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The Importance of the Liver

by June Butlin(more info)

listed in detoxification, originally published in issue 41 - June 1999

The liver is the largest gland in the body and weighs on average 3lbs. It is situated at the top right hand corner of the abdomen, with the stomach to the left, the right kidney below, and the large intestine across the front. It has two sources of blood supply, one from the hepatic artery, and the other larger supply from the portal vein, which contains absorbed nutrients from the digestive system.

The hepatocytes (liver cells) use this rich blood supply to perform many activities: they metabolise digested food particles, destroy unnecessary proteins and hormones, break down excess ammonia into urea, balance blood glucose levels, store vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, produce blood clotting factors, regulate cholesterol levels synthesise and secrete bile, and regulate mood states.

Their most important role is to detoxify foreign substances such as metabolic waste products, drugs, pesticides, hormones, caffeine and histamine.

The liver receives two quarts of blood from the organs and tissues, including the highly toxic bowel, every minute, and removes the toxins from the blood ready for excretion. If these toxins are left to circulate in the blood they cause many problems ranging from acne, headaches, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue to cancer.

The liver deals with toxins in three ways. The first is filtration by the Kupffer cells, which act in a similar way to macrophages, and kill bacteria. If filtration doesn't occur the toxins will enter the circulation where they produce an immune response.

The second is through the synthesis and secretion of bile, which takes fat-soluble toxins into the digestive tract for elimination. If the diet is high in fibre the toxic load will be absorbed and excreted, but a low fibre diet may result in toxic reabsorption.

The third way is through two phases involving hydroxylation i.e. making the toxins water-soluble, and conjugation to neutralise and excrete the toxin. The first phase involves 50-100 enzymes called Cytochrome P448 and P450, which chemically convert the toxins to intermediate forms. Foods that activate this phase are oranges, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and vitamin B, E, and C rich foods. It is essential for health that these intermediates do not build up, as they can be chemically active and extremely toxic.

Phase II ensures that this does not happen by conjugating the metabolites for excretion. However, if the phase II system is not working adequately the intermediates will not be broken down and the outcome will be symptoms of ill health. People who are most prone to this build up of toxins are those who suffer severe reactions to perfumes, petrol, cleaning agents, etc. In these cases it may be helpful to slow Phase I down using naringen from grapefruits, circumin from the spice tumeric, capsaicum from red chilli pepper and eugenol from clove oil. It is interesting that grapefruit juice is now given to patients after a transplant, to ensure that the drugs preventing organ rejection stay in the system longer. Useful nutrients to activate Phase II include the amino acids glycine, glutamine, taurine, methionine, cysteine, glutathione, and foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

The first phase also produces free radicals (cell damaging toxins), which can cause further problems for the liver and other tissues.

The body is naturally able to produce deactivating enzymes to deal with the free radicals if the correct nutrients are present. These will include manganese, zinc, copper, iron, B3 and selenium, reduced glutathione, superoxide dismutase and N-acetyl cysteine and foods containing vitamins A, C, and E.

The activity of the liver varies significantly from one individual to another based on genetics, the individual's level of exposure to chemical toxins, and nutritional status. This is why some of us are more prone to illnesses than others, and why it makes sense to take care of the liver. In fact, our health can be seen as a reflection of the functioning of our liver. A good quality organic diet of unrefined, unprocessed foods, low in sugar and saturated fats, and high in raw vegetables and vegetable juices will keep the liver in good condition.

However, if you already eat a quality diet but still do not feel 100% you may need to consider the state of your liver. The diagnostic symptoms of a congested, overworked liver are: soreness in the liver area under moderate fingertip pressure, painful digestion, gas pains, constipation, feeling of fullness in the stomach and intestines, loss of appetite, PMS, depression or distaste of oily food. Also, changeable moods, particularly feelings of anger can indicate liver problems as emotions do have their basis in biochemistry. Anger releases hormones, which, if the liver is unable to eliminate, will cause the emotional state to last longer. In Chinese physiology a person with a harmonious liver does not have stress or tension.

If you feel you would benefit from a liver cleanse this season is a good time. I have produced a seven day cleanse that you can follow, hopefully without too much difficulty. If you have specific symptoms please check with your doctor or nutritionist that this regime is beneficial for you. The only side effects may be slight headaches and intestinal discomfort for a short time. If this happens continue drinking lots of water, exercise gently to stimulate the lymphatic system, and have plenty of rest.

Weekend Days 1 and 2

Pre-breakfast:
2 glasses of water before breakfast, the second to have a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice added.
1/2 hour later consume a drink made from blending: the juice of an orange and lemon with 7 fluid ounces of bottled mountain water, 1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon of organic cold pressed oil, and 1 teaspoon each of milk thistle and dandelion tincture.

Breakfast
A fresh fruit salad.

Lunch and Evening Meal
8 ozs. organic carrot and apple juice
Raw vegetables including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts
Dressing of safflower oil, lemon and garlic
Organic brown rice.

Snacks
Raw vegetables, vegetable juices, vegetable soup.

Days 3 to 7
Continue with the pre-breakfast and breakfast and resume a quality balanced wholefood diet avoiding all dairy and wheat products. Drink lots of filtered water throughout the day.

Reference Books

Total Wellness Joseph Pizzorno, ND. Prima Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0 7615 0433 8
The 20 Day Rejuvenation Diet Program Jeffrey Bland PhD. Keats Publishing, 1997. ISBN 0 87983 760 8
Healing with Wholefoods Paul Pitchford. North Atlantic Books, 1993. ISBN 0 938190 64 4
Natural Liver Therapy Christopher Hobbs. Lac Botanica Press, 1996. ISBN 1 9618470 2 6

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About June Butlin

June M Butlin PhD is a trained teacher, nutritionist, kinesiologist, aromatherapist, fitness trainer and sports therapist. She is a writer, health researcher and lecturer and is committed to helping people achieve their optimum level of health and runs a private practice in Wiltshire. June can be contacted on 01225 869 284;  junebutlin@btinternet.com

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