that were produced during Phase I with other special substances in order to make the water-soluble, less harmful and more easily excreted. These special substances include: glutathione, sulphate, glycine, and glucuronide, each of which are more apt at neutralizing certain substances for elimination. Looking at each of these in turn:

  • Glutathione is the most powerful internal antioxidant and liver protector that acts directly upon toxic metabolites and free radicals produced during Phase I detoxification.
  • Sulphates are well suited for the elimination of toxic neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, and certain drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Glycine takes care of benzoates, which is present in may food substances as a preservative. Environmental toxins like pollution are also eliminated through the glycine pathway.
  • Glucuronide helps rid the body of ‘used’ hormones, fungal toxins and hydrocarbons, amongst a few others.

Toxic Overload

If either phase of the detoxification process is altered, toxins can accumulate within the body, taking up residence in our fat cells where they can reside for years if not a lifetime. If this is allowed to happen, toxin overload is particularly hard on the brain and the glands of the endocrine (hormone) system, both of which are considered fatty organs, and may contribute to brain dysfunction and hormonal imbalances like infertility, menstrual deregulation and adrenal exhaustion. Many toxins that poison the body, specifically pesticides and petrochemicals, are also known to be carcinogenic and may contribute to an increased risk of developing cancer.

Here is a fun little diagram courtesy of that summarizes this information fairly well.

Liver Detoxification Pathways

The path to liver health and wellness

Foods that Promote Detoxification

Besides the obvious reduction in toxin exposure, there are certain nutrients and foods that can aide the detoxification process and better allow the liver to eliminate the chemicals that are taken into the body. For example, foods high in vitamins A, C, D3, E and the entire B complex, in addition to calcium and citrus bioflavonoids aide Phase I detoxification. Most fruits and vegetables fall into this bucket, but more specific examples include:

  • Dark leafy greens like kale, chard and mustard greens
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
  • Citrus fruits like lemons, oranges and clementines
  • High quality, organic animal proteins from pastured, free-range, wild, grass-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free animals.

We must also be aware that there are also foods that have the ability to inhibit Phase I detoxification, which includes both grapefruit and the spice curcumin. Research suggests that as little as 8 ounces of grapefruit juice is enough to decrease P450 activation by as much as 30% while curcumin almost paradoxically inhibits Phase I and activates Phase II. This curcumin effect has been linked to its ability to inhibit carcinogens by lowering their activation (Phase I) while increasing their detoxification (Phase II).

Phase II detoxification is facilitated by sulfur-containing substances like taurine and cysteine, in addition to nutrients like glycine, glutamine, choline and inositol. High quality sources of sulfur compounds include:

  • Eggs
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
  • Garlic, Onions and Shallots
  • High quality, organic animal proteins from pastured, free-range, wild, grass-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free animals.

Glutathione, the body’s most powerful antioxidant and first line of defense against the free radicals mentioned above, is found abundantly in fruits and vegetables and, to a lesser degree, high quality animal protein.

No discussion on natural liver detoxification would be complete without a list of herbs that promote cleansing process. I have found this herbs for liver cleansing list published on the Global Healing Center’s blog, which includes borotutu bark, milk thistle and dandelion root to be the most complete and thorough.

What I believe this entire discussion boils down to is the elimination of environmental and lifestyle toxins and the maintenance of a nutrient rich, plant heavy diet. If we do our best to observe these two simple guidelines, we will improve our liver’s ability to function properly and ensure long, healthy and happy lives.

Cauliflower image courtesy of Public Radio Exchange

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© Matthew Lovitt and TwelveWellness, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Lovitt and TwelveWellness with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.