When people want to slow down the aging process maintaining a healthy liver is not something they think about. Usually they think about the health of their heart, skin, and brain. Maybe their lungs or kidneys might come up for discussion. But how often have you ever thought about your liver! Occasionally it comes up in the news when someone famous, like Walter Payton dies of liver disease. But outside of that, not much is said or done about maintaining a healthy liver.
Respect Your Liver!
In researching this article my appreciation and respect for the liver grew exponentially. Your liver is critical to how well you age. It is an amazing organ. Located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, the liver is the largest and most complex organ of the body. It is responsible for:
All in all over 500 chemical and metabolic functions take place in a healthy liver. It filters about 2 quarts of blood per minute making it the “garbage disposal” of the body. And, if you review the bullet points from above, you can see how a healthy liver is involved in diet, metabolism, blood sugar control, digestion, detoxification and elimination. It is critically important to understand how the liver works and what you can do to support the liver properly. Your overall health and wellness, as well as how you age and fight disease, will be impacted by a healthy liver.
In Our Overly Medicated and Chemical World!
We live in an environment that has seen an increased use of chemicals and medication to process foods and treat symptoms. It is estimated that 80 percent of U.S. livestock and poultry receive some form of drugs/hormones/antibiotics during their lifetime. Pesticides, herbicides, and other chemical storage methods are commonly used in food production. Add environmental toxins, chemical additives, certain processing and refining practices, coupled with substance abuse and you can see why today’s liver is under so much stress.
Additionally, the typical American diet creates an acidic environment. This acidic environment stresses a healthy liver, as well as other systems in the body. Is it any wonder why we are seeing so many people living lives compromised by degenerative diseases?
Detoxification and Cancer!
I’ve written two articles about The Acid Alkaline Balance as it applies to cancer and other degenerative diseases. When you combine this with nutritional deficiencies, you have a recipe for increased susceptibility to cancer. Proper functioning of your liver’s detoxification system is critically important for your body’s ability to prevent cancer. Understanding what you need to do to properly support the liver will have a positive effect on your immune system while helping your body stay slightly alkaline.
Your Liver is Your Detoxification Center!
The rest of this article will look at the methods a healthy liver uses to detoxify your body. First up is:
The Liver Filter - Your blood flows through the liver in a unique way so that it can filter out toxic matter such as dead cells, chemicals, drugs, and particulate debris. This liver filter is called the sinusoidal system. It has specialized cells known as Kupffer cells that ingest and breakdown toxic matter. A healthy liver also removes a wide range of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites that might be in your blood stream. When properly working, a healthy liver will clear 99% of the bacteria and other toxins during this filtering process!
Like any filter, this system needs to be cleaned. Unlike the oil filter in your car which you can remove and replace, the liver is a bit different. Although it can re-grow itself and can be transplanted, you really need to take daily steps to maintain its ability to filter, cleanse and detoxify you. I talk about this in my article “14 Steps for Liver Support and Cleansing!”
I would like you to stop for a moment and think this one through:
Every drug, artificial chemical, pesticide and hormone is metabolized by enzymatic pathways inside the liver cells.
It will be difficult for you to know what pesticides and hormones you might be consuming in your food supply unless you eat organic foods. But you can easily tell what drugs and artificial chemicals you are taking in. All of these must be dealt with by the liver. Now, that doesn’t mean going off your medication. But it does mean that for each medication you take you need to increase your support to the liver. Additionally, start reading the labels on your food packaging. If you’re eating fast food, then ask for the nutritional information for the products you are consuming. The greatest percent of toxins you ingest are going to come through your food in the form of artificial chemicals and additives.
You Are One Giant Self-Storage Facility!
Many of the toxic chemicals that enter your body are fat-soluble. That presents a problem since they will only dissolve in fatty or oily solutions and not water. These fat soluble chemicals are difficult for the body to excrete. If not handled by the liver they will be stored in fat tissue and cell membranes, which are made of fatty substances. These toxins can be stored for years.
It is not uncommon that when people fast, begin to exercise, or go on a diet to reduce their percentage of body fat, they experience headaches, poor memory, stomach pain, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and palpitations. Sometimes they will have vivid memories of events in the past that are tied to a medication they used. This is usually caused by the stored toxins being released back into your system and your liver is now forced to deal with them. Anytime you decide to reduce your percentage of body fat, you need to give extra support to your liver.
A healthy liver has two primary mechanisms for converting fat-soluble chemicals into water soluble chemicals. This allows your body to easily excrete them through its two main pathways which are bile and urine. These two primary mechanisms are:
The proper function of each pathway allows you to maintain a healthy liver. We will briefly examine each one.
Phase One – Detoxification Pathway
There is a large group of enzymes that are collectively called Cytochrome P-450. These enzymes are located in the membranes of the liver cells. In fact, these cells contain the genetic coding to form many variations of Cytochrome P-450 so that a healthy liver can treat specific chemicals more effectively.
Simply put, the phase one pathway converts a toxic chemical into a less harmful chemical through various chemical reactions. That’s the good news. The bad news is that these chemical reactions produce high levels of free radicals. Outside of genetics, free radical damage is considered by many to be the single greatest factor in aging and degenerative diseases because it causes cell tissue damage.
To counter this damage, your body needs antioxidants to absorb their destructive energy and return the free radical to a stable molecule. Antioxidants like vitamin C and E and natural carotenoids protect the liver cells from free radical damage. But, far and away the most important antioxidant for neutralizing the free radicals produced in Phase One detoxification is glutathione.
Some of the Phase One enzymes directly neutralize a few of the chemicals, but most of the chemicals are converted to intermediate forms that are much more chemically active and dangerous to your liver. If your Phase Two detoxification system is not working properly, these intermediate forms can cause liver damage as well as initiate carcinogenic processes. This makes the balance between the creation of Phase One intermediate forms and the ability of the Phase Two detoxification system to finish the job a critical issue for maintaining a healthy liver.
I have one additional note on the P-450 enzymes. Pesticides can disrupt the P-450 enzymatic system by causing it to become over active. This might sound like a good thing. For the liver it is not because high levels of damaging free radicals are produced. Without extra protection from high levels of antioxidants the liver will be damaged from this increased free radical production. This is one of the reasons why pesticides have become such a health and environmental issue.
Phase Two – Detoxification Pathway
This pathway is commonly called the conjugation pathway. To continue the detoxification process a healthy liver adds another substance to the chemical or drug toxins to render them less harmful and water-soluble. By making fat-soluble toxins water-soluble your body can now eliminate them through watery fluids such as bile or urine. There are six Phase Two detoxification pathways:
For these pathways to work properly, certain nutrients are needed to activate the enzymes and provide the small molecules necessary to neutralize the toxins. This requires metabolic energy and metabolic enzymes to help create this energy. If your diet is lacking in digestive enzymes, then you force the pancreas to convert metabolic enzymes into digestive enzymes. This has a negative impact on Phase Two detoxification. Additionally, people with chronic fatigue syndrome, a magnesium deficiency or lack of physical activity can also experience a slow down in Phase Two detoxification.
Glutathione is a tri-peptide composed of three amino acids – cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. Simply stated, glutathione conjugation produces water-soluble substances that can be excreted in the urine via the kidneys. The elimination of heavy metals like mercury and lead are dependent upon adequate levels of glutathione. In a healthy liver glutathione is also an important antioxidant for Phase One detoxification.
Since glutathione conjugation is a primary pathway in Phase Two detoxification and glutathione is the most important antioxidant in Phase One detoxification, your body needs adequate supplies of glutathione. If depleted in Phase One, then Phase Two detoxification will be compromised. This combination of free radical protection and detoxification makes glutathione one of the most important anti-carcinogens and antioxidants known. Thankfully, glutathione is available through diet and synthesis. However, our glutathione levels decrease with age so supplementation in our diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, cooked fish and meats is important.
Warning to Smokers!
Smoking increases the rate of utilization of glutathione because the chemical nicotine must be neutralized in the liver. Additionally, cigarette smoke produces other chemical toxins to increase free radicals that use up glutathione. Smokers not only do damage to their lungs and heart but also create the potential for liver dysfunction.
The Rest of the Conjugation Pathways
There is more that could be said about each of the following five conjugation pathways but I’m going to be brief about each one of them.
To summarize the detoxification process into a simple flow sheet it would look something like this:
As you can see, a healthy liver as well as your gall bladder, intestines, and kidneys are extremely important in this detoxification process.
I’ve given you a lot of information. It is given to help you understand the process of detoxification so that you have a greater respect for your liver. Hidden within this information are keys to maintaining a healthy liver. Some are quite obvious and some need additional exposure to see the relationship. The article “14 Steps for Liver Support and Cleansing!” will put this information into a working plan that you can use to help improve your liver’s function and health.
Until next time, may we both age youthfully!
P.S. As a convenience, I’ve also included links to the following liver articles:
The information contained in this website and posted articles are for general information purposes only and never as a substitute for professional medical advice or medical exam. The information contained in this website and posted articles has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease without the supervision of a qualified medical doctor.