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Supplements to Aid Liver Detoxification

Target liver illustration

When it comes to defending the internal environment of the body from toxins, the barriers presented by the skin and lungs are the body’s first line of defence. The efficient elimination of toxins via the bowel is the second most important process followed by the detoxification organs of the liver and kidneys. The liver is particularly affected by the accumulation of toxic wastes in the colon as these toxins are transported directly to the liver in the portal circulation.

As liver function becomes slowly compromised, all the other body organs and systems are gradually affected as the body becomes progressively more toxic. In this way deteriorating liver function is always central to all chronic and degenerative diseases and reversing this process is crucial to recovery.

Supporting liver detoxification will enable the body to begin to clear the toxins that are compromising the processes within the liver itself, thus enabling the liver to handle exposure to new toxins and also to progressively clear the back-log of toxins accumulated within the tissues of the body. Reducing the amount of toxins you are exposed to wherever possible, ensuring adequate fibre in the diet to aid regular bowel function and an initial course of colonic hydrotherapy will all also serve to relieve the liver of some of its toxic burden.  


About the liver

The liver is the largest organ in the body, weighing up to 2.3 kg. It is found in the upper right part of the abdomen under the ribs and its rather unspectacular microscopic structure belies the mind-boggling complexity of the operations that take place there. 

These include regulating fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism; synthesising more than 13,000 essential body chemicals and hormones; manufacturing and destroying red blood cells; storing vitamins and minerals; producing heat and managing over 50,000 enzymes vital to maintaining health. However, in this article we will focus exclusively upon the important role of the liver in detoxification. 

The liver works to detoxify all the many exogenous toxins we are exposed to in the food, drink, pharmaceutical and recreational drugs we consume, the air we breathe and the cocktail of substances we apply to our skin. However, this is only thought to account for approximately 10% of its workload, with the remaining 90% of toxins being endogenous in origin. That is to say that these toxins are generated within the body as a result of metabolic processes and from the bacteria which are said to outnumber our own body cells by at least 10 to 1. 

The processes of detoxification tend to slow with age; use of the contraceptive pill; exposure to toxic metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury; consumption of hydrogenated fats and sugar and certain foods and drugs. The liver is an amazing organ and even when functionally overwhelmed and performing at less than 20 percent efficiency, allopathic liver function tests will still continue to show liver function as adequate. Fortunately, more than any other organ in the body, the liver has an astounding capacity to regenerate and many supplements also promote liver regrowth. 

Poor liver function may manifest in a number of diverse ways including: skin problems, headaches, mental confusion, muscle pain(s), fatigue, poor coordination, nerve problems, bad breath and emotional imbalances such as anxiety or depression.


Liver detoxification pathways 

There are thousands of enzymes in the liver and each has a specific role. These enzymes constantly dismantle molecules and either recycle them or eliminate them in the urine if they are water-soluble or in the faeces as bile if the are fat-soluble. The liver is able to break down most molecules including hormones, and even toxic and dangerous chemicals such as ethanol and novel synthetic compounds. These processes of detoxification take part in two phases known as phase I and phase II. 

In phase I substances are mixed with water in a process known as hydroxylation and this can result in intermediate substances that are more dangerous than the original toxin. Some substances are excreted after phase I detoxification, but most have other proteins attached to them in the phase II detoxification process known as conjugation and are then excreted. There are six potential chemical pathways in phase II depending upon the substance being detoxified.  

  • The glutathione pathway is probably the most important detoxification pathway for industrial toxins and carcinogens and 60% of toxins excreted in the bile are excreted in this way. The liver synthesises glutathione, but this reserve can be easily depleted and this is thought to be the case with cancers and chronic diseases. Excessive exercise and alcohol also compromise this pathway. Glutathione also acts as a potent antioxidant in the blood stream in addition to aiding the detoxification of substances such as heavy and toxic metals. The body cannot directly use supplemented oral glutathione, but manufactures its own supply from the amino acids cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid
  • The sulphation pathway is compromised in many people and it is this pathway that detoxifies neurotransmitters, steroids and some other drugs, industrial and environmental chemicals and the toxins produced by intestinal bacteria. If sulphate reserves are low or there is high exposure to these substances, the liver will not be able to break down these toxins. This pathway is thought to be compromised in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease, autism, rheumatoid arthritis and in food and multiple chemical sensitivities.  
  • In the amino acid pathway the body conjugates to one of five amino acids and whilst they are not classed as essential because the body can make them, this does depend upon an adequate intake of protein. Many people with protein-deficient diets (vegetarians, faddy eaters, vegans, dieters, anorexics) may not consume enough of these important amino acids and may develop problems detoxifying environmental chemicals. Of these five amino acids, glycine is the most important in neutralising toxins.
  • The other three liver detoxification pathways of lesser importance are the acetylation, sulphoxidation and glucuronidation pathways.  


Liver detoxification problems

If the processes of phase I liver detoxification are not efficient, then toxins and hormones can back up in the bloodstream. An inability to detoxify the female sex hormone, oestrogen, for example, will lead to elevated blood levels of oestrogen that can cause breast enlargement and premenstrual tension (PMT) in women.

If the processes of phase II liver detoxification are sluggish, then there will be a build-up of toxic intermediates, which may damage the liver, brain and immune system. Some individuals known as pathological detoxifiers are genetically predisposed to have phase II detoxification be unable to keep pace with phase I detoxification and this will cause growing toxicity which may manifest as some form of chronic mental or physical illness.

Substances that increase phase I liver detoxification without increasing phase II are known as carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) and include: paint fumes, cigarette smoke, alcohol, steroids and some medications and vitamins.

The cruciferous vegetable family including broccoli and cabbage contain both sulphorophane which inhibits phase I whilst stimulating phase II, and indole-3-carbinol which speeds up phase I. Overall though they are considered beneficial if you can tolerate them (an issue for some FRS sufferers).

It is important to optimise your diet to supply the nutrients required by the liver and this means eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables (especially garlic and onions), nuts and seeds, and high quality animal protein such as meat, fish (especially cold water) and eggs.


Supplements for liver support

In addition, the following nutrients promote liver detoxification and may be included in varying amounts in different supplement formulas.


Minerals that support liver detoxification

  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Chromium
  • Other trace minerals


Vitamins that support liver detoxification

  • Niacin
  • Riboflavin
  • Vitamin A and its precursor, beta-carotene
  • Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B7 or biotin 
  • Vitamin B9 or folic acid
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K


Fats and oils beneficial to liver function

  • Black currant seed oil 
  • Borage oil 
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Lecithin - the yellow fat found in egg yolks and other animal sources such as fish roe and chicken 


Amino acids for liver detoxification

  • Methionine
  • N Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is used in hospital settings to treat cases of alcohol poisoning and paracetamol (acetominophen) overdoses. Supplementing NAC supplies a source of cysteine which enables the body to synthesise glutathione from other amino acids which are usually plentiful in the diet. 
  • Glycine
  • Glutamine
  • Lysine

Other antioxidants such as quercetin and coenzyme Q10 may also be included to protect the liver and coenzyme Q10 also works to support energy production. 


Herbs that support liver detoxification

  • Milk Thistle (Silibum Marianum) is well proven to enhance liver detoxification by up to a third whilst the flavanolignans it contains provide protection for the liver itself. The silymarins in Milk Thistle make the cell walls less permeable to toxins and also allow the genetic material in the liver cells to continue being created. These two factors combine to promote liver regeneration at up to 4 times the normal rate. It is for these reasons that it is often included as the primary ingredient in many herbal liver detoxification supplements. As an adjunct, Milk thistle has also been shown to have beneficial effects upon circulating blood fats. 
  • Artichoke (Cynara Scolymus) is often included in liver detoxification blends, It increases the production of bile without adversely affecting the liver, and also provides protection that is thought to be even greater than that afforded by the components in Milk Thistle. Artichoke is particularly helpful in clearing arsenic and generally increases the replication of liver cells helping the liver to regenerate faster.
  • Dandelion Root (Taraxacum Officinale) is another common ingredient in liver detoxification remedies and dandelion root particularly helps the liver and dandelion leaves promote enhanced kidney function. Like artichoke, dandelion increases bile production and aids emptying of the gall bladder, which aids digestion and means that toxic wastes can be excreted from the liver enabling the liver to improve its capacity to deal with new toxic wastes. Dandelion appears particularly effective for treatment of skin problems such as boils and eczema, eye problems, breast congestion, muscular rheumatism, heartburn and hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Dandelion has higher levels of vitamins and minerals than many other edible fruits and vegetable and also provides high levels of fibre. 
  • Phyllanthus amarus leaf extract contains lignans, alkaloids and flavonoids and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for 2,000 years to promote liver function.


Other ingredients often included in liver detoxification blends

Supplement blends for liver function may also include the following:

  • Celery seed 
  • Fennel seed 
  • Cayenne 
  • Cloves
  • Garlic 
  • Fringetree root bark
  • Liquorice root 
  • Yellow dock root
  • Culver's root
  • Cascara sagrada bark
  • Blue flag root
  • Schizandra
  • Oregon grape root 
  • Burdock root
  • Barberry root
  • Wahoo root bark 
  • Turkish rhubarb root
  • Red clover 
  • Red beet
  • Black radish
  • Skull cap 


Liver detoxification supplements: A caution

Follow the instructions for any specific product and do not use whilst pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, be aware that since the goal of taking such supplements is to enhance the processes of liver detoxification, they may also enhance the rate at which medications are metabolised and as such it is wise to inform your physician so that they can monitor progress.


Further resources

For information about the supplements available through this website that support liver detoxification click the appropriate link for the UK or for US for powder formulas such as Metagenics' Ultraclear or Mediclear or the UK or US for various other supplements to support liver function.

Supplementing protein powders will also provide the necessary amino acids to rebuild damaged body tissue in addition to aiding liver detoxification and these are also listed under UK or US respectively.

You might also be interested in the following: 

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Powdered Products

The Gall Bladder and Rage

The Health Benefits of Colonic Hydrotherapy

How the Body Heals


Chinese Medicine: The Liver


The Kidneys

Illness IS Toxicity

For a comprehensive approach to detoxification and diet refer to The Natural Recovery Plan book

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Part 1 and Part 2 of Your Liver and Health and various other podcasts on the topic of detoxification mostly listed under Natural Recovery in the Audio Hub

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Liver Detoxification Phase I and II

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Supplements for liver detoxification: Article summary

This article looks at the the various foods and nutrients that aid liver detoxification. The role of phase I and phase II liver detoxification is explained and the impact on general health of compromised liver function. Specifically the minerals, vitamins, oils, and herbs that promote liver function are detailed. 


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The Natural Recovery Plan Ezine October 2010 Issue 10. Copyright Alison Adams 2010. All rights reserved
Dr Alison Adams Dentist, Naturopath, Author and Online Health Coach

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