| The Liver and Its Role in Detoxification
by Sussanna Czeranko, ND
When you ask how someone is, you might surprise them by asking more pointedly, “How is your liver today?” In fact, our vitality and level of well-being are largely determined by the health of our liver. A sluggish or overworked liver can be responsible for these symptoms: fatigue, muscular weakness, waking up tired, inability to concentrate, irritability, moodiness, depression, P.M.S. and menstrual pain; sensitivity to odours (perfumes and tobacco smoke), headaches, digestive complaints (gas and bloating), food sensitivities, itchy skin, and rashes.
What Does Our Liver Actually Do?
The liver is an efficient, remarkable factory in the body. By partnering with other organs and glands, it maintains quality control, produces its own energy supply, and manufactures and continually recycles to keep an adequate supply of raw materials for the body. Blood glucose, the energy currency of the body, is metabolized and regulated by the liver to ensure a constant and adequate supply of glucose for the brain and the body. When we skip meals, it is the adrenal glands that cue the liver to release glycogen from storage to be converted into glucose for this period of deprivation. When our liver is working well, we can experience days without food before symptoms of hypoglycemia manifest. However, our diet is more likely to consist of stimulants and highly processed carbohydrates that lead to problems of excess blood sugar. Refined sugar, coffee, tobacco, tea, chocolate, alcohol, drugs, and emotional excitement can raise blood sugar levels, and we experience the “high” associated with these stimulants. The pancreas and the liver together immediately decrease the glucose to safer levels.
Fat metabolism is accomplished by the gallbladder and the liver. Bile is made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, which synthesizes bile. Some 80% of the cholesterol (a normal structural component of most body tissues, especially those of the brain and nervous system, liver, and blood) is produced by the liver, leaving the remaining 20% of cholesterol to come from the food we eat. Cholesterol is an important component needed for the formation of hormones and vitamin D.
The building material for our tissues, hormones, enzymes, antibodies comes from amino acids and proteins that are metabolized in the liver. Should there be inadequate protein synthesis, symptoms of muscle wasting, edema, mental depression, weakness, poor resistance to infection, and impaired healing of wounds are the result.
As the major cleanser for blood, the liver filters a litre of blood every minute. Its capacity to neutralize and detoxify metabolic waste, toxins, heavy metals, bacteria, and poisons from the intestinal tract ensures blood purity. The liver has a huge mandate and a huge challenge.
According to the statistics gathered by The World Counts, there are about 13 tons of hazardous waste produced every second globally, amounting to 400 million tons each year. (theworldcounts.com) The U.S. produces an average of 770 kg of food, plastic, and hazardous waste per person. Thus, 5% of the world’s population generates 40% of the world’s waste. Canadians are not doing much better since each Canadian generates 720 kg of waste.
About 1,000 new synthetic compounds are introduced each year into our daily life, totalling over 100,000 xenobiotics, or foreign chemicals. Since 1970, the American Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] has been collecting data measuring 54 different environmental chemical toxins found in human adipose tissue. A total of 20 toxic compounds were found in 76% to 100% of all samples collected. Although exposure to environmental toxins, drugs, pesticides, food additives, and industrial chemicals can be introduced through food, air, and the water, our own bodies also add to the toxic load. Endotoxins and toxins produced by our own body, such as intestinal bacteria, their metabolic by-products plus the normal intermediary metabolites can in excess quantities disrupt normal functioning and require detoxification.
The Detoxification Process
Detoxification in the liver entails converting toxins that are generally bound to lipids and stored in our fat tissues, into forms that are water-soluble compounds, that then can easily be eliminated in the urine or feces. There are two phases responsible for the breakdown of the toxins. Phase l involves a group of enzymes called the cytochrome P450 system that attaches the toxin to water and oxygen. These intermediaries are highly reactive and can be more dangerous than the original toxin, if they are not conjugated or bound in Phase ll to form complexes that become neutralized, non-toxic end-products. The Phase l process often produces free radicals that are thought to cause much of the harm resulting from toxins residing in our bodies. This is one explanation why some may feel worse during a detoxification program: there is an increased activity of Phase l, but with insufficient antioxidants to protect against the free radicals produced when this phase is not balanced by Phase ll enzymes.
The activation of the cytochrome P450 pathway requires adequate dietary protein. Deficiencies in minerals such as zinc, copper, magnesium, and molybdenum have been shown to decrease the activity of the P450 enzyme system. Antioxidants protect cell membranes from free radical damage, and diets restricted in vitamin C and E have been shown to inhibit P450 system activity. Glutathione, methionine, and cysteine are important substrates that are utilized in the conjugation phase (Phase ll).
The liver is the chief organ of detoxification. Optimising liver function focuses on protecting the liver and increasing the ability of the liver to break down toxic substances into forms that can be safely eliminated by the kidneys and intestinal tract. Detoxification programs are designed to support and facilitate the liver’s detoxification process, giving relief to chronic health problems. It behooves us to participate in a guided fall cleanse and feel fantastic.
Dr. Sussanna Czeranko is a licensed naturopathic doctor in Saskatchewan, having formerly practiced in Ontario and in Oregon, USA. She is a graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and a founding board member of the Buteyko Breathing Educators Association. She has incorporated Buteyko Breathing into her clinical practice since 2005. Her clinical practice, Manitou Waters, is in Manitou Beach, SK. For more details of upcoming events and a Fall Cleanse, see the display ad on page 11 of the 28.3 September/October issue of the WHOLifE Journal.