Liver Detox for Wellness
It is a new year and for many individuals, getting healthy is on the top of the resolution list. While that process can vary from person to person, eating healthier, getting more exercise and supporting healthy liver function are commonly reported areas that people are looking to improve. In this article we will explore natural and safe methods for liver detox for wellness.
Why the liver, you may ask? The liver is critical to our well-being and without it, we can’t survive. Although it is usually thought of as the filter of the body, it has numerous functions ranging from immune support to blood glucose management. However, when we eat heavily processed foods and overexpose ourselves to alcohol, medications, toxins and other environmental pollutants it can become overburdened, causing it to work less efficiently. Many individuals may notice this in the form of fatigue, headaches, digestive or skin issues and more. Let’s take a closer look at the liver to get a better understanding of how it keeps us well.
About the Liver
The liver is a very important organ that sits in the upper right side of the body and is compared to the size of a football in adults. The liver’s job is to receive the blood that is circulating through the body. From there, it performs various tasks to keep the body functioning properly:
The liver makes bile which helps the body break down and absorb fat from the foods we eat while removing metabolic waste.
Production, Break Down and Storage of Various Biological Components
The liver is responsible for making coagulation factors to help regulate blood clotting as well as albumin and plasma protein. It produces cholesterol and liver health determines the good quality of our cholesterol. Your liver also stores vitamins such as A, D, E, K and B12 as well as iron in the form of ferritin
Blood Sugar Regulation
The liver stores glucose (blood sugar) in the form of glycogen and will convert it back into a usable form when blood sugar levels are low. It also makes ketones to use as energy when sugar availability is limited.
The liver helps metabolize pharmaceutical medications and other drugs, alcohol and other toxins, then filters them out of the blood.
Supports the Immune System
The liver protects us from pathogens with special immune cells known as macrophages, called Kupffer cells. When they are activated they consume the pathogen or cellular debris in the liver helping to protect us from infection.
Phases of Detoxification
All of the liver’s tasks are important, but the filtration and detoxification process is critical to our wellness. This process happens in three phases:
Phase one is the conversion of toxic compounds into less harmful forms through the help of cytochrome P450 enzymes. Toxic compounds can be pharmaceutical medications or environmental compounds we are exposed to.
Phase two is referred to as the conjugation step. This is when the compounds from phase one are further neutralized in order to make them more water soluble so that the body can excrete them through urine or bile.
Phase three is simply the transport of these compounds out of the body.
When the liver is not overburdened and able to carry out this process optimally, many people report healthy skin tone, digestion, and energy levels, less need for coffee or other caffeine sources, mental clarity, weight management and reduced inflammation or pain. You can read more about the phases of detoxification.
Where Does the Gallbladder Fit?
The gallbladder is another important organ that works with the liver. Once the liver makes bile, it is sent to the gall bladder for storage. When food is consumed, the bile is released from the gall bladder into the small intestine to start helping the digestive system break down and absorb fat. If there is something that is preventing the bile from properly being secreted from the gall bladder into the small intestine, it can cause very uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, pain as well as other digestive issues. Keeping both the liver and the gall bladder healthy is very important particularly for digestive health. There are three popular herbs that have been traditionally used to keep these two organs healthy.
3 Herbs That Support Healthy Liver & Gall Bladder Function
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum )
Milk thistle is one of the most well-known herbs when it comes to liver support and has traditionally been used to treat various liver conditions due to its beneficial constituent, silymarin. In fact, literature suggests that this constituent may help in the regeneration of liver tissue while acting as a protective antioxidant by increasing glutathione as well as helping to protect the liver from harmful toxins.2
In addition to organ tissue support, milk thistle may help improve health factors associated with the liver. One study assessed the effects of silymarin on type II diabetics who were given 200 mg three times a day while the other group received a placebo. At the end of the four-month study, the silymarin group showed improvement in total cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides and HbA(1)c.1 This suggests that silymarin in milk thistle may be beneficial for individuals who are looking for natural blood sugar and cholesterol management options.
Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
Globe artichoke shares similar benefits as milk thistle however this herb is particularly beneficial for cardiovascular support as it may help lower cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. Just like milk thistle, it has traditionally been used to protect liver tissue while improving the production and secretion of bile.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
In addition to bile production and secretion support, dandelion root has traditionally been used as a bitter for digestive support as it may stimulate the production of enzymes that help break down food. It may also support the liver’s detoxification process while improving skin disorders associated with poor liver function.
Freshen Up Your Diet
The foods you eat can play a huge role in your overall health. Increasing your fresh fruit and vegetable intake as much as possible is another easy way to support the liver, gall bladder and the rest of the body all year round. Cruciferous vegetables in particular are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber and are known to be beneficial to the liver as they help in phase one and two of detoxification. These include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, collard greens and more. Dark, leafy green vegetables are also very beneficial as they contain magnesium which is important for many biological processes. Eating more fruits and vegetables not only increases your nutrient consumption, but it may also lower inflammation with their antioxidant properties as well.
If you are not sure about how much of these to consume, two servings of vegetables for every one serving of fruit is a great place to start. If you have some difficulty transitioning to healthier eating because of the strong flavors these foods can have, start small and work your way up. Spinach is a nutritious leafy green with less distinct flavor. Try adding it to a smoothie with your favorite fruits. Cooking vegetables and adding a healthy marinade or seasoning is great and can be easier to digest. Just make sure not to overcook your vegetables to where they become mushy or lose their color because you can end up losing some of those important nutrients, particularly water-soluble nutrients such as vitamin C. If digestion is still an issue after cooking, consider the help of digestive enzymes which are typically formulated to help you break down the protein, fat and carbohydrates from the foods you eat.
Most importantly, find a combination that works for you. It is normal to go through trial and error until you find what your body needs. Remember that every health journey is unique, will vary in time and should be enjoyable. Happy 2021!
About the Author
Dr. Yasamine Farshad is the Practitioner Education Manager for Wise Woman Herbals® where she coordinates educational events and content for health care practitioners. Dr. Farshad received her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona and received her Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona. Dr. Farshad also teaches anatomy and physiology for Herbal Wisdom Institute where she received her herbalist certification. She focuses on nature cure using botanical medicine and nutrition.
1.Huseini, H. F., Larijani, B., Heshmat, R., Fakhrzadeh, H., Radjabipour, B., Toliat, T., & Raza, M. (2006). The efficacy of Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. (silymarin) in the treatment of type II diabetes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 20(12), 1036–1039. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.1988
2.Tilgner, S. (2020). Herbal medicine: From the heart of the earth. Creswell, OR: Wise Acres.