Many people believe that periodic ‘detoxification’ provides a healthy break for organs, such as for the liver, kidney, bladder, and gallbladder.
Scientific’ data is nearly impossible to obtain to support the observations of thousands of persons over many decades, but it is clear that there is something to the claims that liver detoxification, in particular, makes people feel better.
Without getting into the basics of phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification, which is the paradigm that outlines the manner in which the liver, lung, kidneys, skin ‘detoxify’ substances, there is a lot of good to be said for engaging in the periodic practice of ‘liver detoxification.’
What are the functions of the liver?
It is responsible for the production of bile which is stored in the gallbladder and released when required for the digestion of fats. The liver stores glucose in the form of glycogen which is converted back to glucose again when needed for energy.
It also plays an important role in the metabolism of protein and fats. It stores the vitamins A, D, K, B12 and folate and synthesizes blood clotting factors.
Another important role is as a detoxifier, breaking down or transforming substances like ammonia, metabolic waste, drugs, alcohol, and chemicals so that they can be excreted. These may also be referred to as “xenobiotic” chemicals. If we examine the liver under a microscope, we will see rows of liver cells separated by spaces which act like a filter or sieve, through which the bloodstream flows. The liver filter is designed to remove toxic matter such as dead cells, microorganisms, chemicals, drugs, and particulate debris from the bloodstream. The liver filter is called the sinusoidal system and contains specialized cells known as Kupffer cells which ingest and breakdown toxic matter.
The poor man’s liver detox
The gall bladder functions to store bile between meals. The gall bladder contracts when stimulated to push bile salts into the small bowel, thereby facilitating digestion. Bile is a clear, yellow liquid, when healthy. If the bile is allowed to stagnate, or if the gallbladder is allowed to distend or get infected, the bile thickens, stones form, and mucous backs up. Sometimes, this leads to medical conditions that result in the need to surgically remove the gallbladder.
As it were, prevention is probably the best bet, when dealing with the liver/gallbladder system. A little bit of care and a little bit of prevention goes a long way.
To keep the gallbladder from distending, and to keep the bile from ‘going stale,’ the daily administration of silymarin, taken with each meal, will keep things moving along. The silymarin (milk thistle) stimulates the gall bladder to ‘dump, ‘ very much in the same way the colon does. Both the colon and gallbladder should empty with each meal. It gets a little sticky, however, if a person has had the gallbladder removed, already.
The liver is the cleanser and filter of the bloodstream and is of vital importance. It is the largest organ in the body and has an enormous amount of blood flowing through it every minute of our lives. It is between 21 – 22.5 cm in its greatest diameter, 15 – 17.5cm in its greatest height and 10 – 12.5 cm in its depth, weighing around 1200 – 1600 gms.
We have been attacking the symptoms of weight excess with fad diets, obsessional high impact aerobics, stomach stapling and toxic drugs, such as appetite suppressants, laxatives, and diuretics. We have failed to consider the underlying cause of LIVER DYSFUNCTION and indeed we have virtually ignored the hardest-working organ in the body, with dire consequences.
Steers are implanted with Hormonal Growth promotants (HGP) which is justified by corporate statements, that tests have shown that a non-pregnant woman produces 54,000 times the amount of estrogen found in a 500 gram steak and that only a fraction of the amount used in human hormone replacement therapy is used in the implants that are put into animals. Even this additional small amount of hormone is l increasing the workload of the liver, which over a long period of time may cause hormonal imbalances in those who eat beef regularly. We must ask ourselves why is the incidence of breast cancer so high, particularly in relatively young women? Surely it is better to eat meat from animals that roam free and happy in fresh green pastures that are not injected with potent hormones or fed concentrated stock feed to rush their growth?
The use of drugs to control and treat animal disease and to promote faster, more efficient growth of livestock is a common practice. An estimated 80 percent of U.S. livestock and poultry receive some animal drugs during their lifetime. Improper use of animal drugs may cause residues in the edible tissues of slaughtered animals that could be hazardous to consumers.
Most countries will have set MRL or Maximum Residue Limits. This is the amount of pesticide residue, heavy metals, hormone residues, and natural toxins that the food ( eggs, meat or milk) are allowed to have and still be sold to the public for consumption. The MRL in Australia is set by the National Registration Authority for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals. In the USA they are set by authorities under the Food and Drug Administration. The key point is, just because a food substance complies in relation to the MRL, does not mean that the food is free from ALL contamination – just that it is at, or under, the level set by the particular authority deemed to be safe. MRLs are often set on a national basis to meet the requirements of a particular country. However, pests and pest pressure can vary between countries, as can chemicals used and agronomic practices. The lists of MRL values applying in different countries can, therefore, be quite different.
There is also the point that despite the existence of these laws, it does not guarantee that all farmers and growers comply 100 %. Principle causes of excessive drug residues are failure to observe drug label withdrawal periods before slaughter or processing or failure to withhold milk after dosing of herds with drugs such as the treatment of bovine mastitis with large doses of penicillin which requires a withholding period before the residues in milk are reduced to acceptable levels. Other causes may include failure to follow other drug label directions, poor feed manufacturing practices, and human negligence.
There are many chemicals (e.g., trace metals, industrial chemicals, and mycotoxins) that may be inadvertently present in animal tissues yet have no established safe concentrations. This, of course, does not mean that these substances are not harmful.
It is a fact of life that pesticides, herbicides, and hormones are used in food production. Although the regulatory levels set by authorities provide some control over residues – it is not the ‘be all and end all’. The liver is again highlighted as vital, as it is the organ that metabolizes these substances and excretes them from the body.
The liver is the gateway to the body and in this chemical age, its detoxification systems are easily overloaded. Thousands of chemicals are added to food and over 700 have been identified in drinking water. Plants are sprayed with toxic chemicals, animals are injected with potent hormones and antibiotics and a significant amount of our food is genetically engineered, processed, refined, frozen and cooked. All this can lead to the destruction of delicate vitamins and minerals, which are needed for the detoxification pathways in the liver. The liver must try to cope with every toxic chemical in our environment, as well as damaged fats that are present in processed and fried foods.
Phase One – Detoxification Pathway
Human liver cells possess the genetic code for many isoenzymes of P-450 whose synthesis can be induced upon exposure to specific chemicals. This provides a mechanism of protection from a wide variety of toxic chemicals.
To put it simply, this pathway converts a toxic chemical into a less harmful chemical. This is achieved by various chemical reactions (such as oxidation, reduction, and hydrolysis), and during this process free radicals are produced which, if excessive, can damage the liver cells. 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. Some may be converted from relatively harmless substances into potentially carcinogenic substances.
Excessive amounts of toxic chemicals such as pesticides can disrupt the P-450 enzyme system by causing over activity or what is called ‘induction’ of this pathway. This will result in high levels of damaging free radicals being produced.
Substances that may cause overactivity (or induction) of the P- 450 enzymes: Caffeine, Alcohol, Dioxin, Saturated fats, Organophosphorus pesticides, Paint fumes, Sulfonamides, Exhaust fumes, Barbiturates
The family of P-450 enzyme systems is quite diverse, with specific enzyme systems being inducible by particular drugs, toxins or metabolites. It is this characteristic that has allowed the development of special tests to check the function of the various pathways – see liver tests. The substrate is the
substance that is acted upon by the enzyme.
Substrates of cytochrome P-450 enzymes:
Theophylline, caffeine, phenacetin, acetaminophen, Lidocaine, erythromycin, cyclosporin, ketoconazole, testosterone, estradiol, cortisone, Alprenolol, bopindolol, carvedilol, metoprolol, propranolol , Amitriptyline, clomipramine, desipramine, nortriptyline , Codeine, dextrometh- orphan, ethylmorphine, 4-methoxyamphetamin Family Phenytoin, ibuprofen, naproxen, oxicam drugs, S-warfarin, Diazepam, hexobarbitone, imipramine, omeprazole, alcohol, chlorzoxazone, enflurane.
Phase Two – Detoxification Pathway
This is called the conjugation pathway, whereby the liver cells add another substance (eg. cysteine, glycine or a sulfur molecule) to a toxic chemical or drug, to render it less harmful. This makes the toxin or drug water-soluble, so it can then be excreted from the body via watery fluids such as bile or urine.
Major Phase II pathways include glutathione, sulfate, glycine, and glucuronide conjugations. Individual xenobiotics and metabolites usually follow one or two distinct pathways. Again, this makes testing of the various pathways possible by challenging with known substances.
The conjugation molecules are acted upon by specific enzymes to catalyze the reaction step. Through conjugation, the liver is able to turn drugs, hormones and various toxins into excretable substances. For efficient phase two detoxification, the liver cells require sulfur-containing amino acids such as taurine and cysteine. The nutrients glycine, glutamine, choline, and inositol are also required for efficient phase two detoxification. Eggs and cruciferous vegetables (eg. broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower), and raw garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots are all good sources of natural sulfur compounds to enhance phase two detoxification. Thus, these foods can be considered to have a cleansing action. The phase two enzyme systems include both UDP-glucuronyl transferase (GT) and glutathione-S-transferase (GSH-T). Glutathione is the most powerful internal antioxidant and liver protector. It can be depleted by large amounts of toxins and/or drugs passing through the liver, as well as starvation or fasting. Phase II reactions may follow Phase I for some molecules or act directly on the toxin or metabolite.
Substrates of the glycine pathway
Salicylates and benzoate are detoxified primarily through glycination. Benzoate is present in many food substances and is widely used as a food preservative. Many other substances are detoxified as well via the glycine conjugation pathway. Patients suffering from xenobiotic overloads and environmental toxicity may not have sufficient amounts of glycine to cope with the amount of toxins they are carrying.
Substrates of the sulfation pathways
Neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, certain drugs such as Acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol), and many xenobiotic and phenolic compounds.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, steroid hormones, some nitrosamines, heterocyclic amines, some fungal toxins, and aromatic amines. It also removes “used” hormones, such as estrogen and T4 (thyroid hormone) that are produced naturally by the body.
If phase one and two detoxification pathways become overloaded, there will be a build-up of toxins in the body. Many of these toxins are fat-soluble and incorporate themselves into fatty parts of the body where they may stay for years, if not for a lifetime. 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.
Rarely does anyone think about the liver, which seems incredible to me because it is such a powerful organ and is easily improved. Indeed the simplest and most effective way to cleanse the bloodstream and thus take the load off the immune system is by improving liver function. An example of the phase one pathway is the Cytochrome P-450 mixed-function oxidase enzyme pathway. These enzymes reside on the membrane system of the liver cells (called Hepatocytes).