The Great Debate: Does the Liver Really Need Cleansing? Part 1
Part 1: Compelling reasons why your liver needs a cleanse
I have been asked many times to prove that the liver needs cleansing. Yes that’s right, the liver itself, the supreme organ of cleansing in the body needs cleansing. My clinical career became side tracked by this fascinating organ, in my search to help my chronically ill and overweight patients.
Now if you ask the public “Does your liver need a good cleanse?”
The answer will be a resounding YES!, as demonstrated by the fact that my little green book titled “The Liver Cleansing Diet” was awarded the Australian People’s choice award in 1997 for the most popular non fiction Australian book.
This surprised me more than anyone, as I thought that a book with such an austere title would appeal only to health food and health farm junkies – but I was wrong – it became a best seller!
I thought “why do so many people believe so adamantly that their liver needs a good cleanse?”
Perhaps it is because we live in a world of party animals!
Anyway whatever the reason, the public says YES!
People are obsessed with cleansing their livers and bowels of toxins, as witnessed by the huge success of regularly advertised do-it-yourself “detox kits”
Let’s take a look at how the liver cleanses your body
The liver cleanses the bloodstream by 2 mechanisms –
1. It is a mechanical filter consisting of spaces (sinusoids) lined by the fenestrated endothelium. As the blood flows through the liver sinusoids, the toxins pass through the fenestrated endothelium into the space of Disse and then into the liver cells. The liver sinusoidal system removes the debris (unhealthy cells, immune complexes, micro-organisms etc).
2. The phase one and two detox pathways. A series of enzyme reactions in your liver cells convert toxins into a less harmful state, so that they can be excreted. You can read about the detox pathways in the liver here
So if the liver can cleanse the bloodstream, the liver should be able to cleanse itself and is in no need of extra help – right? Or is the liver filter like the air and oil filters of an engine which need regular cleansing and maintenance. If these filters become dirty, blocked and over worked they malfunction and eventually the engine breaks down.
Well this is what happens in the body and eventually an overloaded or “dirty liver filter” can cause wide ranging symptoms of poor health in the body.
What can overload or impair the liver’s ability to detoxify? –
1. High exposure to environmental toxins, alcohol, heavy metals, and/or certain medications – there is an unprecedented amount of chemicals that are integrating themselves into our environment – dyes from printing, hair colours, plastics, alkyl-phenols, PCBs, phthalates, paints, insecticides – thousands of tons of these chemicals go into the environment around the world every year and get into the food chain. The effects of these chemicals are not fully studied. An enormous amount of research literature associating toxin exposure to disease has been published and current estimates suggest that up to nearly $800 billion is spent in the US and Canada every year on toxicity-related diseases.
2. Generation of excess free radicals from immune complexes or viruses. People with allergies and autoimmune diseases have an immune system that is continually spilling out inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals and immune cells eventually make their way to the liver where they can overwork it. Infection with viruses, bacteria or parasites also places a strain on the immune system. Plus these infectious agents release a number of their own toxins.
3. Fatty infiltration of the liver, and we all know that the condition fatty liver is now an epidemic. When fat infiltrates the liver it can displace healthy liver cells. Fat in the liver can damage liver cells, promote inflammation in the liver and cause raised liver enzymes. The majority of toxins are fat soluble; if you have a fatty liver it is like a magnet for toxins.
4. Nutritional deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and sulphur bearing amino acids that are required for the detox pathways in the liver. Poor diet, trans fatty acids & excess sugar can inhibit phase one and two pathways. Excess caffeine stimulates too fast phase one detoxification; this is a problem because free radicals build up in the liver before they enter the phase two pathway.
5. Enzyme polymorphisms. These are genetic conditions where there is a deficiency or abnormality in an enzyme required for proper detoxification.
6. Leaky gut syndrome. This is an extremely common condition whereby the intestinal lining becomes more permeable than it should be, allowing bacteria, toxins and undigested food into the bloodstream. These substances then pass directly to the liver.
7. Medications. Several medications can either inhibit or modify detox enzymes eg. anti-histamines, cimetidine and some antidepressants.
8. Ageing. This results in slower detox pathways.
These factors can cause –
1. The intracellular organelles (mitochondria, ribosomes, endoplasmic reticulum etc) and the cell membranes of the liver cells to become damaged and also can result in less healthy liver cells left in place to do the work of detoxification.
2. The unhealthy fat in a fatty liver may inflame and distort the liver cells and compromise the structural and functional integrity of the delicate filtering system of the sinusoidal endothelium.
3. Inefficient action of the phase one and two detox pathways.
In such cases the liver detox pathways can become easily over loaded and toxins build up in the liver – this can be described in lay terms as a “dirty liver”.
We get a build up of toxins in the liver and especially the fat soluble toxins which accumulate in the fatty liver and other fatty areas of the body.
Thus the dirty liver becomes in need of a good cleanse.
In part 2 we look at the best strategies to cleanse your liver