Friday, July 16, 2010

One life to liver; or how to heal with detox

I just couldn't resist the soap opera play on words in the post title. It's just that this post has a cast of sensational leading characters and a dramatic, healthy plot. First, let's consider the main character, the amazing human body. Just think about it. Every second our bodies are creating 25 million new cells. Our hearts beat approximately 100,000 times a day, and our lungs inhale 2,000,000 liters of air daily. The list goes on. Our bodies are also continually exposed to less than optimal conditions. Pollution, chemicals and other stressors can all take their toll. Yet, the body will "take a licking and keep on ticking." Clearly our bodies are designed to function even when they are stressed. Talk about a daily drama!

However, the body can only do so much. Chemical exposure from the environment and the foods we eat can result in our bodies becoming less efficient or completely unable to eliminate toxins. Even though the body will attempt to function, it is not able to perform at its peak levels. Sometimes, systems in the body can become overwhelmed and disease can result.

The contamination to our bodies from chemical stressors is referred to as "body burden." "Scientists estimate that everyone alive today carries within her or his body at least 700 contaminants" (Onstot, J...).  A group of experts called the President's Cancer Panel reported that Americans are facing "grievous harm" from our exposure to chemicals in our food and environment (Washington Post)." It's depressing, but there is something we can do to support the function of our bodies. This is where detox can help.

Just what is detox or detoxification? Simply put, it's any process that enhances the body's ability to eliminate toxins. There are a variety of ways to help the body with the process of elimination. Some detox approaches seem pretty radical to me. I have found that the commitment to every day good nutrition, with a focus on foods that support the liver, is a more effective detox plan than the more extreme forms. This is what makes me feel the best. It's a lifestyle commitment to improving my health.

The next character in our soap cast, the liver, is vital to our health. We can't live without it. Could that be why it's called the live-r? Remarkably, this organ will still function even if 75% of it is diseased. As if that isn't enough, the liver also has the capacity to regenerate.  Like I said, our bodies are amazing. I find it fascinating how many functions the liver performs. If you'd like to learn more, you can read about them here. I'm just going to summarize and say that one of the liver's main functions is to act as a filter. It transforms toxins into harmless chemicals for excretion from the body.

So how can you help your body with detox?  First and foremost is to reduce stress on the liver. To begin with, strive to eliminate excess alcohol, consumption of fast foods that usually contain unhealthy fats, stop smoking and avoid exposure to pesticides, herbicides and toxic chemicals that can be found in personal care and cleaning products.  You can find a list of healthier personal care and cleaning products located here. Also, attempt to choose organic whole foods like dark green, leafy vegetables, as well as other foods that will support your liver. Here's a list of a few of the powerhouses:

  • Artichoke leaf - stimulates production of bile and helps strengthen liver cell membranes
  • Dandelion root - increases bile flow 
  • Green tea - protects the liver from toxin damage, especially from alcohol, and may also help prevent liver tumors
  • Milk-thistle seed - strengthens liver cell membranes, stimulates bile production and promotes glutathione production. Glutathione is used in virtually every body cell to neutralize toxins.
  • Turmeric root - anti-inflammatory that elevates detox enzymes in the liver

The reality is we are rarely aware of our body functions until they go wrong. Then they usually have our complete attention. Unfortunately, at this point it is often times an uphill battle to healing. As the saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Prevention of disease really is the best medicine. When it comes down to it, we only have one liver and one life. One of the keys to peak liver function and optimum health in general is good nutrition. This is a critical component of disease prevention and the prescription for a healthier life, and that's no soap.

Onstot J, Ayling R, Stanley J. Characterization of HRGC/MS Unidentified Peaks from the Analysis of Human Adipose Tissue. Volume 1: Technical Approach. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Toxic Substances (560/6-87-002a), 1987.
President's Cancer Panel -
image from -
The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book, Jessica K. Black, N.D.

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