There is an astonishing array of chemicals in our modern world – over 84,000, to be exact! (Source) Many of these toxins are odorless, colorless, and undetectable to the naked eye; however, this doesn’t mean they aren’t affecting you. Many health issues are linked to toxin exposure, including fatigue, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, and skin problems.
Your liver is one of your body’s primary organs of detoxification. Unfortunately, the abundance of toxins in today’s environment can quickly overwhelm your liver, taking a toll on your health. Furthermore, eating a diet heavy in processed foods and suffering from everyday stress, both of which are commonplace occurrences today, further compromises liver function. (Source, Source)
In short, as a modern-day human, your liver needs support! Keep reading to learn about 6 signs your liver needs a detox and how to optimally support liver detoxification with evidence-based nutrients, no fad “cleanses” needed!
6 Signs Your Liver Needs a Detox
You can’t necessarily “feel” whether your liver is overburdened by toxins. So, how do you know if your liver needs a detox? Here are 6 signs to look for:
Fatigue is a prevalent complaint among U.S. adults, likely for many reasons. Sleep deprivation is an obvious culprit. However, if you are fatigued despite getting adequate sleep, a heavy toxin burden and the subsequent demand it places on your liver could play a role.
Some toxins, such as heavy metals, interfere with thyroid function. (Source) Fatigue is a primary symptom of suboptimal thyroid function, since your thyroid is essentially the energy “thermostat” of your body. Mycotoxins, toxic substances found in everything from coffee and chocolate to water-damaged buildings, have also been shown to contribute to fatigue. (Source)
2. Excess Body Fat
Certain toxins known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), may promote body fat gain by messing with the gut microbiome and hormones, independent of what you eat and how much you exercise. (Source) There are increasing reports that some EDCs can also interfere with regulatory processes in metabolism and in the control of adipocyte (fat cells) function, resulting in imbalances in the regulation of body weight. (ref)
So, what are they? EDCs are chemicals that interfere with normal hormone balance inside our bodies. “Endocrine” refers to your hormone system. Examples of EDCs include bisphenol A (BPA), a plastic chemical found in thermal receipt paper and plastic food containers and water bottles, and phthalates, found in personal care products such as shampoo and hairspray, as well as medical tubing. EDCs are some of the ubiquitous chemicals in our environment.
3. Hormone Imbalances
As mentioned, EDCs impact hormone health. Your liver plays a key role in filtering and metabolizing your hormones. If it is overburdened with toxins, it has less capacity to properly metabolize hormones, and hormone imbalances may result.
In women, exposure to EDCs and a sluggish liver may contribute to irregular periods and symptoms of “estrogen dominance,” such as heavy periods. In men, EDCs can lower testosterone, which may eventually lead to symptoms such as low libido and erectile complications. Also in men, exposure to some endocrine disruptors may cause the aromatization of testosterone, a fancy way of saying that testosterone gets converted into estrogen. (Source, Source)
4. Digestive Issues
Many environmental toxins have been found to affect the gut. Some toxins, such as heavy metals, reduce beneficial gut bacteria, while others, such as BPA, promote a “leaky gut.” A leaky gut is a condition that occurs when gaps develop between the cells that line the intestine, allowing substances to escape from the gut into the bloodstream, where they trigger inflammation. Everything that passes through your gut must be processed by your liver, so gut imbalances can place a big burden on your liver’s detox pathways. (Source, Source)
Changes in the gut microbiome and leaky gut, and the subsequent effects on your liver, may lead to digestive issues such as gas, bloating, or constipation. Gradually reducing your body’s toxin burden with liver detox support may help support a healthier, happier digestive system.
5. Skin Issues
If you struggle with maintaining clear and bright skin despite a healthy diet and skincare routine, it may be time to consider supporting your liver.
Skin is the largest organ of your body and an important organ of elimination, removing various toxins, including heavy metals through sweat glands. (Source) Often times, when your liver is overburdened by toxins, it shows up through the skin. A gray, ashen complexion or other bumps and blemishes can all be the result of a high toxic burden. Toxins like EDCs may cause skin problems by altering hormone levels and receptor function. (Source)
6. Elevated Liver Enzymes
Elevated levels of two liver enzymes, aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT), can indicate that your liver needs detoxification support. AST and ALT are typically included in annual blood work. If you have yet to measure your AST or ALT, or it’s been a while since you last measured them, ask your doctor to run these labs at your next appointment!
How to Support Liver Detoxification
Detoxifying your liver is necessary in our modern world and can support better health throughout your body. So, how exactly can you support liver detoxification?
First and foremost, don’t be tempted by faddish “juice cleanses.” While this type of cleansing is popular, it is an ineffective detox method. Juice cleanses lack numerous nutrients your liver needs to detoxify, including amino acids from dietary protein and fiber. Here’s what you can do to support liver detoxification:
1. Start by eating a healthy, whole-food diet. Cut out the processed junk food and alcohol that taxes your liver, and focus primarily on eating high-quality animal proteins, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Stay hydrated to help your kidneys flush out toxins. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily.
2. Set aside time for 7-9 hours of restorative sleep every night. Try to maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day. Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and free of electronic distractions to support the most restorative sleep possible. Sleep is essential for detox because your detoxification systems are most active while sleeping!
3. Finally, consider incorporating science backed compounds that support the liver. Here are some key players:
Look for products that contain milk thistle and/or artichoke. Milk thistle is an herb with an extensive history of use for supporting the liver. Milk thistle and its unique constituents, including silymarin and silibinin, have been shown to encourage healthy liver function and safeguard the liver against toxins. (Source) Artichoke has been found to support healthy liver enzyme levels, supporting overall liver function. It also aids bile flow, which helps eliminate toxins via bowel movements. (Source) The first step in any detox is mobilizing toxins, and these two ingredients can help!
Use binding agents to “mop up” toxins in your gut. Binders are supplements that uniquely support liver detoxification by helping prevent mobilized toxins from being reabsorbed in the gut. Binders may reduce stress on your liver by helping remove toxins from the body through your stool. This is arguably one of the most important and often overlooked steps of effective detoxification!
A few examples of toxin binders include bentonite clay, activated charcoal, zeolite, and modified citrus pectin. Binders can bind to specific toxins. For example, activated charcoal can bind to pesticides and mycotoxins, while zeolite can bind to a variety of heavy metals, including cadmium and lead. (Source, Source, Source) Now, we are sure you’ve tried activated charcoal, but don’t be fooled by thinking it will do the full job! As discussed, each binder has its strengths and affinity for certain toxins. Be sure to utilize multiple binding agents, such as those listed above to ensure you are “catching” and removing a full spectrum of toxins for maximum effects.
The Bottom Line on Liver Detoxification
Our livers are burdened more today than ever before. An overburdened liver can contribute to many disruptive symptoms, including fatigue, excess body fat, hormone imbalances, digestive distress, and elevated liver enzymes.
To optimize your health, you need to show your liver some love with effective detoxification support. Skip the fad juice “cleanse,” which lacks the nutrients your liver needs for detox, and instead love your liver by following the above detox recommendations. Your liver, and your entire body, will thank you!
by Lindsay Christensen, MS, CNS, LDN, A-CFHC, CKNS
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