Liver Detoxification: Restoring Natural Detoxifying Functions


Liver Detoxification: Restoring Natural Detoxifying Functions

Submitted by AdminSite on Wed, 02/07/2024 - 19:33

Liver DetoxificationToxicity is a hot topic. There is a plethora of click-bait solutions available, from detox shots to special diets, but what you need to know is that you already have a detox organ in your body: your liver. Your liver and kidneys work together to filter out toxins in your body, and the best way to help them do their job is to give them what they need.


What Does it Mean to “Detoxify”?

Throughout your daily life, you will come into contact with countless potentially damaging substances that are not native to your own body. These are termed xenobiotics. Xenobiotics can range from medications to preservatives to harmful environmental byproducts. Your body is capable of identifying these stressors and extracting or destroying them all on its own.

When our body’s detoxification mechanisms fail, toxicity problems develop, which are linked to diseases like Parkinson's, cancer, chronic fatigue, and more. If your detoxification system is malfunctioning, most people would reach for popular detox products that claim to “flush out” any toxins within the body. Though this may work for some types of toxicity, temporarily, it does not resolve the underlying problem, which is the malfunction of your detoxification systems. This means that if you are experiencing any chronic conditions related to toxicity, these “quick fixes” will not make any significant changes long term. Instead, we must approach these problems with the goal of restoring proper function to our detoxifying organs: the liver, kidneys, and gut.


Detoxification Pathways

Detoxification works via enzymes produced by your body from organs like the pancreas, small intestine, liver, or in some cases, within cellular components called ribosomes. Enzymes are specific proteins programmed to react with different substances based on their structure. Enzymes alter xenobiotic materials to make it easier for your body to eliminate them. Once the xenobiotics have been transformed, your body’s filtering organs take care of the rest.


The Pancreas

Though the stomach and small intestine both produce enzymes, your pancreas is the principal enzyme-producing organ, supplying the digestive system with the tools to break down most components in food like fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.


The Gut

Most of the xenobiotics you come into contact with are consumed orally, so the gut mediates what is allowed in and out. The gut acts as the frontline of defense, the barrier between the digestive system and the blood, ensuring that potentially damaging or toxic components do not enter the bloodstream. For this reason, your gut health, specifically your gut barrier health, is incredibly important to stay healthy. The gut barrier is composed of the physical barrier as well as its population of microflora, composed of commensal bacteria that help you absorb and digest important components from your food. When there is an imbalance in your microbial community, harmful metabolites (byproducts from bacterial metabolism) can enter the bloodstream, as well as other toxins. It is called “Leaky Gut”.


The Liver

The liver is an amazing organ, capable of regeneration as long as there is 10% of healthy tissue remaining. Since it deals with toxins, it is damaged frequently.

The liver is your next line of defense. Once substances are allowed past the gut barrier and into the blood, the liver takes over. 80% of the blood from the gut heads straight toward the liver through the portal vein before entering systemic circulation. So anything that slipped past the gut’s defenses is usually filtered out by the liver. The liver performs its detoxification functions in three phases.


Detoxification Phases of the Liver

Phase I: Making Toxins More Reactive
  • In this first step, the liver uses special proteins (mainly enzymes from the cytochrome P450 family) to alter harmful toxins. This process is like changes the structure of the toxins so they're more reactive and easier for the body to transform in the next step. These reactions include oxidation, reduction, and hydroxylation. The goal is to make these substances more water-soluble for further processing.

Phase II: Making Toxins Water-Soluble
  • Now that the toxins are less harmful, the liver needs to make them fully water-soluble. Compounds modified in Phase I are attached to other substances to increase their water solubility further and facilitate their elimination by the kidneys.

Phase III: Getting Rid of Toxins
  • In the final step, the liver gets these water-soluble toxins ready to leave the body. It uses transport proteins to move these toxins out of cells and into the intestines or kidneys, from where they can be excreted in urine or stool.


The balance of the activity of each phase is incredibly important to prevent toxicity, as if these substances remain in the bloodstream in an active form, they can cause damage to your organs.

The enzymes in Phase 1 add reactive groups to foreign compounds, producing more reactive molecules that can be potentially more toxic than the original compounds. If these reactive molecules are not further processed by Phase 2, they can damage proteins, RNA, and DNA within cells. Dysfunctional or imbalanced activity in Phases 1 and 2 has been associated with an increased risk of diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s disease, as well as adverse drug responses​​.

Phase 3 is crucial for the metabolism of pharmaceuticals and other xenobiotics. It involves an energy-dependent pump that actively exports xenobiotics from cells, decreasing their intracellular concentration. This phase is significant for managing the load of foreign substances in the body but is typically not where dysfunction occurs.


The Kidneys

The kidneys are estimated to filter your entire blood volume 60 times per day. The kidneys can only remove toxins that are water-soluble, that were transformed by phase 2 liver enzymes. When phase 2 of liver detoxification fails, harmful products can build up in the kidneys and cause kidney dysfunction.

Detoxification and its Link to Inflammation

Just as there must be a balance between liver detoxification phases 1 and 2, there must also be a balance of inflammation and bodily responses to resolve the inflammation. Inflammation gets a bad reputation, but it’s actually a necessary and healthy process. Inflammation acts as an indicator that something needs to be repaired or something is wrong. Without inflammation, tissue remodeling would not be possible. When inflammation gets out of control or becomes chronic, that’s when it becomes a problem. Chronic inflammation can cause dysfunction even in different organs than its source, throwing the body’s balance out of whack.  

Factors Impacting the Health of Your Body’s Detoxification Organs  

Detoxification activities are regulated by various factors, including diet, xenobiotics, age, sex, genetics, lifestyle habits, and disease. In some diseases, detoxification activities are increased, while in others, they may be inhibited. This variability and the complex regulation underscore the importance of a balanced detoxification system for health maintenance​​.

Now that we know all about the detoxification processes that our bodies employ to keep us toxin-free, let’s talk about some of the factors that affect the health of these organs.



Genetic makeup significantly influences liver detoxification. Variations in genes can affect the activity and efficiency of detoxification enzymes. For example, some people have genetic variations in the cytochrome P450 enzymes, leading to differences in how they metabolize drugs and other substances. Certain genetic differences can result in either enhanced or reduced enzyme activity, impacting the body's ability to process toxins.

If you have a family history of pancreatic, liver, or kidney problems it may be worth looking into if you are experiencing toxicity problems.


Age and Gender

Gender can influence detoxification processes. Research suggests that certain detoxification pathways may be more active in one gender than in the other, potentially due to hormonal influences. For example, estrogen and testosterone can influence the production or activity of liver enzymes, affecting how men and women metabolize certain substances.

Age also affects the liver's detoxification capacity. Generally, liver function and the efficiency of detoxification enzymes decline with age. This reduction can lead to a slower processing of toxins and medications, increasing the risk of adverse reactions and toxicity. In older adults, these changes necessitate careful management of medication doses and increased attention to liver health. The hormonal aspect can come into play for post-menopausal women, with this change bringing alterations to your detoxification pathways.


Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle factors, including smoking, alcohol consumption, and exposure to environmental toxins, can significantly impact liver detoxification. Smoking and alcohol, for instance, can induce certain liver enzymes, leading to increased metabolism of some drugs and potentially reducing their effectiveness or increasing toxicity. The condition of your body also influences detoxification because both obesity and starvation inhibit the liver’s activity, as well as lack of exercise.



Diet plays a crucial role in liver detoxification. In the earliest steps of detoxification, a poor diet can influence what is able to enter the blood based on your gut’s permeability. Having a healthy bacterial community can help regulate detoxification, preventing the conversion of phase 2 molecules back to phase 1, which would allow them to reenter the blood. Caring for your gut microbiome ensures that the microbial community functions as it should, helping you digest, absorb, and eliminate components from your food.

To support gut barrier health with your diet, focus on eating fiber-rich and antioxidant-containing foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and include fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut for their probiotics (or supplement with a probiotic). Additionally, incorporating anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids from sources like fatty fish, and staying hydrated, are key for maintaining a healthy gut lining. Avoiding excessive processed, high-sugar, and high-fat foods can also help in maintaining a balanced gut environment.

Certain foods and nutrients can enhance the activity of detoxification enzymes. Some vegetables--like broccoli and Brussels sprouts--contain compounds that can induce Phase 2 detoxification enzymes. Conversely, a diet high in processed foods and low in nutrients can impair detoxification processes. Adequate protein intake is also essential for providing amino acids needed for conjugation reactions in Phase 2 detoxification.


Holistic Treatment Vision

It is important to mention that all organs involved in detoxification work together and are interconnected. When the intestines or liver are overloaded with xenobiotics, functions of the kidneys, pancreas, and other organs are negatively affected in a chain reaction. This is why a holistic strategy is required to restore original bodily functions.

Eastern Medicine is a champion when it comes to viewing the body holistically and treating it accordingly. Treatments like acupuncture and herbal medicine focus on the health of organs and remove toxins by moving, eliminating, and pacifying. In addition, far infrared therapy is also effective in releasing toxins--by sweating them out through the skin--by gently warming the body.

Emotional stress or a negative mindset can produce a compromised immune system and can slow down the elimination process, resulting in accumulated toxins in the body. Holistic care of the mind and its emotions is a critical strategy to use to strengthen the immune system.

At our clinic, we offer the Total Detox Program, which combines our proprietary treatments to enhance detoxification of the body and the mind. For more information about our practice, please visit






This article Liver Detoxification” was originally created and published by under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Mika Ichihara, M.S., L.Ac., LL.M., B.Phar., Founder, Owner and Grand Master in Eastern Medicine and Energy Soul Medicine. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution and author bio. For more information about Mika and her practice, please visit


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