Nutrition for liver health

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It’s that time of year again when we’re bombarded with messages about how we need to detox our liver. 

Here’s the thing. Your liver’s job is detoxification. You don’t need a complicated supplementation regimen or crazy restricted eating routine to support your liver.

Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

Our liver has two different detoxification pathways which transform fat soluble compounds into water soluble compounds so that they can be transported out of our body in urine or bile.

Phase I pathway: adds oxygen molecule to create a reactive site on the toxic compound

Phase II pathway: adds water soluble group to this reactive site so the compound can be excreted in urine or bile.

After going through phase I detox, the activated molecules are often more toxic than the original compound- if these metabolites are not pushed down the phase II detox pathway, they can cause damage- this is where antioxidant nutrients come into play. Having antioxidants around, helps bind these guys up so they can be taken out with the rest of the trash- in your urine or poop :))

Image from Liska (1998)

Nutrients required for Phase I detox:

B2, B3, B6, B12, Folate

Gluathione

BCAA

Flavinoids

Phospholipids

Nutrients required for Phase II detox:

Glycine

Taurine

Glutamine

NAC

Cysteine

Methionine

Antioxidant protective nutrients

Vitamin A

Vitamin C

Vitamin E

Selenium

Copper

Zinc

Manganese

CoQ10

Thiols

Bioflavinoids

Silymarin

How different types of foods support our liver detox pathways:

Fats and Oils. Excellent source of energy for detoxification processes. Good sources include grass fed/ wild caught/ organic protein sources, free range eggs, and things like avocado, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, EVOO, refined coconut oil for low heat cooking, expeller pressed coconut oil for high heat cooking

Nuts and seeds. Excellent source of energy and fiber to support healthy transit times through the GI system. Opt for raw or sprouted nuts without added vegetable oils) 

Proteins. Important as a source of amino acids for production of some phase I and phase II enzymes. Protein is also an excellent source of sulfate (useful for phase II detox). Adequate protein (and essential amino acid) intake is huge. At a minimum 0.8g/ lb of body weight (the RDA is 0.8 g/ kg of body weight which is ridiculously low- and really designed to prevent us from malnutrition, so not a good goal in my mind if you’re looking to optimize health/ performance)- if you’re not consuming any animal products, you’ll likely need more as the proteins in plant foods are not as bio-available as in animal foods. 

Fruit. Excellent source of antioxidants. Fruit is also high in soluble and insoluble fiber which can help contribute to healthy transit times.

Vegetables. Starchy vegetables are excellent sources of fiber and phytonutrients. Non-starchy vegetables provide a variety of phytochemicals and can favor the production of 2-OH estrogen as opposed to the more potent 4-OH and 16-OH estrogens.

 

This all sounds complicated. So what do I eat? All the basics still apply.

-Drink adequate H20 daily. A good rule of thumb is to get ½ your bodyweight in ounces of H20 + 15 ounces for every hour of activity. 

-Minimum 25g fiber daily. Pick a goal that’s attainable for you- whether it’s doing the 800 gram challenge, or eating a vegetable from every color of the rainbow. Be sure to get leafy greens and cruciferous veggies at least 3-4 days/ week

-Prioritize grassfed/ wild caught/ organic protein sources. If you can’t do 100% grass fed, but sure to opt for leaner cuts of meat- and then add fat sources elsewhere in your diet  

-Limit alcohol intake. Your liver has to prioritize alcohol detoxification so it doesn’t have as many resources available for doing all of the other parts of its job. 

-Limit processed foods with added sugar. No sugar is not the worst thing in the world. But most of these foods are calorically dense and limited in useful dietary nutrients- so they should not make up the majority of your diet. And if the majority of your diet is made up of processed food, it’s likely that your detoxification pathways are very sad because you’re getting a lot of calories and not very many nutrients. No 30-day cleanse or supplement regimen is going to fix that. 

Gold star: Be conscientious about skin care/ beauty products. If you really need all products you’re using on your skin/ hair, take the time to check out what’s them. Referencing the EWG database is a great way to learn more about potentially harmful ingredients in your skin care/ hair care/ household products.

References

Hodges & Minich (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Compounds: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.

Cline (2015). Nutritional Aspects of Detoxification in Clinical Practice. Alternative Therapies, (21)3.

Liska (1998). The Detoxification Systems. Alternative Medicine Review (3)3.

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