Detox and liver support can be a surprisingly divisive topic.
A lot of people seem to think that unless you have diagnosed liver disease your liver will just do its job – impervious to external or genetic factors. Increasing research is showing us this isn’t true. Our genetic dispositions, diet, nutrition and external factors all have an enormous impact on the way our body works. When it comes to our liver health this can lead to a whole host of problems.
If our liver isn’t doing it’s job effectively, it can have an enormous impact that can cascade symptoms into your entire overall health. Increasing the amount of toxins – heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and other non-biologically beneficial chemicals – that can build up or be stored in the body. In the long term toxins accumulate in our fat stores and internal organs, then more transitively in our blood and lymphatic system.
This accumulation and retention of toxins can impact our health tremendously. Aside from the more obvious liver related gallstones, fatty liver diseases and prediabetes; It can more subtly impact our health gradually and cumulatively through negatively impacting digestion and causing skin problems, thyroid problems, allergies, irregular mast cell degranulation (MCAS) and chemical sensitivities.
A quick google search can tell you that the liver is key to around 500 functions in the body: including vitamin and mineral storage and being our primary detoxification organ, essential for enzyme and bile production. The Liver has been shown to regenerate within days in some mice and human studies. Which is fortunate given it essentially takes the brunt of the impact from the increase in environmental toxin exposures and less nutritious eating, especially refined (sugar/grains) and fast foods. The later increasingly being blamed for the tremendous rise in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; it is now said to effect 1 in 10 children, a fairly new phenomenon.
Paracetamol/acetaminophen, antihistamines and many other medications are known to put a strain on the liver and impact its effectiveness to function in the short and long term. Antihistamines can stall the liver’s ability to metabolise and break down histamine, despite their function to stop the histamine binding with receptors and manifesting in symptoms; which has lead many to observe anecdotally that they or their children have developed histamine intolerance after continuous use.
Paracetamol/acetaminophen depletes glutathione levels in the body, and can cause long lasting damage; it has specifically been related to increased risk of neurological disorders and asthma. Glutathione is the body’s primary anti-oxidant and depleting it can have a tremendous impact on our health.
Reducing our livers workload:
We can reduce the strain we put on our liver by reducing refined starches like white flours and avoiding refined sugar – opting for whole grains (preferably organic and optimally soaked) and unprocessed natural (organic) sweetener; environmental toxins can also be really significant to our overall health but we are exposed to them so pervasively without even realising it.
- Chemicals in tap water and microplastics in bottled water
- Pesticides on foods, especially “roundup” and animals who have accumulated pesticides over time. (Round-up aka glyphosate binds in the place of other nutrients in the body increasing intestinal permeability and it has been linked with causing cancer
- Amalgam fillings gradually leech mercury into the body
- Make up can contain carcinogenic ingredients like heavy metals and talc
- Toiletries and moisturisers
- Potent dyes and chemicals on fabrics
- Personal fragrances, toiletries and creams etc.
- Cleaning products
- Industrial pollution, car fumes, cigarette fumes
Supporting our Liver
We can support our liver’s ability to detoxify these things more optimally by increasing:
Lecithins are an important source of phospholipids which are key for the body’s ability to produce bile. Bile is essential to the body’s detoxification and hormone regulation systems. We can increase lecithins in our diet from foods like liver and egg yolks or using supplements. Lecithin supplements are typically derived from sunflower, rapeseed or soya. Some who are extremely lacking in bile can have pale stools as bile is also what makes stools brown. During lactation and gestation, our dietary need for phospholipids like phosphatidylcholine (aka choline) increases dramatically. Most are unaware of this and it has been estimated up to 80% of perinatal mothers are deficient, many chronically. This may be linked to perinatal gallstones and gallbladder inflammation.
Bile flow is also extremely important. Sluggish and congested livers are increasingly common and not good for our health. Bitter flavours can stimulate the liver and improve bile flow. Foods like chicory, endive, artichoke, and herbs like dandelion, burdock and milk thistle are all known to support digestion and improve liver health. Milk thistle specifically is known to improve overall liver health dramatically and studies have shown it can reverse liver cirrhosis.
Fibre is also essential for this circle to be completed. The gut needs sufficient fibre to bind to bile so it can be effectively removed from the body. Foods like whole grains, legumes, certain fruit and vegetables, and seeds like chia and flax, can all be great for bile flow. Supplementary fibre sources like psyllium husk (legume) and slippery elm bark can also be a fantastic source of fibre for fortifying our food and our diets with more fibre. Slippery elm bark is also tremendously anti inflammatory and GI tract soothing (from reflux to colitis), it also helps modulate stools.
If we don’t have enough lecithin and fibre or have sluggish liver health, it can increase our toxic burden and cause our hormone balances to go out of sync because they all depend on each other.
Other vitamins, minerals and foods have also been shown to support liver function. Vitamin K and B-Vitamins are of special significance as they are primarily made by the microbes in gut flora. Those who are on antibiotics or have flora imbalances may want to supplement them. Magnesium is also a very common deficiency that can be important for liver and kidney health and supporting our detox pathways. Though other nutrients play their role. Zinc, vitamin c, vitamin e and magnesium also play a important role in stabilising the toxins in our bodies and minimising the cell damage that can result from excessive toxic burden.
Bypassing our Liver
When we look after our liver more, it functions better, can effectively fulfil its role in our fat metabolism, our ability to produce different enzymes and other factors that are key for digestion. For various reasons, people often bypass supporting the liver and go straight to taking enzymes and other digestive supplements; these can help those with difficulties digesting fats or have non-specific digestive struggles. Others start them under professionals guidance or after hearing others tales of success.
These supplements can be very effective but don’t address the underlying cause, so if you do opt for them, please don’t forget to give your liver some love too. If you’re nursing the more you love your liver, the more you love on your nurselings liver too. Ox Bile salts and digestive enzymes can help tremendously with digestion, though plant based enzymes are often more likely to cause reactions than animal. Since they bypass the body’s natural pathway, long-term use can lead to difficulties. Some find they are no longer able to produce the enzymes they need to digest effectively, so they are best used conservatively for the short term. That being said, they can be very effective.
Stomach acid is also incredibly important for digestion. If we have insufficient stomach acid it can lead to a whole host of issues including food sensitivity, reflux, nutritional deficiencies. Many are Zinc deficient which can cause insufficient stomach acid and lead to reflux symptoms, which are primarily treated with acid suppressant medications. Acid suppressants (PPI’s) also inhibit zinc absorption further exacerbating the issue.
So it can be extremely counter productive for long term health and nutrition to continuously suppress our stomach acid; increasing stomach acid with acidic foods, vinegar or supplements like Betaine HCL, and trialling a zinc supplement may help significantly improve digestion and support our body’s ability to cope with toxins as well as our liver health and immune system.
Supporting liver vs active detox…
Many say you shouldn’t detox while pregnant or nursing, and this can be a bit confusing, because our bodies are in a constant state of toxin exposure, toxin storage and detoxification. We can reduce the toxic burden on our body by reducing toxic exposure (as much as practically or financially viable) and supporting our bodies natural detox pathways like supporting our liver and kidney health.
The main concern from detoxing during pregnancy and nursing is “active detox” when we are burning fat stores quickly, or taking drinks or supplements aimed at liberating the toxins in long term storage like in our organs. This freeing up of highly toxic materials not only puts additional strain on our primary detox organs like our liver, but it also gets eliminated from the body through all of our bodily excretions including but not limited to breastmilk.
When we begin to support our liver, we can experience some toxin liberation symptoms, especially if our liver has been sluggish or struggling for a while. Which is why it can be so important to start slowly with new supplements. I think most of us will struggle to move forward sustainably with supporting our own or our nurselings health and digestion if we don’t show our liver some love.
Personally, I have really struggled with my liver health for several years. Most noticeably when I developed gallbladder attacks and my gallbladder ruptured so I know my liver is not in great shape. I initially stopped and swapped out liver support supplement trials when I was nursing assuming they were reactions (especially since milk thistle can be a ragweed cross reaction) which I now really regret, because in hindsight I can see they might have been detoxification symptoms that had we slowed down and persisted through we may have been in a much better place sooner.
I hope this helps you and your little ones make some progress soon.
The world we live in is such a constant bombardment of toxic exposures.
Give your liver a little love.❤️
As ever – I am a mother who reads a lot and this is my understanding based on my current knowledge, I am not a healthcare professional. Please take this just as my opinion and understanding and do your own reading around it so you can feel confident in whatever decision you make. For more information please see our disclaimer.
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Thyroid health depends on liver health:
Increased prevalence of NAFLD in children:
Acetaminophen/paracetamol and asthma morbidity:
What is Glutathione?:
Glyphosate and cancer court case win:
PPI’s interfere with zinc absorption: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5139861/?fbclid=IwAR3bYRxxfFe101mmtpf_DJAOFSjNL97JBFh_tIWN2ySf2ID1sS9sBZ1riuw
Zinc offers rapid relief to gastric reflux:
Amalgam filling toxicity: