(NaturalHealth365) Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – a condition in which excess fat accumulates in the liver – is nearing epidemic proportions in the United States. Yet, the silence about this major health condition is deafening. For example, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that up to 40 percent of American adults have some degree of NAFLD – a shocking statistic. So, obviously, a significant sector of the population would benefit from liver detoxification.
Poor liver function can also play a role in other chronic health issues, such as “leaky gut” syndrome and various autoimmune disorders. Fortunately, functional medicine – a holistic approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of disease – can effectively treat liver-related chronic conditions with nutritional protocols and supplements designed to promote liver detoxification.
The need for liver detoxification: The rising number of environmental toxins taking a toll on our health
It is probably safe to say that we are being besieged, as never before, by an onslaught of pollutants and toxins. Heavily processed foods, GMOs, trans fats, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, dyes, prescription medications and environmental toxins (such as synthetic pesticides, hormones and heavy metals) all place a tremendous burden on the body in general – especially the liver.
Along with breaking down hormones, drugs and environmental toxins, the liver also helps clear the body of naturally-occurring waste products – such as ammonia and bilirubin – as well as destroying old and worn-out red blood cells.
In addition to its detoxifying duties, the liver produces the bile that is necessary to break down fats, produces essential proteins and cholesterol and stores essential vitamins.
However, a liver overwhelmed by toxins can’t adequately carry out these essential functions. To make matters worse, many people tend to drink too much alcohol – which suppresses natural bodily functions.
Impaired liver function can be indicated by a wide range of signs and symptoms, including dark urine, yellowing of skin or eyes (jaundice), itchy skin, fatigue and excessive sweating. Digestive problems – such as heartburn, nausea, constipation and bloating – can also be a tip-off to liver problems, along with anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and a tendency to bruise easily.
If you think you may have liver disease, promptly consult a trusted integrative or functional doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Warning: Impaired detoxification pathways can promote inflammation and autoimmune disorders
To perform the amazing feat of ridding the body of toxins, the liver must transform fat-soluble compounds to water-soluble compounds – a process which allows them to be eliminated from the body via urine, feces or perspiration.
This involves two primary detoxification pathways: Phase I and Phase II.
Phase I changes the structure of the compound in order to allow molecules to attach to it. In Phase II, the liver metabolizes the compound – through processes such as methylation and sulfation.
As compounds pass through Phase I, they become (temporarily) more immune-reactive and pro-inflammatory.
This normal process can become a problem, however, if the liver has poor detoxification function.
If the Phase II pathway is disrupted or impaired, compounds that have been made more inflammatory in Phase I may end up back in circulation – causing systemic inflammation and immune system reactions, and setting the stage for autoimmune disease.
In this manner, poor liver function can contribute to a host of problems, including leaky gut, food and chemical sensitivities and autoimmune disorders.
4 ways to support your detoxification pathways – naturally
Fortunately, a wide variety of natural and herbal supplements have tried-and-true abilities to promote liver health and spark up sluggish detoxification pathways.
Betaine – an amino acid found in wheat bran, beets, spinach and “ancient” grains such as quinoa and bulgar – assists in the breakdown and removal of fats from the liver. It has also been shown to protect against toxins and chemicals found in pesticides (including ethanol and carbon tetrachloride) and is particularly effective for Phase II methylation support.
Milk thistle is also effective at detoxifying heavy metals and medications. Its active ingredient, silymarin, has been shown in studies to strengthen the walls of liver cells.
Dandelion greens have a natural diuretic effect on the liver, allowing it to flush out toxins more quickly and efficiently. They also support healthy production of bile.
Finally, N-acetyl-cysteine – a derivative of the amino acid cysteine – replenishes levels of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant and detoxifier. (N-acetyl- cysteine is so effective at protecting the liver that it is administered in cases of acetaminophen overdose in order to help ward off liver failure).
Of course, always check with a trusted integrative or functional healthcare provider before supplementing.
Cleanse the liver by eating the right foods
Potassium is closely tied to liver health. Eating healthy amounts of sweet potatoes, bananas, beet greens and spinach can help you reach the recommended amount of 4,700 mg a day.
Leafy greens such as kale contain chlorophyll, which binds to toxins and heavy metals and helps remove them from the bloodstream. (Another plus: dark leafy greens like kale and dandelion greens enhance the flow of bile).
Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body. This fat–soluble nutrient can effectively flush toxins from the liver.
Cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage, are rich in glucosinolates – compounds which support enzyme production in the liver. And citrus fruits, bell peppers and strawberries provide healthy amounts of vitamin C, which helps the conversion of toxic materials to water-soluble forms.
Finally, walnuts are high in arginine – which is particularly helpful in detoxifying ammonia – and rich in glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant.
The last word: Don’t forget about the detoxifying power of ‘liver cleanses,’ which can help rid the liver of deposits and toxins – while increasing energy and well-being, improving digestion and lipid profiles, and boosting memory and cognition. Natural health experts recommend at least two liver (and gallbladder) cleanses a year.
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