The Liver, the Toxins and You
Last week, we explored the basic function of your adrenal glands. I promised you we’d get deeper into the details of it, so here goes! The body is a beautiful machine that sometimes gets “gummed up” with stress, toxins, nutritional deficiencies, too many calories, too little sleep, and many, many more imbalances.
I tell all my patients that “your intestines run your body.” But what is running the intestines (aka, the gut)? Well, here is as religious as I will ever get in a post: It’s what I refer to as the body’s holy trinity. The adrenal glands (located on top of the kidneys on both sides of the body), the liver (located under your right ribcage), and the gut work together in a beautiful dance that impacts what hormones your adrenals release and what detoxing your liver does — and consequently, what your intestines do.
When I say that the gut runs your body, I mean that if your gut is out of balance, it will impact virtually every other system in your body, and can mean the difference between feeling happy and depressed. Your intestines produce up to 95 percent of all the serotonin in your body (think: happiness hormone!) So an imbalance in your gut can lead to a really crappy day, or even week or month!
Let’s go back to the liver, though. Your liver gets much of its instruction on what to do from the adrenal glands. For example: When you have a stressful event, your body’s instinctive reaction is to set in motion a chain of biochemical events that hark back to the Stone Age. In those situations, your body thinks it needs ready fuel (in the form of glucose, or sugar). The adrenals then tell the liver to break down the sugar that is stored in the body as “glycogen” to its simpler form of glucose. This raises the body’s blood sugar. Simultaneously, the adrenals signal to the gut to stop digesting food, since at the moment of a stressor, it’s not important to digest your food, it’s important to run from that approaching “lion” so that you don’t become something digested!
Your liver is the organ that does the majority of your detoxification. But, again, if your liver is diverted to other tasks, it doesn’t have the time or energy to focus on keeping your body clean. While your body is waiting for the liver to be available again (or if you are simply exposed to more toxins than your liver can handle at once), your body stores the toxins in your body fat. Have difficulty losing weight no matter what you do? You may want to consider a physician-supervised detox program. The reason I say that is that our bodies are much smarter than we are. And, if we try to lose weight (fat) without getting rid of the toxins stored in the fat first, our bodies know that we’d be overrun with toxins, which is never good.
Therefore, your body will not lose an ounce of fat if that fat is storing toxins your liver has not yet been able to process. So obviously, the goal is to get the liver functioning better. The liver is another really cool organ that has two phases of detoxification. Delving into the liver can take weeks and weeks, and I’m a little worried you’ll run screaming from the computer and hit the nearest pub, so I’ll try to limit the scope and complexity!
The first phase takes a toxin, and, alters its chemical makeup — either to be more or less toxic, depending on the substance.
Phase two takes that altered toxin, and then binds it and excretes it. Typically the excretion goes into the intestines, but your kidneys and skin also get rid of toxins.
Phase one is typically a little quicker, and in many women, phase two is often slower. Don’t lose hope! There are a wide range of substances that can support, and even enhance liver function including substances such as: curcumin, cruciferous vegetables, antioxidants like vitamin C, beta-carotene and glutathione.
Prevention makes a difference, too. If you don’t eat things that were grown in, or coated with pesticides, avoid drinking liquid from plastic containers that contain xenoestrogens (a nasty type of hormone — we’ll get to that in a future post), and minimize your toxic exposures, your liver won’t have as much work to do. But, I agree, it’s not as sexy as the cayenne-pepper-lemonade detox. Next week we’ll look at what happens after your liver has its way with the toxins and gets it ready for… excretion.