Eating for the Liver and Enhanced Detoxification

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Eating for the Liver and Enhanced Detoxification

By Matthew Lovitt 06/30/14

The haphazard consumption of drugs and/or alcohol kills the liver, promotes inflammation, and contributes to the development of scar tissue.

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Proper liver function is of paramount importance in the quest for total health and wellness. This amazing organ has a hand in many indispensable processes such as: the production of bile, which helps breakdown dietary fat and aids in waste elimination; the manufacture of certain blood proteins used to synthesize blood plasma; the production of cholesterol and lipoproteins, which, contrary to popular belief, are an integral component in cell structure and function; the conversion of glucose into glycogen, the storage form of glucose, or cellular fuel; and the production of immune factors that help the body remove bacteria from the bloodstream.

So…the liver is pretty important.

Maybe the liver’s most important function is the detoxification and elimination of environmental and lifestyle toxins, which occurs in a two phase process. Phase I detoxification converts toxins into chemical intermediates that are easily accessed by phase II detoxification. Phase II combines the intermediates that were produced during Phase I with other special substances in order to convert them into less harmful substances that are more easily excreted. The net effect is the removal of potentially harmful substances such as food toxins, environmental hazards, industrial chemicals, and, yes, drugs and alcohol.

In healthy adults, both phases of the liver detoxification process are quick and relatively harmless, minimizing the body’s exposure to its toxic effects and allowing the body to efficiently follow the process through to elimination. Unfortunately, when the rate at which the body can metabolize toxins is impaired or exposure exceeds the body’s processing capability, every organ system falters and the consequences become quite severe.

What alters the rate at which the liver neutralizes toxins?

First and foremost, genetics. Certain predisposed individuals have an over active phase I and an under active phase II detoxification pathway, which increases the body’s exposure to toxic intermediaries that can damage the liver, body and brain; causes extreme physical discomfort; and helps “protect” against the consequences of excessive or chronic alcohol consumption.

Next, toxin exposure. Toxins damage liver cells and damaged liver cells are unable to efficiently process other toxins. A vicious cycle to say the least: if the liver is not able to properly eliminate toxins or heal, it may not be able to fully utilize food nutrients to support health and may advance into full-blown hepatitis, cirrhosis, and, ultimately, liver failure and death. Liver dysfunction also increases risk of developing cancer, pancreatitis, depression and anxiety, all of which are often experienced in alcoholics and drug addicts.

Finally, substance abuse. The haphazard consumption of drugs and/or alcohol kills the liver, promotes inflammation, and contributes to the development of scar tissue. If any of this happens and toxins are allowed to accumulate, they may set up shop in our fat cells where they can reside for years, if not a lifetime. Toxin overload is particularly hard on the brain and the glands of the endocrine (hormone) system, both of which are considered fatty organs, and may contribute to neurological disturbances and hormonal imbalances such as depression, anxiety, infertility, menstrual deregulation and adrenal exhaustion. Particularly troubling, besides drugs and alcohol, are pesticides and petrochemicals that are also known to be carcinogenic and may contribute to an increased risk of developing cancer. Besides the obvious reduction in toxin exposure, there are certain nutrients and foods that can aide the detoxification process and better allow the liver to eliminate the chemicals that are taken into the body. For example, foods high in vitamins A, C, D3, E and the entire B complex, in addition to calcium and citrus bioflavonoids aid Phase I detoxification. Most fruits and vegetables fall into this bucket, but more specific examples include:

  • Dark leafy greens like kale, chard and mustard greens
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
  • Citrus fruits like lemons, oranges and clementines
  • High quality, organic animal proteins from pastured, free-range, wild, grass-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free animals.

We must also be aware that there are also foods that have the ability to inhibit Phase I detoxification, which include both grapefruit and the spice curcumin. Research suggests that as little as eight ounces of grapefruit juice is enough to decrease P450 activation by as much as 30% while curcumin almost paradoxically inhibits Phase I and activates Phase II. This curcumin effect has been linked to its ability to inhibit carcinogens by lowering their activation (Phase I) while increasing their detoxification (Phase II). Phase II detoxification is facilitated by sulfur-containing substances like taurine and cysteine, in addition to nutrients like glycine, glutamine, choline and inositol. High quality sources of sulfur compounds include:

  • Eggs
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
  • Garlic, Onions and Shallots
  • High quality, organic animal proteins from pastured, free-range, wild, grass-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free animals.

Glutathione, the body’s most powerful antioxidant and first line of defense against the free radicals mentioned above, is found abundantly in fruits and vegetables and, to a lesser degree, high quality animal protein. Herbs that promote liver function and detoxification include borotutu bark, milk thistle and dandelion root.

What’s all this information without a practical way to utilize it, right? Well, here you go! This is one of my favorite liver loving recipes that is guaranteed to help your liver heal and function optimally. Enjoy!

Raw Detox Salad

Ingredients
1 large head broccoli
1 medium head cauliflower
2-3 cups shredded carrots
½ cup sunflower seeds or pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 cup raisins
½ cup parsley
4-6 tablespoons
lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
In a food processor, pulse broccoli until fine and transfer to a large mixing bowl. You may need to do this in batches in order to ensure an even consistency.
Repeat with the cauliflower and the carrots, adding to the bowl of broccoli in batches.
Add the sunflower seeds, raisins, parsley, and lemon juice to the bowl and mix until well combined.
Season with salt and pepper, mix, and enjoy!

Raw Detox Salad

Matthew Lovitt is a Nutrition Therapy Practitioner – Candidate specializing in nutrition for those in addiction recovery. He works extensively with clients in long-term treatment for substance abuse disorders and maintains a private practice where he teaches clients how to plan and prepare healthy, therapeutic meals. You can follow him and his work at TwelveWellness.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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