What happens when your liver is overloaded?
Often times, liver damage on an ultrasound is NOT the first indication when our liver is not functioning properly. It begins in our systems with other symptoms. Our skin health and hair is probably the first line of impact where we see a lot evidence of poor hormonal recycling. We are also more prone to all kinds of sensitivities (food and drugs). We also seem to feel everything a little more than we used to: Monday blues hit harder, energy dips more in the afternoon, alcohol seems a lot stronger than we remembered… you get the idea. Your gut has this short cut when it absorbs nutrients and drugs from the intestines called the hepatic portal system. This system brings everything to your liver to be cross-examined first before releasing it into your blood stream. If our liver detoxification pathways are not functioning effectively, it leads to oxidative stress (a stress to the cells that can cause damage) which can manifest into health issues such as digestive problems, fatty liver disease, hepatitis, cirrhosis, fibrosis, cardiovascular inflammation and much more.
Phase I Liver detoxification system definition1
Scientifically, the Phase I detoxification pathway in the liver converts water soluble toxins into fat soluble toxic intermediaries to be broken down by phase II. This process goes through the cytochrome P450 enzyme pathways.
In other words, the phase I liver detoxification pathway takes out the toxic materials and breaks down the toxins halfway, so that they can be easily processed by the Phase II detoxification of the liver.
Phase II liver detoxification system definition1
Scientifically, the Phase II detoxification pathway in the liver converts the Phase I intermediaries into water soluble compound that can be eliminated safely through our kidneys via urine or mixed with our bile to be eliminated via stool. This process uses the conjugation pathways.
In other words, the phase II liver detoxification pathways help make the toxins safe for your body to eliminate through the urine or stool.
When your liver is playing catch up…
Your phase I and phase II liver function has to operate closely at the same speed, if your phase I is accelerated and your phase II pathway is lagging behind, you can accumulate a lot of toxin in your liver before elimination. Speeding up your phase I detoxification system is as easy as taking in more substances that require your liver to filter out toxins.
Some examples of overloading your phase I include consumption of alcoholic drinks, increased metabolism, bacterial infections, taking prescription, over the counter or recreational drugs, absorbing chemicals through food or skin, and exposure to a polluted environment.
Furthermore, age and genetic differences are two of the most significant determinants as to how effectively your body can detoxify and excrete metabolites. As we age, we have an increased need to support our detoxification system.
Top 5 instances where you would absolutely need
to support your liver
Weight Loss (intentional and unintentional)
Toxins are more likely stored within your fat cells when they are not excreted properly. When we lose weight, we release those fat cells into the blood stream to be broken down and thus releasing stored toxins at the same time. This can easily overwhelm your liver if the weight loss is rapid.
Floating feces are not good. Floating feces in addition to seeing last night’s dinner in the toilet is even worse. This means that you did not absorb what you ate and need help with fat break down. What this can tell doctors is that either your gallbladder (located under your liver which stores your bile) is not functioning correctly or your liver is not making enough bile in the first place. Without proper bile functioning or enough bile, you probably won’t be able to excrete a lot of toxins that require bile binding to be transported to the stool.
Currently on medication, multiple medication use or has just finished a round of high-dose medication.
Ever wondered why, when you take a drug, you seem to get every side effect in the small label with size 5 font? But when someone else you know takes the same drug, they are completely fine? Medication use is one of the top ways that can overload our phase I liver detoxification pathway. Everyone’s liver works at different speeds, and everyone’s body-mass-index (BMI) is different too. Then why should we all be taking the same dose of medication just because we are ‘adults’? Let me tell you a secret, you do not have to accept the side effect of your medication that you have to take – just optimize your detoxification system and support your liver. Of course, not every medication is safe with liver support. It is best to consult naturopathic doctors to determine which liver support or liver detox is right for your current health conditions.
Protect your liver when drinking alcohol or overeating on holidays!
Yes, there are natural supplements that may help prevent a hangover the next day. Do they work? That would depend if you drank enough to drown your liver or if you just drank enough to get drunk. What liver protective herbs and supplements can do is to protect the liver against the oxidative damage to the liver induced by the alcohol and the overburdening of your liver through binge eating. Standardized milk thistle extract has been shown to reduce liver fibrosis marker and increase phase II enzymatic activities in the liver to protect against alcohol-related liver disorders2.
If you have been diagnosed with any liver disease
If you have been diagnosed with a liver disease, it is not too late! There are many remedies available that can protect the liver and prevent damage. Milk Thistle2, Schisandra3, Reishi mushroom4, Modified Citrus Pectin5 are just the few supplements that can possibly help to protect your liver. Speak to a health care practitioner to see which one is best for you.
What can you do?
Completing a liver detoxification twice a year will help to re-establish the balance between your phase I and phase II pathways. Before you start, you might want to consult a health care provider regarding your general health and to make sure a liver detox is the correct and safe path for you. This is especially true if you are on any medications or supplements, or if you have a pre-existing health issue. Therefore, please consult someone if you are not sure if a detox program is right for you.
What conditions have I seen a detoxification improve?
- Coffee Junkies
- Weight loss patients
- Stressed and overworked
- Food sensitivities/Allergies
- Feeling ‘off’ because of recent sedentary habits
- Liver over-burdened by alcohol or chemicals
- Food addiction
- Smoking addiction
- Habit reset
Disclaimer: The information in this article in no ways replace seeking medical advices and professional assessments.
1 Grant, D. M. “Detoxification pathways in the liver.” Journal of inherited metabolic disease. Springer, Dordrecht, 1991. 421-430.
2 Abenavoli, Ludovico, et al. “Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum): A Concise Overview on Its Chemistry, Pharmacological, and Nutraceutical Uses in Liver Diseases.” The Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering, Wiley-Blackwell, 6 Aug. 2018, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ptr.6171.
3 Park, Hyoung Joon, et al. “Schisandra chinensis prevents alcohol-induced fatty liver disease in rats.” Journal of medicinal food 17.1 (2014): 103-110.
4 Wu, Huihui, et al. “Hepatoprotective effects and mechanisms of action of triterpenoids from lingzhi or reishi medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (Agaricomycetes) on α-amanitin-induced liver injury in mice.” International journal of medicinal mushrooms 18.9 (2016).
5 Abu-Elsaad, Nashwa M., and Wagdi Fawzi Elkashef. “Modified citrus pectin stops progression of liver fibrosis by inhibiting galectin-3 and inducing apoptosis of stellate cells.” Canadian journal of physiology and pharmacology 94.5 (2015): 554-562.