Why We Need to Love Our Livers

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For those of you who have read my site for any length of time, you know I am all about gut health. Gut health encompasses a lot of things – digestion, elimination, gallbladder function, liver function, and more. One organ that most of us do not pay enough attention to is our liver. Day after day, our livers take care of our bodies, filtering out toxins and keeping everything running. And what do we do? We take them for granted. And, by the time they do tell us that there’s something wrong, it’s often too late. 

Please welcome my good friend Lydia to the site today! Lydia is a Nutritional Therapist and the author of the Divine Health from the Inside Out site. If you’ve followed my site for any amount of time, you know that Lydia is not only a close friend, but she is also my NTP and has been helping me make great progress on my healing journey. Please give her a warm welcome to the site and stop by Divine Health and say hello!.

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Why We Need to Protect Our Livers

In a world bombarded by toxins at every turn, we all could use some daily detoxification strategies. That’s what I’m here to share with you today. You really can’t heal your gut if you are not detoxing well. In order to succeed with overall health, including your gut, the lymph and liver need our daily attention.

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The amounts of chemicals we are exposed to are unprecedented in history. The average American consumes 10 pounds of chemical food additives each year. Add to that, the chemical burden caused by food sprayed with pesticides and from air and water pollution, you can see that our chemical burden is considerable.

The body has systems designed to eliminate waste and to detoxify poisons. The liver chemically converts toxins to be easily eliminated by the kidneys. Detoxification is an ongoing process. The sheer volume of chemicals in the environment and in the diet has caused many people to reach their threshold of tolerance, which adversely affects their health. When the body is more burdened with more chemicals than it can efficiently detoxify, chronic health problems can occur. Problems like allergies, skin problems, digestive problems, headaches, fatigue, joint pain and a variety of ailments can be caused by chemical exposure.

The liver has over 500 know functions. It is involved with digestion, the endocrine system, controlling blood sugar, and protein and fat metabolism. It’s the body’s most important organ, functioning as a living filter to cleanse the system of toxins, metabolize proteins, control hormonal balance, and produce immune boosting factors. Many of these functions are essential to your overall health, for example, the liver’s synthesis of fibrinogen and other blood-clotting factors to protect you when you are injured.

The liver also produces a substance called bile that is stored in the gallbladder. Each day your liver produces about a quart of a yellowish green liquid called bile. Bile is essential for proper fat emulsification and is also a major route of elimination for the body. Bile contains water, bile acids and pigments, cholesterol, bilirubin, lipids, lecithin, potassium, sodium and chloride. The liquid is stored near the liver in the gallbladder, from where it is transported to the intestine as needed during digestion.

The gallbladder will become more and more compromised as the liver becomes more dysfunctional. The gallbladder stores the bile and when stimulated by the appropriate response (fat and protein in the GI and from the influence of a hormone called cholecystokinin) will contract and pump bile into the lumen of the GI tract. However, a couple of conditions exist that greatly impact the function of the gallbladder.

Mild liver damage due to fatty deposits within the functional units of the liver itself can greatly impact the production of bile. This leads to a situation called biliary insufficiency. Some of the common causes of biliary insufficiency include changes in metabolism within the liver itself. This is most often caused by the consumption of excess hydrogenated or trans fatty acids, excess refined foods, oxidative stress, and low fat diets. Other causes include overt liver damage due to hepatitis, chemical damage to the liver and liver cirrhosis.

The liver metabolizes not only fats but also carbohydrates and proteins for use in your body. The organ has a triple role in carbohydrate metabolism. First, it converts glucose, fructose, and galactose into glycogen, which it stores. Second, when your blood sugar level drops and no new carbohydrates are available, the liver converts stored glycogen into glucose and releases it into your bloodstream. Third, if your diet is regularly low in carbs, the liver will convert fat or protein into glucose to maintain your blood sugar levels.

The liver converts amino acids from food into various proteins that may have a direct or indirect impact on your weight. Many proteins, for example, transport hormones through the bloodstream; hormone balances are crucial to avoid water retention, bloating and cravings, as well as other health problems. Proteins also help transport wastes, such as damaged cholesterol and used estrogen and insulin to the liver for detoxification and elimination through the kidneys.

Perhaps the liver’s most important function, and the one that puts it at greatest risk for damage, is to detoxify the myriad toxins that assault our bodies daily. A toxin is any substance that irritates or creates harmful effects in the body. Some toxins, called endotoxins, are the natural by-products of body processes. For example, during protein metabolism, ammonia is formed, which the liver breaks down to urea to be excreted through the kidneys. Other toxins you consume by choice such as alcohol, caffeine, and prescription drugs. Still others are the thousands of toxic chemicals we breathe, consume, or touch in our environment: pesticides, car exhaust, secondhand smoke, chemical food additives, and indoor pollutants from paint, carpets, and cleaners among others.

Under ordinary circumstances, your body handles toxins by first, neutralizing them, as antioxidants neutralize free radicals, and then by transforming them as fat-soluble chemicals are transformed to water-soluble ones, and then eliminating them through urine, feces, sweat, mucus and breath. Working with your lungs, skin, kidneys and intestines, a healthy liver detoxifies many harmful substances and eliminations them without contaminating the bloodstream.

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The detoxification process has two phases that should work in close synchronization. Phase 1 uses a group of enzymes to break apart the chemical bonds holding the toxins together. Known as hydroxylation, phase 1 makes some toxins more water soluble and temporarily more chemically active. Phase 2, known as conjugation, attaches other enzymes to the chemically altered toxins, or intermediates, producing substances that are non-toxic, water-soluble, and easily excreted.

How To Support Basic Daily Detox & Flush Your Liver

  • Hydration – We must keep properly hydrated to keep the body flushing appropriately, moving bowels and urine regularly. Proper hydration keeps the blood fluid so that toxic material may be delivered to the lymph and liver. Water flushes toxins and removes wastes. Since we are more toxic than ever, we must drink enough pure filtered water (free of chlorine/fluoride, chemicals/metals/pathogens). Lemon water is great to support liver detox – half your body weight in ounces per day plus electrolytes (a pinch of good quality sea salt in each glass of water will do). Or cran-water (4 ounces of pure organic cranberry juice in 28 ounces pure water). This mixture eliminates water retention and cleanses accumulated wastes from the lymphatic system and also helps to clean up cellulite. Start each day with a mug of hot lemon water using half a lemon to assist your kidneys and liver.
  • Diet – Processed lifeless foods are seen by the body as a toxin. Removing all food sensitivities is key. Avoiding sugar, caffeine, and alcohol will take a burden off of your liver. Eating plenty of liver-loving foods in your diet, including LIVER itself. Liver-loving foods include: beets (a healthy bile builder), cruciferous vegetables that contain substances that improve the ability of the liver to detoxify harmful chemicals and pollutants (more info and recipes), and Inulin Foods, if you tolerate them.
  • Fiber – Removing grains and legumes from the diet removes a heck of a lot of fiber. It will be critical to consume plenty of vegetables at every meal along with supplementing with fiber. Flax (soaked or sprouted – Go Raw is a good brand of sprouted) and chia seeds are great options. They need to be ground AS YOU USE them since they can go rancid quickly. Buy only in whole seed form and grind as you need (You can even purchase sprouted flax seeds, which is a more digestible way to consume flax). If you do choose to grind a bunch at once, you will need to keep them in the freezer. You must consume them ground to get the benefit or you will just excrete them out whole in your stool. You can make a daily cocktail in the AM and PM to increase elimination and balance hormones. Mix 1 Tbsp. of ground flax or chia seeds in about 8 ounces of water or cran-water. Mix quickly and drink immediately or use a straw. I like to do one dose in a smoothie. You can also try doing a daily dose in a glass of kombucha if you enjoy kombucha. (*NOTE: If you are taking any exogenous hormones or medications, make sure you take them at least 45 minutes before or after your flax or chia drink. The fiber component can interfere with the absorption of medications.) If you don’t tolerate these seeds, just be sure to include sources of fiber in your diet that you do tolerate. Low glycemic veggies are great for this. Eat as many as you want and with every meal if possible. Some people with gut issues don’t tolerate raw veggies well; therefore, cooked veggies are fine in that case and consume plenty, usually in cases of IBD/IBS with diarrhea!

Supplements To Support Detox

I recommend at the very least just using a good multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplement (see Resources Page). During times of stress you may want to increase your mineral intake, as stress causes you to burn through your minerals more quickly.

  • Nettles Tea – One way to get natural vitamins and minerals daily would be with Nettles Tea. Nettles is a wonderful overall support tonic and could be considered an excellent food based multi-vitamin. Nettle stimulates the lymph, boosts immunity, helps with GI disease, IBS and constipation, and much more. It’s loaded with minerals, B vitamins (assimilable forms) and quite a good source of vitamin K. Nettles are a very balancing food for health. Recipe: Steep 1 cup dried nettles in 2 quarts boiling water for 1-4 hours. Strain, add more water to equal a full 2 quarts, sweeten to taste. The longer you steep it, the more nutrients are drawn out, but the taste also is more grassy/earthy/herby. Try my Cranberry Nettles Tea for a slightly sweetened and flavorful way to enjoy nettles, along with the added benefit of cranberries for detox support. Or my DIY Kool-Aid (You will love it and so will your friends and family).
  • Vitamin C and Bioflavonoids – I recommend everyone take both daily at least in a maintenance dose. Vitamin C has many detoxifying jobs. It’s like a kind of universal anti-toxin. Take 4000-6000 mg daily and half that in bioflavonoids daily. I like the Mixed Ascorbate powder from Biotics and Bio-FCTS (make sure whatever brand you purchase is allergen-free, corn protein-free, gluten-free, etc.) Also, you can read more about doing a vitamin C flush in this post. Another good form of C to look for would be sodium ascorbate. I actually prefer a Liposomal form of Vitamin C, which you can purchase this online (this is a good one-Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C). OR, you can make your own at home, which is what I do. The Liposomal form is the most absorbed form of C and actually goes straight to the liver and you won’t need as large of a dose with this form.
  • Vitamin E – Vitamin E is very protective against free radical damage and cell membrane damage. The process of detoxification can create dangerous molecules, and they can do more harm than the original toxin. Vitamin E protects against such effects. Daily dose should be a minimum of 200 upwards to about 1200 IU. We, as a culture, are very deficient in all our fat soluble vitamins. I love Biotics Emulsion formulas and that is the one I’d suggest for getting your vitamin E, which is very effective! Try Bio-E-Mulsion. Also, a brand called ‘Unique E‘ and Carlsons ‘E-Gems Elite’ (specifically).
  • Liver/Gallbladder support Beta TCP from Biotics is a great support. This is also a critical addition in a detox because it helps to emulsify the bile and get toxins out of the body. The last thing you want when detoxing is sludgy bile.
  • Liver glandularCytozyme LV by Biotics (used for liver congestion, toxicity, liver dysfunction, and general). Optional, but helpful.
  • Herbs – Milk thistle and dandelion are great. Try Dandy Blend as a coffee replacement that has great liver supportive herbs. It’s a gentle but effective liver balancer for those with elevated liver enzymes and/or those who have overdone alcohol, sugar, trans fats, Ibuprofen, and medications for lowering cholesterol. Use the herbs in dried form in tea or find tinctures or make them yourself. Start with one herb and get used to it for a month before adding another. Stop if any side effects or discomfort arise. Here are some recipes for you: Cinnamon Vanilla Herbal Coffee, Homemade Coffee, Milk Thistle Liver Tonic.

Game Plan To Support The Liver

First off, let me state – I do not recommend a SERIOUS liver cleanse or detox until you have spent about three months or so working on the foundations of digestion. All elimination pathways need to be clear (no constipation, regular daily bowel movements), sleep needs be regulated, blood sugar needs to be stable and then a deeper cleanse can be more manageable. The following tips/strategies would be a good way to support general detoxification and support the liver:

  • A 30-day strict diet as a cleanse and way to reduce inflammation and enhance metabolic cleansing. This helps to address toxic overload, harmful bacteria, heavy metal toxicity and leaky gut. It will not address it 100% for everyone in just 30 days, but it’s a great starting point and could be a plan to try seasonally. Avoid all gluten grains (wheat, rye, oats, barley), dairy, sugar, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine (coffee, black teas, sodas), soy-based foods, sodas, fruit drinks, conventional pork or cold cuts -all meats that contain hormones/antibiotics (use only hormone/antibiotic-free or pastured grass-fed), and canned tomato products (most contain common allergens, some even contain gluten). Fresh tomatoes or organic canned with no additives are good. Avoid refined oils and fats, all refined sugar products and any foods you are currently intolerant to.
  • Exercise daily – Even if it’s only a brisk walk or something minimal. Daily movement is very important. It keeps the lymph flowing and toxins moving out of the body.
  • Sweat Daily– This should occur if you are getting daily exercise; however, you can head to a sauna as well.
  • Clean out the toxins in your home. Check your cosmetics and personal care products, cleaning products, how much plastic your foods are in (switch to using more glass), never microwave in plastic, never use products with fluoride, and check your water. Filter the whole house if you can, at the very least get a water filter for ALL water you drink or cook with and a filter for your shower.
  • Oil Pulling – Oil pulling is a great method for pulling toxins out of the blood as well. The chewing action done during oil pulling can trigger enzymes that draw toxins from the blood. It is important to note that the oil has become very toxic by doing this and by no means should you ever swallow it. There are many reports and findings that indicate the practice of oil pulling can cure many ailments and diseases. Read More: What’s All This About Oil Pulling? and Take The Oil Pulling Challenge.

After 30 days of implementing some of the above daily detox tips, you should experience more regularity, two or more stools per day that come with ease. You should also experience more energy, clearer skin, radiant eyes, less pain and inflammation, and even smoother digestion. Detoxifying diets like the Whole30, GAPS & GAPS Intro, SCD and the Paleo Autoimmune protocol are some options if you want to detoxify daily and continue to resolve gut issues.

Spend three months really cleaning up your diet, getting your bowels moving regularly and removing the toxins from your life. If you are still having acute or chronic health conditions, consider taking on a deeper detoxification plan, getting liver testing done and preferably working under the supervision of an experienced practitioner.

Further Articles, Recipes & Info.

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Steps For Getting Started

  1. Identify three specific ways you can work daily to support your liver. For example, buy a dry brush and start using it; drink lemon water each morning; juice; drink herbal tea, beet kvass, or milk thistle tonics.
  2. Implement at least ONE of the three ways right now – today!
  3. Find one or two things in your life that you could ditch that are not good for your liver, such as caffeine, too much alcohol, toxic personal care products etc. Work on getting those out of your life over the next week, and replace with healthier alternatives.
  4. *NOTE: Forced detoxification is not recommended while pregnant or breastfeeding because breast milk is a detox pathway. The best way to support your liver while pregnant or breastfeeding is to support your entire digestive system, stay well hydrated and include plenty of daily movement, as well as avoid toxins in your home, food and water.

Lydia Shatney, Nutritional TherapistNow, I would love to hear from you!

So let me know in the comments below what insights you have gained, what questions you might have for me, and the ways in which you applied this information. Thanks!

P.S. Join the Heal Your Gut course now to get support on your journey to regain your health! See you on the inside!

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About Jessica Espinoza

Jessica is a real food wellness educator and the founder of the Delicious Obsessions website. She has had a life-long passion for food and being in the kitchen is where she is the happiest. She began helping her mother cook and bake around the age of three and she's been in the kitchen ever since, including working in a restaurant in her hometown for almost a decade, where she worked every position before finally becoming the lead chef. Jessica started Delicious Obsessions in 2010 as a way to help share her love for food and cooking. Since then, it has grown into a trusted online resource with a vibrant community of people learning to live healthy, happy lives through real food and natural living.

Discussion

2 comments

  1. Fiber – Removing grains and legumes from the diet removes a heck of a lot of fiber. It will be critical to consume plenty of vegetables at every meal along with supplementing with fiber… 

    I copied the above from your article. Did you mean to say we need to remove Legumes from our diet?

    reply 

    Meg
    Posted 09/08/16

    • Hi Meg! Thanks for stopping by! Some people will need to remove legumes and grains from their diet because they simply cannot digest them. We have an epidemic of people with digestive disorders, from minor to severe, and quite often grains and legumes (and even some high-fiber veggies) can cause a lot of distress. The gas, i.e. farting, created by legumes and high fiber foods in some people is not normal – it’s a sign of poor digestive function. This doesn’t mean that they need to be removed permanently in some cases. It just means that the gut lining needs to be healed and digestive function returned to as close as optimal as possible. At that point some people may be able to reintroduce these foods with no issues. Other people may find that they have to leave these foods out permanently. As with all things health, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and it comes down to taking the time to experiment and see what works well for your body and what does not. Hope that helps!

      reply 

      Jessica Espinoza
      Posted 09/09/16

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