There is much disagreement in the medical community on whether two week detoxes work to improve health and what detoxification is in the first place. Some practitioners believe that your liver takes care of all the detoxing needed and so specific diets are a waste of time. Others believe that doing a "cleanse" or detox once or twice a year makes a huge difference to overall health.
What is true is that the body needs to detox and has a system in place for this. Anything an individual can do, in a healthy way, to support this detoxification will improve overall health. What is detox?
The mnemonic above isn't super scientific, but it shows the essence of what the body does to detoxify itself. The skin, breath, liver, lymph, kidneys, gut, and mind work to stop gunk both physical and mental-emotional in nature from accumulating. Waste is a natural byproduct of existence, but its levels in the body must be limited so that it doesn't interfere with physiological function and balance.
Let's take a look at the many body systems that work together to detoxify the gunk left over from metabolism, focusing especially on the liver. Then we'll take a look at the common symptoms that arise from a body that is backed up with gunk and not able to effectively detoxify itself.
The Body's Detox System
Without your knowledge, multiple organs in your body selectively filter and select what will stick around in the blood and what will exit. This filtration system keeps around nutrients, important proteins, and immune factors while choosing to eliminate waste and gunk. These organs are designed to cleanse the body daily and while your daily shower may feel like the most refreshing clean ever, it doesn't compare to the efficiency of the internal cleaning that happens every day. Let's explore the different detox systems of the body and how each of them participates in keeping your body clean and renewed.
The skin is your largest organ and it protects the body and keeps in hydration, moisture, and warmth. It also kicks out toxins and excess minerals from its sweat glands. Dead skin cells slough off every day so that this barrier can be maintained as a strong and elastic as possible. While the liver, urinary system, and digestive system eliminate 99% of the toxins from your body, the skin is a breathing organ that can easily show when the rest of the body is experiencing a toxic burden. Complaints such as acne, eczema, dry skin, and excessive sweating can all hint that the body needs a little help supporting detox.
As the body goes about daily metabolism, the byproduct of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas accumulates in tissues. Without the lungs, this CO2 would build up inside and create a very toxic environment. When we breathe in, our lungs pick up oxygen which we require to survive. The oxygen rich blood travels to the body's tissues where the oxygen is unloaded and replaced in the blood vessels by carbon dioxide molecules. The blood shuttles CO2 back to the lungs where it is expelled with your breath out. Sensors in the brain and blood vessels keep track of how much CO2 is hanging around so the lungs can adjust breathing rate to keep up with its elimination.
The bowels eliminate a lot of waste matter regularly, as we all are intimately familiar with. And it's a good thing! Many things we consume have unusable parts and usable ones. The gut distinguishes between the two, assimilating nutrients such as carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals and eliminating the left over. Additionally, toxins that build up in the body are transferred into bile, which enters the small intestine from the liver and gallbladder. The bile travels through the bowels along with food, picks up other waste along the way, and is eliminated with a bowel movement.
Lymph is created from the fluid that lies outside of blood vessels and in between cells and tissues. The fluid collects waste matter from cellular metabolism and carries it to the lymph nodes before returning to the blood and eventually being strained out into the interstitial (between cells) spaces again. Lymph also carries bacteria to the lymph nodes so the immune system can take care of it. It's important to have a good level of activity each day so that the lymphatic fluid gets pumped through the body and can do its detox job.
The blood is the ultimate medium for elimination of toxins. It is the versatile fluid that transports waste to the kidneys for elimination, to the liver for filtering, through the spleen to weed out old blood cells, and through the digestion. Having congested or stagnant blood flow can interfere with elimination of toxins even if all the other organs of elimination are fairly healthy. Keeping active not only pumps lymph around as mentioned above, but keeps blood flowing through all the detoxifying organs.
The kidneys produce urine that transports byproducts of the body's metabolism out of the blood. The kidneys' intricate tubing system filters out excess salts, toxins, and water so that none of them reach dangerous levels in the body. If there is not enough water in the body, the kidneys also help retain water to make up for it. Medications, hormones, and other substances produce metabolites that are carried out in urine. You can tell so much about the body's detox processes by examining urine that it makes sense doctor's offices routinely run urine tests.
The liver is where we'll be focusing most of our attention for detoxification. This organ has a variety of roles that come into play so that our bodies know how to store energy, release energy, identify toxins, and eliminate them. It works with the digestion, urinary system, blood stream, and every other part of the body to coordinate detoxification in a very graceful way. It's a multi-talented worker capable of multi-tasking dozens of tasks at the same time. Click on the next tab to keep reading.
The liver is a smooth, reddish-brown saddle-shaped organ located in the upper right area of the abdomen, with the saddle facing in the direction that digestion occurs and that the heart pumps circulating blood out to the rest of the body—clockwise. After consuming any food, drink, or other substance, the products absorbed into the blood from the gastrointestinal tract first pass through the liver for filtration before the blood travels onward to the heart.
The liver is the nurturer of all the other organs and their physiological functions, producing products that they need to use for work and eliminating wastes that they don’t need. A healthy liver helps increase and regulate energy, boost immunity and natural healing, and helps the body grow when it needs to.
So what activities is the liver busy at work with? Just about everywhere you look in the body there is evidence of the liver’s work. A nurturer in a home washes the dishes, does the laundry, cooks meals, sweeps the floor, and takes out the trash, sometimes making it look like all these activities are happening at once. The liver does a variety of its own “chores” daily and is an expert multi-tasker.
The liver is so talented that in a lot of ancient medical philosophies, the liver is talked about like a royalty in the way that it supports and provides for health and life in the body. Its daily schedule includes functions involved in digestion, metabolism, making proteins, blood clotting, hormonal balance, and waste removal. How’s that for busy? Let’s go through each of these one by one in the next tab.
The liver doesn't just fulfill the role of detoxification. It performs many other important functions as well. By looking at each of these roles, you can see what areas of health are affected by a liver that has not been well supported in its detox functions.
The liver’s role in digestion can be summed up with one word—bile. Bile is a bitter green-brown fluid that the liver makes to help digest fats from the meals that we eat. Bile contains mostly water along with a mixture of bile salts, waste products like pigments from old red blood cells, electrolytes, and cholesterol. Without bile, forget about absorbing the fat from your favorite cheese or an ice cream cone on a sunny day. Once bile is made, it is stored in the small pouch of the gallbladder until you eat a fatty meal. At that point, the gallbladder’s walls contract and release bile into the beginning of the small intestine to perform its function.
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It’s interesting to note that in Chinese medicine, it is believed that excess anger and irritation is stored in the liver. While Western medicine doesn’t believe in this idea, the word “bile” is a noun that actually has two meanings in the dictionary. One is the digestive meaning I described above. The second is “Anger; irritability.”
We hear the word metabolism everywhere, usually in describing that one person has a fast metabolism or that someone else has slow metabolism. What does the word ‘metabolism’ actually mean? According to dictionaries, metabolism is the sum of chemical processes that happen in the body or in any living organism that fuels life itself. The liver is one of the primary organs that performs metabolism in the body and is essentially like a factory for many important chemical processes that maintain life.
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Basically, without the liver, the building blocks from our meals wouldn’t know where to go or what to do. The liver also works with the kidneys to eliminate hormones from the blood once they are done with their work, the liver metabolizing them before the kidney excretes them. Hormones can be toxic to the body if they aren’t properly metabolized by the liver. Alcohol and drugs are also transformed into less toxic forms in the liver and safely eliminated.
Proteins in the blood help maintain blood pressure and are also carriers for various molecules in the body. The liver makes these proteins, including the very important albumin which helps with growth and tissue repair, proteins involved in the inflammatory response, carrier proteins that transport steroid hormones and trace elements, and lipoproteins that help fats move through fluids in the body.
The liver makes many of the clotting factors that help the blood clot during injury. It also makes the bile and bile salts that break down the fat soluble vitamin K, which is needed to make clotting factors.
The cholesterol from the liver is used by the adrenal glands and gonads to make steroid hormones including cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. The proper functioning of the liver is needed for the correct levels or balance of hormones to exist in the body. The liver also transforms the less active thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) into the more active form of triiodothyroxine (T3) which is needed for proper thyroid hormone levels and function. The liver’s hormonal functions also include a part in regulation of blood pressure and in growth. Finally, the liver’s metabolism or breakdown of hormones is important in proper hormonal balance.
The liver puts bilirubin from dead red blood cells into bile along with other pigments that need removed from the body. The waste from bile gets moved through the intestines and out with a bowel movement. Also in the bile are other bodily or foreign waste molecules and trace metals that are removed. The liver also helps destroy old red blood cells.
So, we’ve talked about everything the liver does. Why is it important to know this?
If you consider all the functions of the liver and how these functions tie in to the functions of every other organ in the body, it’s harder to ignore the health of the liver and the lifestyle factors that can burden it. Because the liver is going about taking care of the rest of the body, poor health for the rest of the body becomes its burden too.
Likewise, living with an unhealthy, unsupported liver will predispose the body to recirculating its waste and toxins. That can never be good for overall health. Diverse symptoms can start appearing and while they all seem unrelated, a burdened liver will be at the root of many of them.
Not only can taking care of the liver help the whole body, but attending to overall health can help support the liver too. So it’s important to look at the other Star Clusters on the site to see if they contribute to causing additional burden to the liver. No matter what your unique constellation of symptoms looks like, it wouldn't be a waste of your time to support your liver as a part of your healthy living.
Click on the next tab to start learning about some common symptoms that can arise as a result of toxic liver burden.
For most people an ill liver won't present with the more extreme symptoms such as yellowing of the skin (jaundice), vomiting, loss of appetite, or dark urine that all accompany severe liver disease. But there are many people living with the more subtle symptoms of an overworked liver. These symptoms easily mimic those of other conditions, and that's why we mention that taking care of the liver will support all health care routines. Here are the often vague but persistent symptoms that can come about from or be worsened by a weak liver:
- Weight gain
- Upper right abdominal pain
- Acne or other skin condition
- Itchy skin
For more information about some of these symptoms, read the Detox Stars down the page.
Click through the symptoms below to find out more about the stars that make up the detox cluster. You'll notice how one star can easily affect other stars. For example, indigestion can cause low energy and weight gain. See how many connections you can spot among the detox stars. For more information and help on how to resolve detoxification issues that may be affecting your health, click on the button below to take the Detoxing Survey and visit our Services page.
The liver is like a school kid's mom. It tells you when to use what fuel so that the body doesn't rely on just one stored energy source. The proper functioning of the liver tells the body how to proportion its use of meals after the meals have already been digested and energy from them stored. Imagine the liver packing you a lunch here, a dinner there, and a snack here depending on what you're doing and how much stored glucose or fat is needed.
We are a culture that now pays more attention to limiting how much fat and carbohydrates we consume in our diets. What we can also afford to pay attention to is the fuel factory inside the liver because without its support, the body won't know what to do with the fat or carbs that do come in. A sluggish liver becomes sloppier with how it decides to release glucose stores, metabolize fats, and is also less efficient at digesting fats in the first place.
Weight gain can result from or be made worse by a fatty or unfit liver. The weight being put on is an indication that energy is being used inefficiently in the body and rather than promoting a healthier metabolism, it is being encouraged to store itself in unwanted places. Stored energy equals stored fat. As with most stored fat, in most people it will concentrate around the midsection, especially layered around the belly button. To keep a healthy weight and metabolism, no matter what your diet, it's valuable to thank your liver for the job it does by keeping it healthy and fit.
Yet another star cluster that contains the symptom of fatigue! It seems like whatever the health condition, the body's energy reserve is always at stake. In the previous star, we discussed how an unfit liver can contribute to weight gain stemming from the liver's important role as an energy distributor. This role also fits into how a burdened liver contributes to fatigue.
When you aren't actively consuming meals, the body has to know how to get its energy from the stored components of the meals you have eaten. The liver is the main organ telling the body how and when to do this. It contains stored glucose, releases glucose as needed, knows how to make new glucose from the pieces-parts of proteins and fats, redistributes fat stores as needed for energy, and sends fuel where it needs to go in the body.
Imagine what happens when the liver gets lazier and more sluggish from negligence in diet, exercise, stress, and overuse of substance. The liver becomes less efficient at distributing energy throughout the body and you will start to feel more tired from the lowered metabolism. The energy is right there at your disposal, stored inside the adipose (fat) cells, glucose stores, and muscles. But you can't effectively reach it because the liver is the lunch lady.
No matter what the original cause of fatigue, every condition can benefit from supporting liver function because energy is always needed to heal properly and feel (and look) your best.
Unlike for carbohydrates and proteins, the digestive system needs extra support from the liver to digest fats. Fats are large sticky blobs that don't break apart thoroughly from digestive acids and enzymes. Fat needs to be coated first with bile that is made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile contains water, salts, cholesterol, and pigments that infiltrate the fat blob and break it apart, coating each separated piece so the different mini-blobs don't join back together. In the smaller package, the fats can more easily enter the digestive process.
When the liver isn't functioning well, digestion of fats is affected and indigestion results. Especially during consumption of a fatty meal, the abdomen will feel pain and discomfort from the difficulty experienced in digesting the fat. Pain can be felt anywhere in the digestive tract, but often occurs in the upper right section of the abdomen where the liver is located.
Nausea is also common with indigestion associated with fat malabsorption. When fat is effectively digested, the nourishment from it is assimilated into the body's fuel stores. With fat malabsorption, abnormally large blobs of fat from a meal float around and the body does not register this phenomenon as normal. Instead of having a typical food reaction, the body will react to the undigested fat as more of a foreign and slightly toxic substance. Nausea results.
Eating smaller portions for meals and limiting fat intake in a single meal are common, and smart, recommendations to help the liver do its job of breaking down fats.
The skin is a reflection of internal health more often than not. A zit may simply seem like a nuisance and something that just teenagers have to deal with. But somehow the explanation that bacteria is causing all of it doesn't always add up. Teenagers themselves are going through many hormonal shifts that contribute to acne. But how come an increasing number of adults also suffer from acne?
What lies inside really is connected to what shows outside. The liver is one of the organs in the body that makes sure the blood is kept as free of toxins as possible. It weeds out free radicals, metabolites from drugs and hormones, and other gunk that if kept hanging around would eventually reach the level of your skin via small blood capillaries. The filtering capabilities of both the liver and kidneys work together to keep your skin from having to deal with this burden in its blood supply.
When the liver itself is unfit and burdened from excess toxins, however, there is very little keeping this sludge in the blood from reaching your face, your chest, your back, or the skin anywhere on your body. Additionally, the body depends on the liver's health for endocrine balance including stress hormones (cortisol, DHEA) and sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone). The liver contributes the cholesterol needed to make the hormones, and sweeps up the metabolites left over after the body's use of the hormones. The hormonal imbalance resulting from a toxic liver further dishevels the skin's normal environment.
In addition to acne, conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can also occur or get worse. Overly dry or oily skin is also common, as well as itchiness of the skin.
What are hypersensitivities? You may have experienced it or heard of someone else being greatly affected by odors, lights, sounds, foods, or just about anything. Someone can feel hypersensitive to people, situations, and stress. Normally, exposure to all these environmental influences comes at a simple price of just wanting to kick off your shoes after a long day and enjoy some quiet time. But for those who have stronger hypersensitivities, the effects lasting from exposure to a single scent can be more jarring.
The liver is one of the organs in the body that allows your senses to take in different stimuli and process them efficiently. Molecules can enter from a scent, particles from dust or carpeting, and germs from people's handshakes. But the liver keeps filtering the blood and helps the body identify what's in there so that weeding out and elimination can occur. The liver's function keeps toxins and other things floating in the blood at a manageable and healthy level.
When the liver isn't working well from sickness, damaging lifestyle choices, or stress, its ability to tolerate even small input from the environment can go way down. At that point, someone can become overly sensitive to foods, odors, or just about anything. It's a good idea to see the liver as more than just a filterer of blood but also one of stimuli. Once the liver doesn't function as well, the body has a harder time accepting stimuli, making life more difficult. A strong liver supports the immune system and helps form the underlying foundation for health.