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Understanding The Liver

Updated: Apr 29, 2019

Often people will say that they are going on a detox but what they don’t realise is that the liver is detoxing all the time. Detoxification is the physiological elimination of waste and toxins from the body. The liver breaks down toxins and ensures they leave the body as quickly as possible. We should be eating foods that support the liver all the time. If the liver is constantly exposed to toxins it can become overly taxed, preventing it from performing its other important tasks.

The liver has many crucial functions including:

  • Regulating blood glucose levels by breaking down glycogen (the storage form of glucose) to glucose when levels are low and converting glucose to glycogen when levels are high.

  • Playing a key role in the digestion of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

  • Filtering blood, removing chemicals, excess hormones, viruses and bacteria.

  • Storing vitamins (A, B12, D, E and K), minerals (iron and copper) and sugars (in the form of glycogen).

  • Breaking down drugs and alcohol (toxic substances).

Liver detoxification

Generally toxic substances that enter the body are fat-soluble (dissolve in fat) which makes them difficult for the body to excrete. When a foreign compound enters the body, the liver will convert it to a water-soluble (dissolve in water) substance so that it can easily be excreted via the urine or bile. Toxins are metabolised by the liver through Phase І and Phase II detoxification.

Phase І

An easy way to picture Phase I is like dumping all your rubbish into one bin. It is the first level defence and includes oxidative, reductive, and hydrolytic reactions (adding or removing hydrogen, oxygen or water) and is carried out by special enzymes. These enzymes all work on different toxins providing protection against these. The reactions produce an intermediate. Oxidation can often lead to an intermediate being formed that is more toxic than the original toxin which can generate free radicals.

Phase II

Phase II is like sorting all the rubbish from one bin into several bins. It involves processes of conjugation: adding a molecule to an intermediate to make it safe and more water-soluble so that it can be removed from the body.

It is very important to support both phases as an overload or breakdown of one will affect the other.

Signs your liver might be overly taxed

Issues with the liver can affect digestion as the liver helps to break down macronutrients. These issues include constipation, diarrhoea, greasy, fatty stools (from inadequate fat digestion), bloating, being overweight, food allergies, bad breath, a tender liver, achy joints and nausea. Other signs can be skin issues like rashes, acne and peeling skin or mind issues such as depression, headaches, fatigue and poor memory.

Supporting the liver

There are many foods that can be eaten to support liver function, such as organic, fresh vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, onions, brussels sprouts and kale), a variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, oily fish, fibre (apples, legumes and oats), garlic and eggs. Turmeric, milk thistle and green tea can be highly effective for liver function support. Reducing the consumption of caffeine, alcohol, food additives and drugs can also help your liver.


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