Do you really need to do a liver detox or is it just a trendy way to ignore your body's needs?
If the following describes YOU, your detoxification system might be trying to tell you something!
- History of alcohol/drug use or hepatitis
- Long term prescription drug use
- Sensitive to chemicals (tobacco smoke, fumes, perfume, cleaning agents, etc.)
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Stomach upset by greasy foods
- Greasy or shiny stools
- History of nausea, motion sickness, or morning sickness
- Light or pale colored stools
- Headache over the eyes
- Gallbladder attacks
- Bitter taste in the mouth (especially after meals)
- Become sick or easily intoxicated if drinking wine
- Easily hung over
- Pain under right side of rib cage
- Hemorrhoids or varicose veins
- NutraSweet (aspartame) consumption
- Chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
So if this is you — read on, learn how your detoxification system works, and how to support it!
Just as nature intended, your body has the ability to "spring clean" naturally on a daily basis if your diet adequately supplies for the process (no special juice cleanse needed). This process is of course dependent on fixing your nutritional deficiencies so your body has what it needs to do its job.
A natural liver detox (without powders and supplements) is a much safer, effective, and gentler idea than a supplemental detox diet. WHY? Because eating whole foods instead of synthetic supplements and powders gives your body more well-rounded nutrition with a wide spectrum of nutrients to DRIVE detoxification flawlessly!
An analogy: Liver detoxification is like cleaning your laundry
- FILTRATION. First, a good baseline of nutrients allow the liver the ability to filter the blood; identifying both good things (food and nutrients) and bad things (toxins and harmful substances). This is similar to finding stains in your laundry.
- PHASE 1 DETOXIFICATION. Next, the body uses enzymes and nutrients (co-factors) to transform the bad guys (toxins, used hormones, RX drugs, food additives, etc). The goal of this phase is to begin neutralizing a toxin and start to make it into a water-soluble compound that is able to leave the body. However at this half way point, toxin reactivity actually increases, and can cause problems if it does not continue to phase 2 right away. Think of phase 1 detoxification as a pre-wash cycle.
- PHASE 2 DETOXIFICATION. Phase 2 acts upon phase 1 as the final transformation stage on the toxin, making it water-soluble for removal from the body. Amino acids (building blocks of protein) DRIVE this stage, as they attach to the toxins to further neutralize and escort them out of the body. Phase 2 is like the main wash cycle that removes dirt and debris leaving your clothes clean.
- PHASE 3 ELIMINATION. Lastly, the toxins are eliminated out the digestive tract via bile (which has to be moving efficiently), or via the kidneys in urine. It's absolutely necessary that your diet allows enough beneficial food fibers to aid in the excretion of toxins. Much like the drain and spin cycle.
Specific Nutrients for Phase 2 Detoxification Pathways
Getting more specific into phase two detoxification pathways, there are six that you need to know about. If one pathway is not working well, the body will try to find a workaround to detox the substance through another route. Over time if certain pathways are blocked from nutrient deficiencies and/or genetic variants, this can cause major issues and sensitivities.
Think of this like your normal driving routes you have to different places you go - home, work, the grocery store, etc. Sure you have the most efficient route, but when roads are closed you have to take an alternative route. When a road is closed on your route, it might make your trip longer, be more stressful for you, and use up more gas in your car. Over time, the more road blocks the more problems you're going to have (symptoms).
The same is true with pathways of detoxification.
Here are the six pathways of phase two detoxification:
- Glutathione conjugation
- Used to detoxify: pesticides, herbicides, acetaminophen, carcinogens, mycotoxins, formaldehyde, benzopyrene, other toxic compounds
- Nutrients needed to support: glutathione, precursors to glutathione — glycine, glutamine, cysteine
- Used to detoxify: drugs (acetaminophen), xenobiotics, estrogen, dopamine
- Nutrients needed to support: molybdenum (needed to fuel enzyme that converts sulfur to sulfate), taurine, MSM, astragalus, sulfur-rich foods (garlic, cruciferous vegetables), sulfate (epsom salt baths)
- Important notes: glyphosate and certain gut bacteria can interfere with sulfation (conversion from sulfur or sulfite in food to sulfate), Vitamin D is synthesized from sulfide in the skin
- Amino acid conjugation
- Used to detoxify: drugs (salicylates), xenobiotics,
- Nutrients needed to support: glycine, taurine, B6
- Used to detoxify: xenobiotics, bile acids, estrogen, fat soluble vitamins, mold, fatty acid derivatives
- Nutrients/foods needed to support: calcium d-glucurate, ellagic extract 90%, rosemary extract, dandelion root extract, astaxanthin, and pterostilbene.
- Important notes: Gilbert's syndrome can significantly slow down glucuronidation.  It's also important to address gut pathogens that increase beta-glucoronidase (e. coli, etc)
- Used to detoxify: drugs, xenobiotics, mercury, lead, arsenic, thallium, tin
- Nutrients needed to support: folate, B12, choline and methionine.
Liver detox powders and synthetic supplements
Liver detoxification supplements (protein powders included) are often of low quality; they contain irritating additives/fillers, and most of the raw materials are imported without strict regulation regarding safety and purity. These foods are also "refined" with much of the nutritional value stripped out during processing.
Empty foods such as these can compromise your detoxification abilities, causing your body to retain toxins rather than excrete them.
Alternatively, when you invest in whole foods or whole food supplements, your body is energized with nutrients for supporting liver detox.
Your system is ultimately the product of your daily habits and what you choose to eat, NOT what you do or don't consume for 16-48 hours. Your daily diet should support the detoxification process-- not through a ritual you do 1-2 times a year. Focus on the bigger picture: learn to fuel and meet your body’s needs on a daily basis, because what you eat 3-6 times per day, 365 days per year is what really counts for keeping your liver healthy.
Society seems to be very focused on eating “less” and “dieting," and cleanses/detox diets can reinforce that. I find that my clients actually end up needing far MORE food and nutrients than they think because common issues like a slowed metabolism, poor digestion, and nutritional deficiencies can actually down-regulate the appetite to some degree.
In the end, you want your body to FUNCTION better, and naturally detox more efficiently. This is achieved when you give your body what it needs on a DAILY basis, not when you play restrictive, limiting games.
Liquid fasts and cleanses
From my perspective, it’s hard to make a blanket recommendation on cleansing (without knowing a person’s health/dietary history), but my general recommendation is against liquid fasts and cleanses.
Because proteins DRIVE the detoxification process, cleanses based on juices, fruits or vegetables do not make a lot of sense.
Any time you partake in a fast or cleanse (with the exception of when you have the flu!) you are forcing a regimen on your body, and that often that means ignoring your own bio-feedback, cravings, and intuition.
According to Dr. Ray Peat, “Any craving is a good starting point, because we have several biological mechanisms for correcting specific nutritional deficiencies.” For example: if someone is in a hypo-metabolic state (slowed metabolism), the body naturally holds on to more water in tissues, craves less water, and craves more salt and solid food. Partaking in a cleanse in the form of a liquid diet would do much more harm than good for this person.
The best way to support your body's natural ability to detoxify is by making sure your body is getting the nutrients that it needs through your diet and supplements specifically based on your body's data. It's amazing to watch my hair analysis clients start to detox naturally when they start getting the minerals their body is deficient in, that we determine though testing.
Regardless of your decision to do or not do a liver detox/cleanse, don't ever forget that your body is always talking to you about what it needs. Learning to listen to your body is an amazing tool for building your nutritional wealth so that you can empower your body's natural detoxification system!
The liver detox foods you’re not eating
The vitamins and minerals in fruits drive phase 1 of detoxification. Costly detox diets and cleansing routines are a waste of money, because organic fruits, vegetables, and fresh fruit juices fuel this first phase of detoxification much more efficiently.
Choose ripe fruits that are high in vitamin C for maximum antioxidant protection. Some great choices are organic oranges, pure orange juice (without additives), kiwis, berries, papaya, and pineapple or choose a whole food supplement for a little extra help.
Beets are an amazing liver detox and beauty food (I love taking a "shot" of this stuff when I don't have fresh beets on hand). They have the ability to help thin your bile, which allows the body to detox more efficiently. A common problem is sluggish/stagnant bile flow. After toxins are neutralized in the liver, they are dumped into the bile (bile duct is a river for toxins to move out of the body) and when the bile gets too thick, toxic matter can’t flow out of the body quick enough (leading to fatigue, low energy, constipation, PMS, toxicity and disease)! Regular beet consumption (and a nutritionally wealthy diet) can help strengthen this process naturally!
Buy beets and shred them in your food processor. Have a little raw beet slaw (with lemon or apple cider vinegar, salt, and olive oil) daily or as often as you like to help fuel your natural detoxification system.
NON- INFLAMMATORY PROTEINS:
Your body needs a certain balance of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to support your bodily functions, particularly liver detoxification. The very balance you need is achieved when you eat “the whole animal” and ALL of its parts. When you eat just “muscle meats” regularly, including chicken, pork, beef, lamb, etc. you tend to create an amino acid balance in the body that favors inflammation, and starves your liver. It is very important to balance the amino acid profiles you consume. Non-inflammatory proteins such as eggs, fish, gelatin, dairy products (milk, cheese), shellfish, and organ meats are excellent choices to increase in your diet to better support your detoxification capabilities.
Try having muscle meats every other day if your intake of non-inflammatory proteins is low. One of my favorite ways to make this easy is to have bone broth and this kind of gelatin every day. But be sure to read this article, so you know how to dose it properly!
The liver is KING
Healthy detoxification and liver health is absolutely essential for good digestion, a healthy metabolism, and proper thyroid function. A good nutrition strategy goes a long way for overcoming poor detoxification without confusion and expensive synthetic supplements! It's also important to avoid foods and supplements that can harm your liver in excess, like iron and vitamin A. If your liver needs some TLC so that you can experience more robust health without fatigue and digestive sensitivity, address your nutritional debt to make sure your body is getting what it needs!
Is your nutritional debt impairing your liver detoxification?
Take the quiz below to find if nutritional debt is the source of your detoxification issues, and what you can do about it!
- Bob Miller, CTN. Why Adequate Sulfation, Glucuronidation, and Glutathione Conjugation is Critical for Detoxification. Great Plains Lab Toxin Summit Nov. 2020. https://www.fxmedicine.com.au/blog-post/nutrients-detoxification#9
- Peat, Raymond. Nutrition for Women. Eugene: 1993.
- Trash Can Clipart: Used with permission from Microsoft.
- Weatherby, Dicken. “Liver and Gallbladder.” Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective. Nutritional Therapy Association, 2004. Print.
Also published on Medium.