Clients, friends and family often tell me about the latest “cleanse” they are doing. In the past, these cleanses were usually mentioned in association with a New Year’s resolution or as part of a springtime detox, but the trend now is to do them several times a year. This concerns me. While they can sound like quick, healthy ways to purify the body, increase energy and/or lose weight, many of these intense, short-term concoctions are actually detrimental to liver function and can make you feel worse.
Your liver is an amazing organ with over 500 functions. For example, it regulates glucose, produces and secretes bile, stores vitamins, converts thyroid hormones, purifies and clears harmful substances such as bacteria, as well as breaks down and detoxifies unwanted and potentially harmful toxins. This last function is particularly important for anyone living with a disability or chronic health condition who regularly consumes prescription or over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, antibiotics and steroids. When medications are metabolized, toxins are created.
Consuming these medications on a long-term basis, while necessary to control infection, pain and inflammation, places extra burden on the liver. Long-term toxic build-up from substances such as medications can potentially cause damage to your liver and affect its ability to function optimally. It is essential that you consume the proper nutrients the liver needs to help ensure these medications are being properly detoxified and cleared from your system and to help reduce burden on your liver.
To help give you a better understanding of the important role specific foods play in detoxifying medications, I want to briefly explain the roles of your liver’s two detoxification phases. As Dr. Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno explain in The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Phase One modifies the chemicals to make them an easier target for one or more of the seven Phase Two enzyme systems. Often referred to as pathways, each is responsible for detoxifying specific substances. A healthy diet can optimize your liver’s two detoxification phases.
Each phase is responsible for detoxifying specific toxins, and each requires particular nutrients. Phase One detoxifies common disability-related medications such as codeine, warfarin, amitriptyline, steroids, ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Vegetables from the cruciferous family, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower and cabbage, contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol that stimulates this phase.
In Phase Two, two pathways have special implications for many people with disabilities who experience chronic infection or pain. The acetylation pathway detoxifies and eliminates sulfa drugs like the antibiotics that are often used to treat urinary tract infections. Some of the nutrients required to support this pathway include vitamins B1, B5 and C — found in foods such as legumes, mushrooms and citrus fruits, respectively. The glucuronidation pathway detoxifies and eliminates pain medications such as acetaminophen and morphine, as well as the antispasmodics. Some of the nutrients required to support this pathway include gluconic acid and calcium-D-glucarate, which are found in foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, oranges, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
The trick to supporting both liver detoxification phases is to do it throughout the entire year with the foods you eat every single day — not by drinking the three-to-14-day liquid gimmicks a couple times a year that I keep hearing about. These kinds of so called “cleanses” are often too harsh for your liver, creating free radicals, which, in excess, can damage cells — including liver cells — and leave you feeling tired, irritable and headachy.
I highly recommend that you skip the packaged quick-and-easy cleanses. Instead, try to consume at least one of the liver-friendly foods listed below every day. I’ve also included two liver loving recipes to boost your health and help out your liver.
Liver-Loving Foods and Drinks
Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, mushrooms, legumes/lentils, Jerusalem artichokes, citrus fruits/fresh lemon
Liver-Loving Luncheon Party
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Chop onion and broccoli.
3. In large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs and milk.
4. Add onion, broccoli, cheese, salt and pepper to egg mix. Pour mixture into a 9-inch cake pan.
5. Bake 20-30 minutes until eggs and cheese are cooked through.
Serve with Fruits and Veggie Coleslaw
Fruits and Veggie Coleslaw
1 bag shredded cabbage
½ bag shredded carrots
3 spring onions, sliced on diagonal
2 cup fresh pineapple, cored & diced
2 tangerines, peeled and diced
1 cup fresh coriander
¼ cup pineapple juice (if buying pre-cored pineapple, use juice from its container)
3 limes, juiced
2 tablespoons of honey
½ cup olive oil
Pinch of red chili (optional)
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of fresh pepper
1. Combine cabbage, carrots, onion, pineapple, tangerines and coriander in large bowl.
2. Whisk all vinaigrette ingredient together and pour over cabbage salad mixture.
Joanne Smith is a nutritionist and co-author of Eat Well Live Well with SCI and Other Neurological Conditions. For more information on nutrition for neurological injuries, go to www.eatwelllivewellwithsci.com.