Liver & gall bladder disorders
The liver and quality of life
"The ability to detoxify is a major determinant of a person's health" Murray and Pizzorno
The impact of environmental pollution and food additives on health has dominated the news for many years. Less well noted, though equally important, is the role of the liver and its ability to safely detoxify externally and internally produced toxins.
The liver is the largest internal organ in the body (a normal liver weighs about 1.1 kg) and is located in the upper right portion of the abdominal cavity. It is responsible for cleansing endogenous (internally produced) and exogenous (externally derived) toxins from the body. To do this, the liver transforms fat-soluble chemicals into water-soluble compounds so the body doesn't store them in fat but instead releases them via the kidneys and bowels. The liver also provides energy and nutrients when it metabolizes proteins, fats and carbohydrates. It further processes blood hemoglobin for use of its iron content, stores vitamins and minerals, breaks down and eliminates excess hormones, and produces bile, a yellow-green fluid which is stored in the gallbladder for secretion into the intestine to emulsify fats.
The liver filters up to two liters of blood every minute and manufactures almost one liter of bile a day. Unlike any other organ, the liver has a dual blood supply. The hepatic artery brings freshly oxygenated blood from the heart while the portal vein brings nutrient-laden blood from the stomach and intestines. Filtering the blood from the intestines is critical to human health (this blood contains bacteria, bacterial by-products called endotoxins, immune antigen-antibody complexes and other toxic substances).
One of the liver's primary functions is to detoxify substances that cause damage to the body's tissues, cells and DNA. The daily accumulation of metabolic by-products, environmental pollutants, pharmaceutical drug residues and chemicals in processed foods can result in toxicity within our bodies. Exposure to some chemicals can have serious health consequences including psychological and neurological damage. Symptoms manifest in a variety of ways and may include depression, headaches, mental confusion, abnormal nerve reflexes or other signs of impaired nervous system function, as well as higher incidence of cancers and respiratory tract allergies.
In addition, some substances can inhibit the liver's detoxification abilities. For example, cimetidine, an ulcer medication, limits the liver's ability to detoxify foreign substances, potentially resulting in a build-up of toxic compounds in the liver. Inefficient detoxification is suspected to play a role in many diseases and can lead to toxic reactions such as inflammation, arthritis and skin disorders. It may also play an important role in difficult-to-treat illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
Maintaining good liver function is important for everyone, but it is especially important for those who live in heavily polluted environments, or whose job involves applying paints, solvents or toxic chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides. People, who regularly consume alcohol, prescription or non-prescription drugs, are also well advised to take extra antioxidant nutrients and herbs to stimulate detoxification of these drugs. Heavy use of Tylenol (acetaminophen), which destroys the important antioxidant glutathione, also causes liver damage, especially when combined with alcohol intake.
Fortunately, the liver has a remarkable ability to restore itself. The best way to promote good liver health is through a healthy diet and natural detoxification supplements such as herbs and nutrients (such as contained in Cellfood®) that can stimulate internal cleansing.
The liver detoxification process
The liver detoxifies substances in two steps. Phase I reactions are primarily performed by a group of enzymes called the P450 system. These enzymes have affinities for different drugs, chemicals and other toxins. In addition, they are responsible for starting the process of detoxifying substances such as car exhaust fumes, medications and internally derived molecules including steroid hormones and other end products of metabolism that would be toxic if allowed to accumulate.
Phase I reactions sometimes produce highly reactive intermediates that are more dangerous than the original compounds. These intermediates are then handled by the Phase II enzymes. In Phase II, reactive intermediates as well as primary toxic compounds are converted to harmless waste products that are excreted via the urine or bile, which then bind with digested food in the intestine to form stool. Sluggish Phase I or Phase II function can result in the build-up of toxic intermediate products.
Another source of potential harm comes from the process of detoxification itself. As toxins are transformed during Phase I and Phase II reactions, harmful free radicals are generated. These oxidants must be neutralized to prevent damage to cells and tissues and doing so requires an adequate supply of antioxidants.
The liver's most important antioxidant is glutathione, an amino acid complex made from cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine. Dietary sources of glutathione include fresh fruits and vegetables, cooked fish, meat, onions and garlic.
Additional antioxidant support for the liver comes from the carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10 and the minerals selenium, zinc, copper and manganese. Glutathione intake needs to be accompanied by adequate zinc and copper intake for optimal absorption.
When the liver works properly, detoxification occurs effectively, and the human body can tolerate a wide range of substances without any noticeable side effects. However, when the body is exposed to toxic substances that are difficult to neutralize (such as many forms of pesticides), or if the liver isn't working optimally, toxicity and disease can occur.
The liver can fail to function optimally when an imbalance between Phase I and Phase II reactions occurs. The Phase I, P450 enzymes are especially susceptible to down-regulation due to a shortage of critically required antioxidants and other nutrients. In addition, Phase I detoxification enzymes are less active in old age. As the elderly also commonly rely on more medications, they are particularly well advised to eat more foods rich in liver-protective nutrients (like cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts contain indole-3-carbinol; oranges, tangerines and dill contain limonene; nutritional yeast and whole grains source of the B vitamins; melons, peppers, tomatoes and fresh fruits source of vitamin C; and turmeric contains curcumin).
In contrast to Phase I reactions, which are a family of enzymes, Phase II reactions are distinct reactions in which biotransformed molecules are conjugated via six distinct mechanisms. The liver uses several amino acids including glutamine, ornithine and arginine, but primarily glutathione and glycine, to conjugate (bind to and carry away) and neutralize various chemicals. It also conjugates chemicals though the processes of methylation, sulfation, acetylation and glucuronidation. Phase II sulfoxidation relies on the enzyme sulfite oxidase to metabolize sulfites to safer sulfates. Sulfites are commonly used as preservatives in wine and on salad bar vegetables. Interestingly, compromised sulfoxidation may result from low dietary intake of molybdenum, a trace mineral co-factor required by sulfite oxidase. As with other trace minerals, many South Africans do not consume adequate amounts of molybdenum, sources of which include legumes, whole-grain cereals, milk, kidney, liver, and dark-green leafy vegetables. It is speculated that supplementation with molybdenum may help those with sulfite sensitivities.
Influencing liver detoxification
To combat the harmful effects of pollutants, poor diet, excess consumption of alcohol, artificial food additives, pesticide and hormone residues in food, not to mention everyday stress, promoting liver health is essential. The first steps to improving liver function are always to live in the healthiest environment possible and to be sure to take time to get outdoors and breathe fresh air while doing moderate exercise.
Foods high in fiber are of particular importance and should form the cornerstone of every health-promoting diet. Bile serves as a carrier for many toxic substances that are excreted from the body. In the intestine, fiber binds bile and helps to safely speed transit of stool. Low-fiber diets have been implicated in cancer and other diseases, in part because decreased transit time results in increased exposure of bile and its potentially carcinogenic substances to the intestinal walls. This can allow for reabsorption of toxins in the bile that are not well bound.
Certain foods contain nutrients that are especially helpful to liver health. Like every other part of the body, the liver relies on a healthy diet to supply it with the nutrients it needs to function properly. Foods and herbs can speed up (up regulate) or slow down (downregulate) liver detoxification enzymes.
The following gives an overview of some of the vitamins and minerals required for the optimal function of the detoxification pathway:
- Molybdenum: required during phase I; found in beans and other pulses
- Manganese: essential for the enzyme superoxide dismutase, which removes oxygen free radicals
- Magnesium: necessary for glutathione synthesis required for phase II conjugation
- Zinc: necessary for formation of new cells (gene repair)
- Selenium: essential for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, required for the removal of peroxides (oxygen radicals)
- Beta-carotene: partly converted into vitamin A in the body, when required. Otherwise a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect membranes
- Thiamine (B1): necessary for energy production and regeneration of glutathione in phase II
- Riboflavin (B2): for regeneration of active glutathione
- Vitamin B6: for the production of glutathione (phase II)
- Vitamin C: a general free radical scavenger
- Vitamin E: intercepts and scavenges free radicals that would otherwise damage cell membranes; cooperates with vitamin C and selenium in this regard
What is internal cleansing?
Internal cleansing encompasses a variety of methods to rid the body of accumulated irritants, waste products and toxins, while restoring intestinal and organ health. For centuries, cleansing techniques ranging from short fasts and sweat lodges to hydrotherapy treatments and enemas have been used by various cultures.
While it is true that the body and the liver in particular, are extremely proficient in handling most foods and prescription and non-prescription drugs, it can lose its ability to safely and effectively defuse all incoming substances. When this occurs, various problems can result, and some are less obvious in their primary cause than others. Chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic allergies, obesity, headaches, fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome have all been associated, in part, with a compromised liver function.
Liver cleansing regimes typically emphasize consuming simple diets rich in fresh fruits and vegetables (naturally rich sources of the antioxidant vitamins and minerals used as liver enzyme co-factors) and free of animal foods, processed foods, and artificial food additives, preservatives or colorings. For further assistance, natural detoxification supplements such as herbs and nutrients (such as contained in Cellfood® and Cellfood® Longevity) can help stimulate internal cleansing.
Cellfood® and Cellfood® Longevity
The value of nutritional supplements
Although supplements won’t cure the disease, they do have value in alleviating some of the symptoms. An oxygen mineral supplement like Cellfood® could help in supplying oxygen to the oxygen-deprived cells. In a clinical trial on athletes at the University of Pretoria (Nolte, 2001), 35 drops of Cellfood® increased the oxygen uptake by 5%, and the ferritin levels by 31%, amongst others.
- Oxygen is one of the important elements for aerobic life as we know it and is essential for energizing and cleansing the body.
- The increased ferritin levels can assist with the production of more red blood cells that are needed to transport oxygen to the different organs and cells.
Cellfood® Longevity reduces the elevated toxic levels of homocysteine by supplying the body with all needed DNA regenerating nucleic acids, co-factors and the B-group of vitamins. Homocysteine is a risk factor for many chronic diseases including stroke, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Albrecht F.A. 1999. Supporting liver health through nutrition. Food-based Nutrition Track.
Pizzorno J.E. and Murray M.T. 2000. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 2nd edition. Churchill Livingstone.
The Merck Manual of Medical Information. 2004. 2nd edition. Pocket books.