3 Phases of Liver Detoxification You Must Know About

There are no safe levels of toxins, but our bodies are bombarded by them every.single.day. They come from all angles, but these are the primary culprits – environmental toxins, toxic body care products, medications, and toxins from our food and water.

Whether the seasons are changing, your body is changing, or you just want to plan for the future, supporting your body’s liver detoxification processes are critical for maintaining your health for the years to come.

What Does the Liver Do?

The liver is one of the hardest working organs in your body – think of it as the “Grand Central Station” of your body because detoxifying foreign, hostile substances is a complicated physiological process.

The reason detox isn’t simple is because many of the most toxic substances behave like fats. Because our blood is principally water, and fats don’t dissolve in water, these fat-like toxins tend to “stick” in the body’s fatty regions instead of getting washed out and flushed away. They therefore must be converted into substances that will dissolve in the blood, so they can be transported into the urine and stool and finally leave the body. The conversion is a chemical modification that makes the fatlike toxins look less like fats and more like water.

The Liver Has Three Phases of Detoxification

Here are all the details about phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3 (elimination).

Phase 1 (Cytochrome P450 Enzymes)

A family of detoxification enzymes – known as cytochrome P450 enzymes (CYP450) – are responsible for most phase 1 reactions. The need for these enzymes is triggered by many external toxins, including caffeine, alcohol, drug use, pharmaceuticals, hormones, procarcinogens (cigarette smoke, dioxin, paint fumes), xenoestrogens and pesticides.    

During phase 1 detox, the liver takes those toxic substances mentioned above and converts them into intermediates. These intermediate toxins are often more toxic than before they were broken up, so it’s important that they’re able to be managed. If the cytochrome P450 enzyme system is overloaded with toxins, it may get backed up, causing undesirable side effects, such as a spacey feeling, jitters or a headache, sweating, and heart palpitations.

This enzyme system relies on certain nutrients. My advice is to so ensure you're eating plenty of the necessary nutrients so phase 1 doesn't get backed up and toxins don't build up.

Important Nutrients For Phase 1 and protecting the body from Phase 1 compounds: 

  • B-vitamins: Riboflavin (Vit. B2), Niacin (Vit B1), Pyridoxine (Vit B6), Folate (5-MTHF), Vitamin B12
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Antioxidants: Flavonoids, Polyphenols, Carotenoids, Vitamin C, Vitamin A
  • Phospholipids

Phase 2 (Conjugation Pathways)

This conjugation phase makes the intermediate toxin easier to remove from the body. It kicks in as soon as the intermediate is formed, and converts it to a nontoxic form that can be excreted into bile and stool (fat-soluble) or urine (water-soluble). 

When it comes to the fat-soluble substances, the liver must stick them into bile so they can be eliminated in the stool. All sex hormones are fat-soluble (ie: estrogen, testosterone). Xenoestrogens are also fat-soluble, and are the body’s biggest environmental threat because they can overload the body in such a way the body can’t keep up. Needless to say, fat-soluble toxins are capable of bogging down phase 2.

Another important aspect of Phase 2 is bile health. If it becomes too thick the intermediate toxins for the fat-soluble substances are left untreated, which is damaging to the body. Healthy flowing bile is crucial for liver and gallbladder function. Some ways to maintain healthy bile include: eating a lot of leafy greens, especially beet greens, the amino acid taurine, eating high quality proteins and healthy fats, quality fiber (fiber binds the bile acids), and a low sugar/low glycemic diet.

During Phase 2, adequate dietary protein is a necessity, but proper digestion of protein is also required. Along with protein, Phase 2 depends upon the availability of specific nutrients in your food. Missing these nutrients impacts the effectiveness of your detoxification process, and a toxic load of substances builds up in the body and poisons your metabolism.

Favorable Nutrients Used During Phase 2:

  • Sulfur-rich foods (garlic, onion, broccoli sprouts, cruciferous veggies, ginger, mustard powder)
  • Amino acids for Phase 2: Arginine, Glutamine, Glycine, Methionine, Ornithine, Taurine
  • Glutathione and N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC)
  • Glucuronic acid
  • Folate-rich green vegetables
  • B-vitamins: Riboflavin (Vit. B2), Pyridoxine (Vit B6), Vitamin B12

Phase 3 (Elimination)

This phase is the actual removal of the toxins. Water-soluble substances go to the kidneys to be peed out, and fat-soluble substances are packaged into bile and eliminated via the stool.

If you don’t produce one or more stools daily, you must resolve this before doing a focused detox or cleanse. Otherwise, it is not worth the collateral damage. You don’t want to push Phases 1 and 2 if Phase 3 isn’t working! 

Likely culprits of poor elimination include:

Dysbiosis – an overgrowth of pathogenic microbes in your GI tract, or not enough core beneficia bacteria – dysbiosis can cause loose OR sluggish stools.

Lack of Fiber – fiber feeds beneficial bacteria and their byproducts form stool. Lack of fiber can cause loose OR sluggish stool.

Magnesium Deficiency – so common and often the culprit of sluggish stools. Could you be deficient in magnesium? 

Food Intolerance – can cause loose OR sluggish stools.

Who Benefits From Liver Recovery?

Perfect for anyone who:

  • Has been exposed to heavy metals
  • Has lived in or been exposed to a moldy building
  • Regularly indulges in alcoholic drinks
  • Does not consume enough fresh fruits and vegetables or fiber
  • Is exposed to toxins in the workplace
  • Uses conventional, non-organic personal care products

Don't wait! Do what it takes to support normal detoxification and waste elimination, and maintain an overall healthy liver. If you're looking to cleanse, try out these easy ideas. 

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

 

References:

1. Dirty Genes by Dr. Ben Lynch.

2. Hodges RE, Minich DM. Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. J Nutr Metab. 2015;2015:760689. 

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