The liver is one of the most important organs in our bodies. It is responsible for so many functions. Some of these functions are the production of bile which helps to digest fat and serve as a carrier to eliminate toxic wastes from the body. Protein synthesis is another function where albumin and blood clotting factors are made. Regulation of glucose levels and changing the toxic ammonia into urea to be safely excreted in urine are other functions of the liver.
Detoxification is another vital function of the liver. It detoxifies harmful substances whether exogenous (beginning outside the body, such as drugs, food additives, alcohol and pesticides) or endogenous (coming from inside the body, such as hormones). When hormones have done their role in the body, the liver eliminates them from the blood. However if the liver functions are compromised for one reason or the other and the detoxification process is impaired, these hormones (especially estrogen) will accumulate in the body and give rise to many symptoms such as breast pain and lumpiness, weight gain and many other health issues.
The liver plays several roles in detoxification. One of theses roles is the enzymatic break down of toxins. This happens in two steps: Phase I and phase II Detoxification. During phase I, the liver either neutralizes these toxins or changes them into intermediates (free radicals) which are highly reactive and can cause damage. Phase II should work on these intermediates and change them into harmless compounds. If liver cells do not function properly, Phase II detoxification slows down and increases the dangerous load of toxic intermediates.
Phase I detoxification involves a group of 50-100 enzymes that has been named the cytochrome P450 system with each enzyme working more efficiently at neutralizing certain classes of chemicals.
Phase II detoxification involves conjugation, meaning a protective compound becomes bound to a toxin. The conjugation pathways are glutathione and amino acid conjugation, methylation, sulfation, sulfoxidation, acetylation, and glucuronidation. These enzyme systems need nutrients and metabolic energy to function.
Our stressful life style, poor diet with increased intake of processed food, alcohol, and drugs along with several nutritional deficiencies will add to the liver burden. In addition to this, the environmental toxins are in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat compound the problem. All this adds up and makes the liver struggle with its process of detoxification.
Many steps can be taken to help improve the liver functions. These steps include eliminating the intake of toxins, having a healthy life style depending more on organic fresh fruits and vegetables (to minimise pesticides and insecticides intake), fasting and supplementation.
There are a wide range of products out there that help the liver. Alpha Lipoic Acid, Vitamin B group, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Zinc, Chromium, Selenium, Co Q 10, N Acetyl Cysteine, SAM e, Glutathione, Silybum marianum, and detoxifying herbs are some of these supplements. A short guide to some of these products follows.
- Alpha lipoic acid has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and helps in the areas of nerve health (e.g. diabetic neuropathy), metabolic health (e.g. insulin resistance and weight control) and brain health. From 2006 to 2009, studies in humans and animals have shown that alpha lipoic acid can provide important improvements in the following: recovery following liver surgery and liver regeneration.
- Selenium is incorporated into proteins to make selenoproteins, which are important antioxidant enzymes. The antioxidant properties of selenoproteins help prevent cellular damage from free radicals. Supplementation of selenium can suppress lipid peroxidation, improve peripheral blood mononuclear cell membrane fluidity (PBMC) and immune function in patients with chronic hepatitis. All these effects may accelerate the recovery of liver functions.
- Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant and a key nutrient in the detoxification process. Glutathione performs two tasks in the detox process. It quenches the free radicals created when the liver neutralizes toxins in phase I detox and it combines with toxic chemicals in Phase II so they can be safely excreted.
- S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is needed to synthesize glutathione and has restored liver function from damage due to hepatitis C.