Detoxification or detox for short is one of the liver’s most important functions. Your liver has to break down and safely eliminate everyday substances the body produces such as hormones and metabolic waste products as well the more obvious chemical toxins that you consume through our food and water.
It relies on two complicated detoxification phases involving enzyme reactions to break down toxins and render them safe for excretion via the bile in the form of feces or into the urine produced by the kidneys. Research has shown that specific foods and nutrients have an inhibiting effect or enhancing effect on these detoxification enzyme systems. Plenty of these foods should be used for the most effective liver detoxification diet. These same foods and nutrients can even be used to treat some common toxicity and immune system disorders.
There are two detox pathways known as Phase I and Phase II. Diet can help regulate and balance their activity for more effective and safe detoxification. For example if Phase I detox is working well but Phase II is slow the toxins processed by Phase I can build up causing damage while waiting to be dealt with by Phase II.
Many of these intermediate toxins may be more dangerous than the original substance and can have adverse effects on the glandular system, the immune system, and the nervous system causing health problems.
Some of the substances that cause increase in Phase I detox without the equivalent increase in Phase II are pesticides, cigarette smoke, exhaust and paint fumes, burnt or barbequed food, alcohol, intestinal toxins and certain medications.
Top foods to support liver detoxification:
1) Cruciferous vegetables: cabbage, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga (swede), broccoli, broccoli sprouts, mustard greens, turnips, radish, cauliflower, kohlrabi, collard greens, daikon.
They contain potent phytochemicals and antioxidants that support Phase II detoxification activity. They help the liver convert chemicals that could be cancer causing into something far less toxic that can safely be excreted. Broccoli sprout extracts inhibit Phase I but stimulate Phase II. This is beneficial for people exposed to a high level of toxins from paint fumes, cigarette smoke, pesticides and alcohol.
2) Sulfur foods: fish, meat, eggs, onions, garlic, turnips, radishes, celery, kale, string beans. These foods are beneficial for Phase II detox which uses sulfur for its sulfation pathway.
3) Fresh fruit and vegetables: Eating your 5 or preferably more portions a day helps supply the amino acid glutathione needed for Phase II detox. If you are exposed to a high level of toxins then eating glutathione rich foods is essential. Commercially prepared foods contain very little glutathione. Frozen vegetables seem to retain their glutathione content.
Especially rich in glutathione are cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, avocado, dill and caraway seeds. Fruit and vegetables are high in antioxidants which help protect the liver from free radical damage caused by toxins. Organically grown are best.
Grapefruit and its juice is an exception. It contains a substance, naringenin, which if regularly consumed inhibits Phase I detoxification. Drugs and toxins can stay in the body longer before detoxification causing damage. So if you are taking drugs or are exposed to a high level of toxins do not eat grapefruit or drink the juice.
4) High quality protein: Meat, fish and eggs supply the amino acids needed for the conjugation pathways of Phase II detox. It is important to eat organically produced or free range meat and eggs to avoid further toxins stored in the fats of intensively reared produce. Fish is best from deep clean waters or organically farmed.
5) Essential fatty acids: Many diets are sadly lacking in the beneficial fats that are vital for Phase I detoxification. Avoid all hydrogenated fats found in many commercially produced and processed foods and meals, and heated fats which can damage them.
Eat fresh nuts and seeds and their unheated cold pressed oils. Oily fish may be contaminated with mercury and other pollutants so it is debatable if they should now be included.
No matter how good your diet or how clean your environment you will always be exposed to toxins. Strengthening detoxification pathways through specific foods mentioned above will help you stay well or can improve existing conditions. It’s worth it!