Liver Health And The Detoxification Process

Liver Health And The Detoxification Process

Liver Health And The Detoxification Process

There are 3 organs involved in the detoxification process, the liver, the kidneys and the skin. However it is the liver which is the main organ of detoxification, essentially a purification plant for the body.

Its many functions include;

  • filtering and purifying the blood,
  • removing metabolic waste and endogenous and exogenous toxins from the body
  • producing bile to help breakdown and metabolise fats.
  • synthesise proteins
  • manufacture hormones
  • excrete used hormones for proper hormone balance

If this system isn’t functioning efficiently it will impact mood, digestion, appetite, skin health, nutrient absorption, hormone manufacture, used hormone clearance and so much more. At the core of optimum health and why we may not feel at our peek of vitality, is how much of a burden is placed on the liver.

When we help it to clear toxins efficiently, we can avoid the excess buildup that contributes to classic stressors like depressive moods, food allergies, lack of energy, reduced immune function etc.

If you experience some of these symptoms, your liver may be asking for attention and support:

  • You lack energy.
  • You have frequent sugar cravings.
  • Your bowel movements are more irregular than normal.
  • You’re gassy or feel bloated more often than usual.
  • Your skin feels irritated or you have frequent breakouts.
  • Your body odour or bad breath can’t be resolved with your usual hygiene products.
  • PMT symptoms
  • You experience ongoing mood swings

There a number of things that can contribute to the burden placed on the liver, they can include, but not limited to:

  • Diet
  • Holding extra weight - fat tissues are known to store environmental chemicals and other toxins.
  • Excessive sugar - refined sugar and sugar from alcohol can lead to unwanted fat accumulation (even if you’re not overweight), forcing the liver to slow down and reduce its efficiency.
  • Poor gut health - strong gut health and a diverse microflora, support liver function and the removal of metabolic waste from the body. For instance ‘undesirable’ gut microbes produce an enzyme that breaks down the safely packaged (phase II) used hormones, so rather than be excreted they are released back into the blood stream, creating hormone imbalances.

The Detoxification Process
Water-soluble toxins can be directly excreted through urine, however by far the majority of toxins are fat soluble and first must be converted into water-soluble molecules before they can be excreted via renal (kidney) or biliary (liver) routes. This conversion process is called the detoxification or biotransformation system and involves two main phases that work together to remove toxins; Phase I Bioactivation, prepares the toxins and makes them water soluble before Phase II Conjugation, packages them safely for excretion and these two steps must be balanced.

1. Phase I Bioactivation
Phase I reactions involve a number of different enzymes breaking down the fat soluble substances, this generates ‘intermediate toxins’ with a ‘reactive site’. The intermediate product with its reactive site, is very much like a free radical and is capable of causing damage to the body, so it must be passed quickly to the next phase of the detoxification process, Phase II.

Too much Phase I activity can result in the generation of these reactive intermediates too quickly for Phase II to neutralise them into non-toxic, excretable molecules.

2. Phase II Conjugation
In Phase II the reactive site of the intermediate product is bound with one of several proteins to produce a safely packaged water-soluble molecule that can be safely excreted from the body.

Phase II conjugation reactions require an optimal supply of ‘conjugation proteins’ that can be attached to the activated toxin and then excreted. The depletion or insufficiency of any of the components needed in the detoxification process, is a significant factor in susceptibility to toxicity. In addition these reactions also use a large amount of energy.

It is important therefore that both phases are balanced. Too much Phase I activity can result in the generation of reactive intermediates too quickly for Phase II to neutralise and remove. These reactive intermediate substances can then be reabsorbed back in to the blood stream where they can bind to DNA and RNA proteins, causing irreversible damage to a cell.

Why Fasting and Juicing Doesn’t Support the Detoxification Process
In recent times there has been a rise in the number of people promoting ‘Detoxing’ or ‘Cleansing’. The rise in this trend is often traced back to the 1990s, when a 1940s diet called the Master Cleanse was repurposed by Peter Glickman and celebrities from Beyoncé to Demi Moore reported astonishing results for energy and weight loss.

Frequently used methods of detoxification include water and juice fasts. Methods such as these may do more harm than good however. These fasts work on the premise that the body will heal itself when the stress of digestion and the insulting agents are eliminated.

However the processes of Phase I and II are not only energy intensive, but are dependent on a wide range of nutrients acting as co-factors to assist in the myriad of reactions and processes, and without these, proper detoxification may be inhibited rather than enhanced.

In addition, water fasting and juicing induce activity of Phase I enzymes, and without adequate proteins, Phase II reactions may be decreased and the harmful reactive intermediates remain in the body adding to toxic burden rather than reducing it.

In the livers attempt to carry Phase II, fasting will promote the breakdown of lean tissue, to provide the proteins necessary, this catabolism of muscle is detrimental to health.

It’s interesting that in animal models, fasting causes decreased glutathione levels (the bodies master anti-oxidant) leading to enhanced susceptibility to toxicity from toxin exposure.

Comprehensive Support For Safe Detoxing and Cleansing
Detoxification programmes that use a broad-based nutritional approach to support all aspects of the complex detoxification processes are the gold standard for optimal support.

For a detoxification programme to be effective, it needs to support:

  • Balanced Phase I & Phase II detoxification processes
  • Energy production
  • Excretion and elimination
  • Acid-alkaline balance
  • Antioxidant mechanisms
  • Low allergy potential
  • Support integrity of gastro-intestinal tract
  • Reduced exposure to toxins

Overview of a balanced nutritional approach to detoxification:

Both phases of detoxification require adequate dietary protein, a deficiency can often result in decreased detoxification of many pharmaceutical drugs and other chemicals. Fasting, which involves protein restriction, can result in lowered detoxification ability and increased production of harmful reactive intermediates. Studies have shown that protein restriction enhances the toxic effects of some chemicals such as certain pesticides and carcinogens.

In addition, adequate protein, more specifically the ratio between dietary protein and carbohydrate, directly influences the insulin - glucagon hormonal axis. When there is an imbalance of these hormones important anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing substances are greatly impacted. In the absence of sufficient protein and/or with excessive carbohydrate, which can occur with some juice fasts, production of pro-inflammatory and immune-inhibiting substances is often increased.

For detoxification purposes, a high carbohydrate intake may reduce the ability of the Phase I enzymes to work effectively. However this depression of enzyme activity by excess carbohydrate is seen to be more significant with sugar and refined carbohydrates than with more complex carbohydrate sources.

While undergoing a detoxification programme, a diet that contains quality protein and is lower in total carbohydrate may provide optimal activation of these enzymes. Balanced protein-carbohydrate ratios may support healing and enhanced immune function on a systemic cellular level.

In a typical Western diet fats can be problematic, since many people consume too much of the wrong kind. The maintenance and utilisation of phase II enzymes is optimised by consumption of both mono and polyunsaturated fats. Fatty acids provide energy for cell function and support liver energy production, necessary for Phase I enzyme activity.

It’s therefore important to ensure that there are sources of these beneficial fats to be used directly to support energy production and the smooth running off the liver.

Fibre can benefit a detoxification programme in many ways. Fibre supports intestinal mucosal cell barriers (the gut lining), which decrease toxic burden on the body and provides a first line of defence for the body.

Fibre supports regular elimination (poop!) and thus promotes removal of the conjugated toxins from phase II, that are excreted via bile. Fibre may also decrease the absorption of some toxins with studies showing some fibres directly bind to toxins, thereby removing them before they can interact with the body and cause damage at any level.

Antioxidants are an essential part of any detoxification strategy as they help protect cell membranes from damaging oxygen free radicals generated by both exogenous and endogenous sources. Antioxidants such as flavonoids, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper and selenium may offer additional assistance to liver detoxification by quenching free radicals produced during the detoxification process.

Antioxidant restriction, as happens during a water fast, allows these free radicals to go unchecked and cause cellular damage. Furthermore, dietary insufficiencies of vitamins C and E may decrease Phase I enzyme activity.

It’s therefore essential to include plenty of fresh, brightly coloured vegetables and fruit to ensure vital nutrients are provided.

So we can see that detoxification is an energy-requiring process that puts a metabolic burden on the body. Ensuring there is sufficient nutrients, protein, carbohydrate, fat and fibre is a crucial part of any comprehensive detoxification programme.

Fasting has many adverse health effects, including decreased energy production, catabolism of lean tissue, over-induction of some Phase I enzymes with a concomitant increase in oxidative stress, and decreased levels of Phase II cofactors.

A Healthful Approach to Liver Health

There are gentler ways to cleanse the liver and support the detoxification process that don't require extreme juice diets, calculating calories, complicated or extreme one off protocols. Shifts in your daily diet and lifestyle can bring liver-enhancing and positive changes in your skin, body, mind, spirit and overall health.

Key Liver Considerations
The liver is a hyper intelligent central processing system that filters, controls and cleans a litre and a half of blood per minute, all while simultaneously processing 500 vital biochemical metabolic reactions. The liver acts as a purification plant for the blood. It plays a vital role in the detoxification and excretion of a great variety of endogenous and exogenous compounds.

It’s also responsible for adjusting cholesterol levels, building proteins, making bile (to help breakdown and absorb fats), storing sugar for when the body needs extra energy, and regulating hormone levels. The uncleaned liver is very fragile yet simultaneously a survivor: it regenerates rapidly and is grateful for care. It can regrow from just a tiny piece and function with only 10% of healthy tissue!

Treating your liver well can be done in small, meaningful ways each day. If you do this, you’ll be making a commitment to your overall health in sustainable ways that lower liver disease risk factors and promote your own healthful and joyful longevity.

Proper diet, exercise and sleep may be obvious habits worth starting or maintaining for general health, but it’s the long term benefits of optimising our liver health that will see our health improve and continue as we age.

5 Steps to Daily Liver Support

1. Hydrate, Relax, Reset
Throughout the day, we can easily slip into autopilot mode, especially if we’re engaged in tasks that require deep concentration. How often do you check in on yourself? Do you ask yourself questions like, “Have I eaten or had any water to drink?”.

Appropriate water intake has been shown to boost energy, increase fat metabolism, lower body weight, and reduce the risk of fatty liver disease. The exact amount of water each individual needs to drink varies based on age, body mass, gender and other factors, but aim for 8-10 glasses per day to start.

When combined with conscious self-care that aims to lower stress, staying hydrated, relaxed and well rested is a winning combination for maintaining excellent liver health daily.

Tip: Cleansing herbal teas such as burdock root, ginger, dandelion, liquorice, fennel and peppermint, not only up your water intake but provide additional gentle cleansing benefits.

Green tea contains a class of flavonoid called catechins, studies have shown these plant compounds support optimal detoxification balance by modulating Phase I enzymes, inducing several Phase II activities, and minimising damage caused by phase I reactive intermediates.

2. Reduce and Eliminate Toxic Burden
Toxins burden the liver, forcing the organ of regeneration to use precious resources to flush out these harmful invaders, taking away from the liver’s influence over our mood, emotions, energy, concentration and more. Toxins can come form foods, skincare products, household cleaning products and plastics.

Changing cleaning products to more environmentally friendly brands is an easy way to lower toxic exposure as is switching skincare to natural organic plant skincare. Try not to store leftovers in plastic boxes and rather that drinking water from plastic bottles invest in a reusable glass bottle and if possible invest in a water purification system for your drinking water at home.

Tip: Starting with a goal of a few days or a week, try eliminating alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, sugar, and processed foods. If that feels too daunting, choose one at a time to focus on.

3. Eat Liver-Friendly Foods
A balanced diet with quality protein, small amounts of complex carbohydrate and large quantities of plant foods helps to support healthy body composition, provide a diverse range of nutrients and support proper liver function.

Eating with a liver-loving focus offers the liver and gut the ideal defence against chronic disease. If you do nothing else, ditch pre-packaged and processed foods first. Then, move on to focusing on as many whole and organic foods, healthy oils, and eventually eliminating (or reducing as much as possible) caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar in excess.

This style of eating gives your liver (and your whole body) a break from additives, pesticides, and other toxins that tax your system. In their place, nutrient-dense foods offer nourishing and rejuvenating possibilities for optimal gut and mental health thanks to fewer toxins clouding your bloodstream.

Tip, What to Eat: It isn’t always an option, but try to eat organic or wild food, where possible, to minimise exposure to pesticides.
Consume wide variety of brightly coloured fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices for their diverse health supporting phytochemicals, including antioxidants.

Fruit and Vegetables
Eat as wide a variety and colour as possible to provide the greatest variety of antioxidants and plant compounds. Ensure you include plenty of these;

  • crucuiferous vegetables; broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale
  • artichokes, beetroot, carrots, dandelion.
  • sulphurous vegetables; onions, garlic, leeks, shallots
  • soluble fibre; pears, apples, berries
  • herbs and spices; turmeric, ginger, coriander, rosemary, parsley, mint, cinnamon, thyme


  • oats
  • beans, legumes, lentils, chickpeas
  • wholegrains; quinoa, brown rice, bulgarwheat, barley
  • Nuts, seeds

Eat high quality protein to provide sulphur and amino acids required for phase II and for glutathione (powerful antioxidant) synthesis. It will also provide a range of B vitamins required as detoxification cofactors.

  • lean organic meat, wild meat, game, poultry, fish
  • eggs
  • nuts, seeds
  • beans, pulses
  • whole grains (rich in B vitamins)

Fats and Oils
monounsaturated fats (olive oil)
polyunsaturated fats from oily fish, nuts and seeds
cold pressed seed oils to (be used as dressings only, not for cooking)

Probiotic Foods
Improve gut health by eating probiotic and prebiotic foods. Probiotics are the friendly bugs that inhabit our gut and prebiotics are foods that nourish these little guys!


  • bio-live yogurt
  • kefir
  • tempeh
  • kimchi
  • kombucha
  • miso
  • saurkraut (check out my simple recipe here)


  • Asparagus, Leek, Onions, Garlic, Jerusalem Artichoke
  • Bananas, Apples,
  • Barley, Oats Flaxseeds
  • Seaweed.

4. Supplement With Herbs
If your liver has been ‘neglected’ or could benefit from a little extra support there are a number of nutritional supplements and herbs that can help, including;

Milk Thistle - Regarded as the “queen” of detoxifying herbs, its active ingredient silymarin helps to strengthen the cell walls of the liver, and can eliminate the buildup of heavy metals and toxins.

Burdock - Blood cleanser and liver function supporter, this anti-inflammatory root can be taken as a supplement or as a detox tea, with evidence supporting its ability to boost glutathione in the liver. Glutathione helps protect the liver from toxins and is a powerful antioxidant.

Turmeric - With a plethora of health benefits to celebrate, this anti-inflammatory root aids digestion, supports blood sugar balance, and supports healthy liver tissue and metabolism.

Dandelion Root - A natural diuretic, this flower and its root contain excellent vitamins and minerals for fortifying the immune system, balancing blood sugar levels, soothing digestive upset, and supporting the liver to eliminate unwanted toxins more rapidly and effectively.

5. Schedule Time To Sweat
In the sauna, in the gym, or in nature, sweating supports the lymphatic system and helps flush out toxins and bacteria more effectively. It’s thought that only 55 - 65 percent of adults aged 19 - 64 are meeting the government guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. The figures drop to between 52 - 58 percent in the over 65's and shockingly drops to between 9 - 25 percent in the under 18's.

There is little that is more effective than getting the body moving, which can help to remove potentially harmful molecules via the pores, lowering fat in the liver and boosting overall liver health. It doesn't have to be hot yoga, running machines, or HIT workouts, get outside for a brisk walk or dance around your living room, whatever you enjoy that gets your heart pumping and builds up a sweat.

To further enhance the benefits of sweating, a session in the sauna can be particularly beneficial. Studies have demonstrated that regular sauna use has the potential to regulate mercury levels and may help eliminate toxic trace metals. But be sure to take a cool shower directly after to prevent reabsorption of toxins back into the body.

At the end of a busy day a stress-relieving bath can also help support daily detoxing. By adding a large handful of epsom salts, you can support its cleansing properties but it also adds further therapeutic properties including a source of magnesium to support sleep, calming irritated skin conditions, reducing inflammation and soothing aches and pains.

Little changes to your daily habits can reap rewards for your health for decades to come!