Your liver needs daily support!
Written by April 2015 Phoebe Wynne-Lewis, BHSc, Dip Nat Med, Dip Herb Med – FxMed Technical Support
From air pollution and food additives to pollutants in our drinking water, homes and even personal care products, the truth is that your body is literally bombarded with toxins on a daily basis. And no matter how “clean” a life you lead – a healthy diet, regular exercise, regular stress relief – your body is likely to show evidence of accumulated toxicity. When the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, they found some alarming results …
On average, the CDC’s report found 212 chemicals in people’s blood or urine, 75 of which had never been measured before. Environmental chemicals and pollutants are now virtually everywhere – even the snow atop the Andes Mountains was found to contain PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which were banned in the United States in 1979, and the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies contains an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants, according to an EWG study.
Together, these chemicals represent the “human body burden” – a toxic cocktail of chemicals and pollutants that accumulate in your body over a lifetime and, in time, can take a serious toll on your health.
The liver is one of the most important organs in the body when it comes to detoxifying or excreting foreign substances, especially from the gut. The liver detoxifies harmful substances by a complex series of chemical reactions. The role of these various enzyme activities in the liver is to convert fat soluble toxins into water soluble substances that can be excreted in the urine or the bile depending on the particular characteristics of the end product.
Many of the toxic chemicals that enter the body are fat-soluble, which means they dissolve only in fatty or oily solutions and not in water. This makes them difficult for the body to excrete. Fat soluble chemicals have a high affinity for fat tissues and cell membranes, which are composed of fatty acids and proteins. The brain and the endocrine (hormonal) glands are fatty organs, and are common sites for fat-soluble toxins to accumulate. This may result in symptoms of brain dysfunction and hormonal imbalances, such as infertility, breast pain, menstrual disturbances, adrenal gland exhaustion and early menopause. Many of these chemicals (eg. pesticides, petrochemicals) are carcinogenic and have been implicated in the rising incidence of many cancers. During the release of these toxins, several symptoms such as headaches, poor memory, stomach pain, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and palpitations can occur. The body’s primary defence against metabolic poisoning is carried out by the liver.
The liver neutralizes a wide range of toxic chemicals, both those produced internally and those coming from the environment. The normal metabolic processes produce a wide range of chemicals and hormones for which the liver has evolved efficient neutralizing mechanisms. However, the level and type of internally produced toxins increases greatly when metabolic processes go amiss, typically as a result of nutritional deficiencies. These non-end-product metabolites have become a significant problem in this age of conventionally grown foods and poor diets.
The Liver Performs Two Phases of Detoxification
Phase I Liver Detoxification
Chemicals and hormones that are fat-soluble must first be converted to water-soluble molecules and are processed via a group of 100 different enzymes, known as the cytochrome P-450 system.
When cytochrome P-450 metabolizes a toxin, it chemically transforms it to a less toxic form, makes it water-soluble, or converts it to a more chemically active form. Caffeine is an example of a chemical directly neutralized by Phase I. Making a toxin water-soluble allows its excretion by the kidneys. Transforming a toxin to a more chemically reactive form makes it more easily metabolized by the Phase II enzymes.
Excessive amounts of toxic chemicals such as pesticides can disrupt the P-450 enzyme system by causing over activity or ‘induction’ of this pathway. This will result in high levels of damaging free radicals being produced. Antioxidants (such as vitamin C and E and natural carotenoids) reduce the damage caused by these free radicals. If antioxidants are lacking and toxin exposure is high, toxic chemicals become far more dangerous. If these reactive molecules are not further metabolised by Phase II conjugation, they may cause damage to proteins, RNA, and DNA within the cell.
Sometimes the end product of Phase I detoxification is more dangerous than the compound being detoxified. Benzene, for example, is a dangerous organic solvent present in gasoline and cigarettes, and a known carcinogen. Phase I enzymes oxidize benzene, producing benzene quinones, which are a source of increased toxicity.
Increased Phase I Liver Activity (or induction of the P-450 enzymes) without a balancing increase in Phase II activity can be caused by: caffeine, alcohol, dioxin, saturated fats, organophosphorus pesticides, paint fumes, and exhaust fumes. Medications can also increase or decrease Phase I liver activity in ways that are highly specific to the drug and its duration of use.
Phase II Liver Detoxification
To rid itself of toxins produced by Phase I, the liver performs a second phase called conjugation. In this phase, oxidized chemicals are combined or conjugated with sulfur, specific amino acids or organic acids, and then excreted in bile. Once they are processed into small enough by-products that are water-soluble, they can be eliminated through the kidneys, and any larger ones are excreted in the stool. Individual xenobiotics and metabolites usually follow one or two distinct pathways.
There are essentially six Phase II detoxification pathways:
1. Glutathione conjugation
2. Amino acid conjugation
The rate at which Phase I produces activated intermediates must be balanced by the rate at which Phase II finishes their processing. Unless quickly removed from the body by Phase II detoxification mechanisms, they can cause widespread problems, especially carcinogenesis, tissue injury, inflammation and cell membrane damage. People with a very active Phase I coupled with slow or inactive Phase II enzymes are termed pathological detoxifiers. These people suffer unusually severe toxic reactions to environmental poisons. A liver detoxification test can pinpoint exactly how efficiently your liver is carrying out the detoxification process.
An imbalance between Phase I and Phase II can also occur when a person is exposed to large amounts of toxins or exposed to toxins for a long period of time. In these situations, the critical nutrients needed for Phase II detoxification are depleted, which allows the highly toxic activated intermediates to build up. This phase of liver detoxification is inhibited by nutritional deficiency, alcohol consumption, toxic exposures, low protein intake and medications i.e acetaminophen, that deplete vital antioxidants such as glutathione.