Health is a very individual process and cannot be guaranteed by simply eating certain foods or taking certain vitamins. However, despite biochemical individuality and the changes we experience in it over time, there are a few common denominators that can apply to most individuals seeking good health. I am going to talk about the importance of Liver Support.
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If you think about it, our liver as an organ has not evolved in the thousands of years that we’ve been on earth. The liver, in its form and function, has remained constant through the ages. In fact, we share this organ with the whole mammalian kingdom. What has dramatically changed is the sheer amount of environmental and food toxins that surround us daily at this point in history. In short, our liver has a lot more junk to deal with than it ever has had before: carcinogenic substances, pesticides, herbicides, environmental hormones, heavy metals, and of course, the ever-present stress.
Since reducing our toxic load by eating organic foods, drinking clean water and chilling out doesn’t mean that we are completely free of harsh chemicals and toxins, the next step in supporting proper liver detoxification is supplementation. Keep in mind that when I use the word “detoxification” I am not referring to a kit you do twice a year that leaves you running for the toilet every hour. Detoxification is a moment-to-moment process carried out by our bodies to protect us; therefore, we have to support this in an ongoing manner. In past articles, I talked about how to choose the right supplement for you, and this case is no different. But first, it is important to understand the basic biological process by which your liver filters virtually everything coming into or going out of your body every moment of every day.
The 3 phases of detoxification.
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Most people don’t know that there are actually three phases of liver detox and each of these needs to be supported in order for proper elimination can occur.
The first phase - is when all sorts of junk and hormones come to your liver and 50 to 100 enzymes metabolize or chemically break down toxins to be synthesized, neutralized, redirected or disposed. According to Dr. Elizabeth Jeffrey in her article Detoxification Basics, “the phase I enzyme activities include oxidation, reduction, hydrolysis reactions. Of these, the major players are the cytochrome P450 enzymes, which are found across all 5 biological kingdoms.” Here we have the creation of reactionary intermediaries, which are essentially like “sticky” molecules that can latch onto things easily. In a normally functioning liver, these molecules would join with powerful antioxidants and be rendered inert. But for many, these molecules are even more reactive when they first came into the liver and can now cause even more harm if they go unchecked.
In Phase II of detox - these intermediaries are neutralized and are made water soluble to be excreted by the kidneys, or are emulsified and released into a common bile duct in the bowel. It is not yet clear how this is decided or whether substances are excreted by just the kidneys or just the bowels, but it is clear that there is a balance that takes place. Of any given substance, there is the preferred method of elimination, but more often than not, both urine and bowel excretions are used by the body. To synopsize using Jeffrey’s method, “Phase II enzymes are so called because the products of phase I metabolism are frequently substrates for these enzymes. Typically, these enzymes add bulky water-soluble molecules to xenobiotics, often creating inactive products termed conjugates, which are excreted in bile and urine. Major phase II detoxification pathways are glucuronidation, sulfation, glutathione conjugation, acetylation and methylation.”
The most important antioxidant needed to neutralize these toxins is an enzyme family known as Glutathione. A lot of the time, our body has little trouble with Phase I, but really falls down in Phase II when not enough Glutathione is produced and there is nothing to render those sticky molecules inert. This underproduction could be related to stress, allergies, age and so forth. It is recommended that you look for a formula that includes N-acetyl-Cysteine, which is a direct precursor to this valuable substance. Be leery of products that supply you only with reduced Glutathione and the promise of improved liver function. The reality is that when you consume reduced glutathione, your digestive system breaks down the bonds of the molecule into something that no longer resembles glutathione. Giving your body the precursor is often the best way to go. As well, glutathione production is heavily dependent on the mineral selenium, so be sure to pick a product which contains this inorganic necessity.
Just because a substance has been neutralized doesn’t mean that it will leave your body quietly. Ultimately, proper elimination is determined by the function of your kidneys and the climate of your bowels.
Optimal functioning of the kidneys is vital for proper detoxification. First and foremost, this means consuming large amounts of clean water. I recommend alkaline, ionized water because of its restored mineral base, better absorption, tissue penetration and hydration, and high antioxidant value. Plus, it is free of harmful chemicals from the tap such as chlorine, heavy metals and residual pharmaceuticals. Ionized water is essentially treated tap water that has been filtered and reformed to create reduced water with a large mass of electrons that can be donated to active oxygen in the body to block the oxidation of normal cells. This naturally decreases inflammation as well and helps all organ systems work more efficiently and effectively.
In addition, I also recommend purchasing liver support supplements that include the herb schizandra. As a traditional Chinese remedy, Schizandra has been used for thousands of years to help strengthen kidney function while balancing fluid levels and assisting with elimination. These are just two of its many functions. In fact, Schizandra is very diverse in its indications, perhaps owing to the fact that the medicinal berries are called “five flavor fruit” –which corresponds to all five flavours used in Chinese medicine.
Phase lll of detox - Finally, proper levels of intestinal flora are also essential for detoxification – such as those that we talked about in my Probiotic article.
When toxins are rendered inert and passed through a common bile duct into the bowel, the climate of the bowel determines how they will be eliminated. If you have “bad” bacteria or excess yeast, these nasties can break open those inert bonds and cause toxins to recirculate back into your system. The most common side effects of this include constipation and headaches. Adequate dietary intake of fibre is also a necessity for absorbing toxins and carrying them out of the body quickly and efficiently, so enjoying 8-9 servings of fruits and vegetables and choosing whole grains will help insure you have enough fibre to properly eliminate.
To recap, your liver formula should include adequate amounts of Milk Thistle, Schizandra, N-acetyl-Cysteine, selenium, and (one that I have not yet mentioned) Alpha Lipoic Acid.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a natural substance produced by every higher-level cell and is responsible for many important functions in the body. These include: the obtaining of energy from the food we eat, stimulating the growth of aerobic bacteria, recycling of other nutrients such as CoQ10 and Vitamins C and E, chelation of heavy metals and inactivating deleterious genes, among much else. In an incredible study published in the Townsend Letter of December 2007, it was determined that ALA is vital for protection of liver cells and preventing liver necrosis (death of tissue and failure). In the four laboratory tests to measure liver function (platelet count, albumin level, ALT enzyme level, prothrombin time (blood clotting time)), it was determined that ALA markedly improved the results for these tests in all patients, meaning that the liver had begun regenerating itself and the patient's’ health was made much better. As such, and because ALA has such a vast potential for benefit, it can be a valuable addition to any supplemental liver regime.
Bear in mind that even in a perfect world, liver support can be largely indispensable to achieve optimum health. This means that even if you eat a perfect, proportionate diet from 100% organic sources, odds are that you could be functioning below par. The word “optimum” here is important because so much of allopathic, Western medicine is focused on treating illness, rather than living the best life you possibly can.