Stop Detoxing Your Liver and Do This Instead

Look to an adjacent organ.

Photo Courtesy of Kim Daniels on Unsplash

Liver vs. Gut

The liver gets all the press when it comes to “detoxing.” Don’t get me wrong, the liver plays a huge role in detoxification, but let’s not forget about the gut microbiome. The liver has these complex biochemical pathways known as “Phase I” and “Phase II” Detoxification, but the gut microbiome actually takes part in more biochemical reactions than the liver does. In some instances, the gut gets the last look at “toxins” before they are eliminated.

For example, once steroid hormones () are “worked on” by the liver, they enter the gut, where the microbiome has the “last say” as to whether or not those excess hormones are excreted or recirculated. We don’t want excess hormones recirculating and hanging around in our bodies. Certain species of harmful bacteria possess an enzyme called , which allows hormones to be recirculated. Having too many of these harmful bacteria/not enough good guys is termed . The worse your dysbiosis is, the more bacteria you will have that possess this enzyme, hence the more hormones that become recirculated.

The colon (Large Intestine) also plays a pivotal role in detoxification. Heck, poop (formed in the colon) is one of our body’s main ways of detoxifying. The gut lining in our colon () “detoxifies” , a harmful gas produced by certain pathogenic bacteria in our gut (1). In fact, the gut clears this gas at a rate of clearance 8 times greater than the liver. Hydrogen Sulfide gas creation is one of the mechanisms behind diarrhea in those with (SIBO). The Colonic Mucosa also “detoxifies” excess amounts of other gases, such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), and Hydrogen (H2) (2). AKA, the gut matters.

What’s Being Practiced

As a future practitioner in the (CIM) field, I like to look at what methods my peers are using for “detoxification.” A 2011 survey from nearly 200 Naturopathic Doctors found 83% of them use probiotics in their “detoxification therapies” (3). Later, we’ll discuss why such a high percentage may be using probiotics. 79% used stool bulking agents/fiber. The use of fiber has more to do with helping us poop. Dietary fiber has been shown to increase detoxification pathways in the liver (4). (FOS), a type of fiber present in garlic, onion, asparagus, and chicory root, has been shown to increase aspects of our immune system called (5). Immunoglobulin A helps us fight off pathogens in the gut and the lungs.

80% of them recommended detox therapies for Gastrointestinal Disorders, while only 58% for Liver Diseases. Think about this for a second, in a profession known for recommending “detoxes,” they are more likely to recommend them for conditions related to the gut rather than the highly touted liver. Sounds to me like my colleagues are on the right track, that is, the gastrointestinal tract 😉.

Support Strategies

If the gut ecosystem plays such a pivotal role in detoxification, wouldn’t you want to create an environment where it can function most optimally? Many of the tools we talked about are fairly simple, lifestyle interventions that can help optimize your gut function: eating a wide variety of fruits and veggies, often stated as “eating the rainbow,” getting adequate hydration and physical activity in order to have regular bowel movements (3 simple tips for constipation), and having quality sleep, stress management tactics, and a higher purpose in life in order to cultivate a healthy microbiome.

I know some of you are wondering, can probiotics help my detox? There is some evidence, in cell cultures (aka not in actual humans), that the strain can get rid of the heavy metals cadmium and lead (6). However, there is human evidence for this strain’s ability to reduce accumulation of the heavy metals arsenic and mercury in Tanzanian pregnant women and children. What’s the significance of that? If you’re a Tanzanian pregnant woman or child, taking may help reduce how much arsenic and mercury your body accumulates.

Quick side note, but it’s very important that when you’re looking for a probiotic to take, you find one that includes the STRAIN THAT HAS BEEN SPECIFICALLY STUDIED FOR IMPROVING WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO IMPROVE. For instance, if you’re struggling with bloating, try and look for a probiotic strain that’s been studied to help with bloating. is one, but if the label just says , you have no idea what the strain of this species is. Without knowing the strain, you have no idea what that probiotic’s function is (If you’re interested in learning more about how probiotics are named, check out this database).

Thanks for listening, and excuse me one second as I step off my soap box. Here’s the way I see it with probiotics and detox, and why so many Naturopaths recommend them when detoxing:

Now I know I talked a lot about fiber, but if you’re someone who struggles with digestive issues such as gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, adding a bunch of fiber to your diet may flare up your symptoms. That’s why it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before making drastic changes to your diet. I’d also recommend you seek out a Functional Medicine Practitioner, as they will help get to the root cause of your digestive issues and food sensitivities.

Not only that, but navigating the probiotic landscape can be challenging. A quality Functional Medicine Practitioner can also help you find the right probiotic for you, or rather help you decide IF a probiotic is right for you.

I give you this article to help educate you before you buy the next “detox tea” or “Liver detox kit.” Instead of buying those, you could save some money, and time, by eating more plants, drinking more water, exercising in a way that’s right for you, getting adequate sleep, cultivating personal relationships, managing your stress, and furthering your life’s purpose.

As always, Trust in .

Text-References

  1. Singh SB, Lin HC. Hydrogen Sulfide in Physiology and Diseases of the Digestive Tract. . 2015; 3(4):866–889. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms3040866
  2. Yao CK, Muir JG, Gibson PR. Review article: insights into colonic protein fermentation, its modulation and potential health implications. . 2016;43(2):181–196. doi:10.1111/apt.13456
  3. Allen J, Montalto M, Lovejoy J, Weber W. Detoxification in naturopathic medicine: a survey. . 2011;17(12):1175–1180. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0572
  4. Hodges RE, Minich DM. Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. . 2015:760689. doi:10.1155/2015/760689
  5. Kieffer DA, Martin RJ, Adams SH. Impact of Dietary Fibers on Nutrient Management and Detoxification Organs: Gut, Liver, and Kidneys. . 2016;7(6):1111–1121. doi:10.3945/an.116.013219
  6. Daisley BA, Monachese M, Trinder M, et al. Immobilization of cadmium and lead by Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 mitigates apical-to-basolateral heavy metal translocation in a Caco-2 model of the intestinal epithelium [published correction appears in Gut Microbes. 2019;10(4):553]. . 2019;10(3):321–333. doi:10.1080/19490976.2018.1526581

Educating, Optimizing, & Empowering Fitness Enthusiasts To Trust In Their Gut. Doctor of Chiropractic. Instagram: @drnickbelden. LinkedIn: Nicholas Belden