You’re going to want to read this one all the way through to the end. I reveal what changes I’ve had to make to support my smoldering hot mess of a liver.
You’re going to want to read this one all the way through to the end.
I reveal what changes I’ve had to make to support my smoldering hot mess of a liver.
There are targeted foods which help each pathway perform optimally. However, if the liver can’t disarm and remove waste products efficiently, adding supplements that don’t support the Phase 2 detoxification pathways will bog it down even further.
The liver is responsible for removing:
Stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, & norepinephrine)
Bacterial, parasitic, and fungal overgrowth
Anything in excess
Contrary to popular belief supporting the detoxification of your liver and its pathways is not about juice cleanses or green smoothies. For optimal support, protein is crucial. Especially animal protein.
If you experience fatigue, weight loss struggles, digestion problems, hormonal imbalances, mood swings, and skin issues you may benefit from investigating the health of your liver. Even though intestinal dysbiosis is one of the root causes for all of these diagnoses, if your liver isn’t functioning optimally, resolving that dysbiosis can be difficult. If you can’t get rid of what you’re trying to get rid of, then your efforts stall out and symptoms may get worse.
One major mistake I see in liver support protocols is not working in the right direction. Jumping into Phase 1 detoxification before Phase 2 detoxification (or addressing elimination issues) is essentially putting the cart before the horse. Phase 1 creates more harmful molecules that need to be passed on to Phase 2 and then escorted out of the body. If you’re constipated, this creates an even bigger concern.
The liver is an essential organ that is involved in over 500 vital functions including alcohol/drug removal, filtering the blood, bile production and blood sugar regulation. When I was really digging into what the liver has to do, it quickly became obvious that if we take care of our liver, it will take care of us. But when we neglecting our liver by not feeding it what it needs, it can get sluggish and potentially diseased.
Over time, a sluggish liver has a hard time fulfilling its job – filtering, breaking down, and removing waste. Constant fatigue, skin issues, weight gain, headaches, poor digestion, nausea, and intolerance to strong scents (like perfume) are all signs your liver may be struggling.
Remove, restore, and rest are necessary steps to help support your liver. A happy and healthy liver ensures the other systems that need attention will have a well functioning outlet for removal of waste products.
Removing sugar and processed food can be the simplest change for improving the performance of your liver. It’s not necessarily the easiest, but it’s a step everyone can take to help support their liver. In addition to sugar and processed foods, removing alcohol and drugs (legal or illegal) takes strain off your liver so it can do the day-in-day-out job of decontamination, and removal of cellular and metabolic waste. It is possible to reverse the damage done to the liver before the end-stage form of liver disease occurs.
Each pathway needs key nutrients to function. Phase 1 primarily relies heavily on the Cytochrome P450 enzyme family as a first line of defense, breaking down harmful substances before passing them onto Phase 2 to be neutralized, become water soluble, and eliminated from the body. The second set of detoxification pathways are a bit more complicated. For the purpose of this post, each pathway in Phase 2 Detoxification will be kept simple, and understanding that knowing what pathway needs specific attention requires testing.
As a general rule, supplementing glutathione, sulphate, and glycine are a good first step. However, supplementing randomly and in the wrong dosage can be damaging to the liver, too. Test before you digest. Everything passes through the liver to be disarmed – good and bad molecules alike.
The following lists to support detoxification are not exhaustive by any means. Think of it as a jumping-off point from which to get started. As mentioned before, testing is a great method to take a peek into where your body may need additional support. (For more info on the testing we do, click HERE)
For a reminder about what each of these pathways does, read Love Your Liver Part 2. Phase 2 liver detoxification pathways have some overlap for key nutrients, enzymes, and molecules that support each pathway.
Simple Steps to Support Phase 2 Detoxification Pathways
Very little is known about the acetylation detoxification pathway other than it is dependent upon vitamins B1 (Thiamin), B5 (Pantothenic acid), and vitamin C. This pathway uses Acetyl Co-A to render toxins less harmful and package them up nicely for removal. Foods rich in B vitamins include meat, fish, squash, and asparagus. Citrus fruits are great natural sources of vitamin C.
Amino Acid Conjugation
This pathway occurs primarily in the mitochondria of the liver and kidney cells. Glycine, taurine, glutamine, arginine, and ornithine help neutralize and remove waste in these pathways. Since systemic inflammation can damage this pathway, incorporating enough meat, fish, and dairy products will help support it. Animal protein is crucial to supporting this detoxification pathway (and so many other important functions we ask our bodies to endure every day).
Since there are two ways glucuronidation can be impaired (genetic or metabolite related), identifying the main cause will direct how to approach this pathway. If it is genetic (like Gilbert’s syndrome), introduce supplements or foods to activate the UGT-1 gene. If metabolites are not being disarmed, packaged, and escorted out of the body, they tend to stick around in the gut and cause problems. Literally stick around. If this is the case, using supplements and foods to inhibit beta-glucuronidase is key.
Citrus fruits support the genetic defect issue and cruciferous veggies support the metabolite issue. I do have one caveat for cruciferous veggies – cook them! This helps reduce the anti-nutrient load.
The enzyme Glutathione S-Transferase (GST) is responsible for this pathway operating smoothly. This enzyme is dependent upon glutathione. Glutathione is produced by the liver and is the primary antioxidant for many detoxification processes in the body. It is made up of the amino acids cysteine, glutamine, and glycine. Glutathione helps your body scavenge for free radicals and reduce inflammation systemically. When the liver is not producing enough glutathione, supplementation through food or pill form is recommended. Addressing the root cause of low glutathione is imperative, otherwise low levels may remain an issue. Protein-rich animal products and cruciferous veggies help replenish low glutathione stores. In addition, Omega-3, ALA, and selenium may be beneficial. If supplementing with glutathione in pill form, take it on an empty stomach (before meals) to reap the maximum benefits.
Low glutathione levels are often a result of unchecked stressors.
Sucrose (sugar) is the main culprit for the inhibition of the methylation pathway. Increased gut permeability disorders (Crohn’s disease, IBS/IBD, and celiac are examples) often have compromised methylation. Supplementing with methyl donors, methylated B12, zinc, and magnesium are just a few ways to support this pathway. If leaky gut is resolved with diet and lifestyle adjustments, the methylation pathway can be repaired. Evaluating methylation with testing (lab serum, DUTCH, GI MAP) will help determine the initial status and effectiveness of treatment.
This pathway might be one of the easiest pathways to support. Start with eating adequate amounts of animal protein (1 gram/pound of ideal body weight), removing preservatives and chemicals (like BHT and BPA), and addressing low magnesium levels to support this pathway. Sulfur-rich foods include eggs, meat, and cruciferous veggies. Sunshine and Epsom salt baths are other routes for those who are sensitive to sulfur-containing food.
The last component required to give our liver a little love might be the most important, under-utilized, budget-friendly, and hardest to incorporate.
I’ve found getting adequate rest is tough for most people. We are told to be productive members of society and advance our lives, salaries, and relationships we must be a part of the 5 am club. Have you heard of this? I’ve tried to be a part of this elusive group and failed. Multiple times. I think that was a good thing though and here’s why: sleep and rest are crucial to overall health and wellbeing – especially your liver.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m an Enneagram 3 – those are the productivity driven folks. I am motivated by helping others to the nth degree, setting goals, organizing those goals, and going after those goals. Did you notice the ‘s’ on the end of goal? Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about what that has done for my health.
I have achieved many goals – often simultaneously – that have gotten me to where I am today. This has both a positive and negative result. I get the opportunity to help other people find and attain better health – that excites me! This happens frequently to my husband and myself. We meet someone serendipitously and have the keys to unlock the path to improving their health. They are just about to give up hope or have been told for years (or decades) “there’s nothing more that can be done”, and we see the red flags that point to a potential diagnosis and start the process. It gets my heart beating a little faster when the knowledge and experience I’ve accumulated over the years is just what someone has been desperately searching for.
But there is a downside.
I don’t rest well, take timeouts during the day, or simply sit and do nothing. This pattern has gotten me into trouble. You see, because I am productivity-centric, when I’m idle I feel guilty. Guilty that I should be doing something to better my mind, my work, my body, or my spiritual health. Up until recently, I’ve tried to cram as much in as possible in every waking moment, resting only when I sleep or am sick. A few months ago I did some hormone testing that revealed I’ve been burning the candle at both ends (and the middle) for far too long. I initially did the testing because I’m nearing 50 and a woman – and well, us women tend to fall apart hormonally around this age. I really thought I was ahead of the game and was heading off my hormonal issues at the pass. While DUTCH testing did reveal I have some pretty significant sex hormone issues that need immediate attention, further investigation on my own also showed my liver was struggling.
I was eating all the right things, sleeping 7-9 hours every night, getting blue light in the morning, and exercising regularly. What was missing was addressing the lack of daily periods of rest. With the help of my husband (Internal Medicine DO) and a Naturopath we all came to the conclusion I needed to schedule rest every day – that it was now a part of my job. I can’t express how tough this is for my productivity-centric brain. After a rather difficult conversation with my husband, I agreed I needed to make changes now to avoid being prescribed life-long medications that would alter my life for the worse – in order to just sustain life. If I didn’t start making course corrections now, I wouldn’t be able to do everything I loved to do.
No jiu jitsu.
No long hikes.
No paddle boarding.
No helping others with their health
The last one really shook me to the core. Helping others is what drives me to write, read, and put it all out there on the world wide web. I had to start practicing all that I teach. Including scheduling rest.
Just like any new habit, it’s taking me time. Adjusting my work and athletic goals with the self-imposed productivity standards is tough but not impossible. I’m practicing all of what I preach and teach. I don’t get it right 100% of the time. I still fall into the guilt trap from time to time, but I’m getting better.
Take it one day at a time. Eat enough animal protein, drink enough water, include electrolytes, rest often and supplement when needed. If you have a less than ideal day, don’t be too hard on yourself and move onto changing what you can in the moment.
All of these insights are how I tackle my day now. I’m a work in progress. I’m guessing you might be, too.