Detox you Liver

Are you feeling toxic after the long winter? … If so here are some insights on cleaning up the mess.

Why Detox?

Toxins come from various sources.  Toxic build up is a passive process that affects us all.  To maintain optimal health we therefore need to be conscientious to avoid toxic sources and to remove those toxins that get in.

Today the main source of toxins come from processed foods and food additives, industrial pollution, a tainted water supply, pesticides (vegetables), household cleaners, paints, petro chemicals, pharmaceuticals, alcohol…  Heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, and lead are also poisonous toxins that have no useful role in our body; I co-authored a book on Minerals in Health and Disease which provides a snapshot on the source of exposure to such heavy metals.  Many toxins are also carcinogenic and implicated in the rise of all types of cancer.

Detox – A Three-Part Blog Series

We divided ‘Detoxification’ into three areas: i) Liver Detox (current blog), ii) Kidney Detox and iii) Bowel Detox.

This article is part of the BodyMindLink series by Dr Ray Pataracchia ND.   Clinical approaches discussed are implemented by the Naturopathic Medical Research Clinic in Toronto, Ontario.

Detox Considerations

Detox strategies vary widely.  With today’s greater exposure to toxins our liver is under constant pressure to perform efficiently.  The first way to rid toxins is therefore to ensure that all body systems are a go and your metabolism is efficient enough to keep toxins at bay.  If your metabolism is fast enough and efficient enough you will have a better ability to rid toxins.  To maintain this level of efficiency it is important to consider about 15 top metabolic syndromes associated with optimal health.  The second way to remove toxins is to actively target and decommission them by means of a detox protocol.

The Detoxification Highway

The main route of removal of toxins (heavy metals or otherwise) is via the liver, kidney, and bowel.  If these organs fail to do their job well, toxins will pass to other organ systems including the skin (causing skin problems; e.g. itchy skin, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis) and brain (causing brain fog, mood changes, irritability, behavior changes).  Here in this blog we will focus on the body’s main detoxification system, the liver.

Spring cleaning from a health perspective is accomplished chiefly by improving liver cell efficiency and by cleaning out the channels between liver cells (canaliculi) so toxins can clear. 

Toxic Accumulation with a Sluggish Liver: The BodyMindLink

A sluggish liver that allows toxic buildup is associated with both physical and mental symptoms.  Associated physical symptoms of liver sluggishness include as hormonal imbalance, menstrual imbalance, infertility, early menopause, headaches, stomach pain, breast pain, dizziness, fatigue (adrenal exhaustion), nausea and palpitations.  Associated mental symptoms of liver sluggishness include brain fog, irritability, anger, poor memory, and other brain dysfunctions.

Liver Detoxification in a Nutshell

The liver is an amazing workhorse.  This organ system is responsible for cleaning the body of toxins by converting them into forms that can then be eliminated via the aid of our bowels or kidneys.

Most toxins are fat soluble.  The body stores these toxins in the fatty parts of the body (brain, thyroid, adrenal, breast) and these toxins are released when we use up fat stores as during exercise, periods of fasting, or any stressful events.

One of the most important roles of the liver is to convert fat soluble toxins to a water soluble format that can be eliminated via bile (to the bowel for fecal elimination) and kidney (to be peed out).  This basic liver detoxification process is accomplished by optimizing phase I (cytochrome P450 pathway) and II (conjugation) liver detoxification.  

Phase I Liver Detox

Phase I detoxification provides protection from a wide array of toxins by using reduction, oxidation, hydrolysis, and other chemical reactions that create free radicals (reactive molecules that damage cells) that the body then neutralizes with antioxidants; the end goal is for the end product to be water soluble and ready for urinary or bowel elimination.

If the body is deficient in antioxidants then the attempt at phase I toxin removal can create greater toxicity.  This is why it is important to maintain adequate levels of the antioxidant vitamin E, vitamin C, SOD, and carotenoids – these antioxidants are considered longevity nutrients


Phase I (P450) detoxification also relies on vitamin and mineral cofactors to do its job well; cofactors include vitamin B3, magnesium, riboflavin, iron, and some cruciferous vegetable indoles.

The free radicals that are not neutralized in Phase I can damage cell DNA, RNA, and protein.  To protect against this the body relies on Phase II detoxification, described below.

Some toxins (pesticides, alcohol, caffeine, saturated fat, paint fumes, exhaust fumes), drugs, and metabolites can induce or cause over-activity of the P450 system resulting in high free radical concentrations that put great demand on our antioxidant supply.

There are also substances that we need to be aware of that inhibit the P450 system.  Grapefruit juice for example can inhibit some drugs from eliminating efficiently and thereby potentiate drug effects, good or bad.  Curcumin inhibits the P450 system but stimulates Phase II detoxification; this can be good if you have certain types of cancer.

Phase II Liver Detox

Phase II detoxification relies on conjugation to render toxic drugs, chemicals or hormones less harmful.  Conjugation involves the addition of sulphur molecules, glycine, or cysteine to make toxins water soluble and ready for excretion.  To conjugate, the body uses glutathione, glycine, sulphate or glucuronide conjugation.

Supplemental or nutrient sources of glutamine, glycine, inositol or choline are essential to phase II detox.

Phase II detox can follow Phase I detox in some scenarios but it can also act directly on the toxin/metabolite.

Glutathione is made in the liver with the protein building blocks glutamine, glycine and cysteine.  Glutathione-S-transferase (GSH-T) is the glutathione enzyme used by Phase II detox.  It is a powerful antioxidant that is depleted more readily when we have a large toxic burden (e.g. drugs) or when we have a toxic release during a state of fasting/starvation.

Glutathione building blocks can be maintained if we have adequate protein intake.

Glycine is useful for detoxifying benzoate food preservatives, salicylate drugs, environmental toxins/agents, carcinogens, drugs, insecticides, and naturally occurring foreign compounds.

Foods high in glycine include fish, meat, dairy, beans, spinach, soybean, pumpkin, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, cucumber, kiwi , and banana.  Glycine can also be formed in the body by using amino acid protein building blocks readily available when you maintain a high quality protein diet.

Sulphation is essential for the elimination of steroid hormones, neurotransmitters, drugs (e.g. acetaminophen), xenobiotic, and phenolic compounds.  Sulphur foods or sulphur amino acids (taurine, cysteine) can stimulate Phase II detox.

Sulphur-containing foods considered to have a cleansing action that stimulates phase II conjugation include eggs, cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts), onions, garlic, shallots and leeks.

Glucuronidation is essential in the detox of steroid hormones, some fungal toxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, some nitrosamines, and aromatic amines.

Glucuronidation gets rid of thyroid T4 hormone and estrogen after they have been ‘used’ by the body.  Foods that assist in glucuronidation (and glutathione conjugation) include those that contain limonene – e.g. citrus peel, dill weed and caraway.  Aspirin inhibits glucuronidation.

Disclaimer: Information provided is not to be used for self-assessment, diagnosis or treatment.  We advise the public to discuss these topics with their health care provider or book an appointment with our Toronto clinic.