Detox is a trendy word, and has unfortunately lost its true meaning as it continues to be popularized by the diet industry. A true detox is specifically referring to detoxification in your liver–the body’s main detox organ. It’s a process that is foundational for overall health and has a huge impact on other systems in the body.
Since your liver is your main detox organ, if there is some dysfunction and it isn’t filtering properly, this can lead to problems in other areas of the body such as digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, and thyroid issues.
What Causes Dysfunction & Toxic Load
Let’s start with what can cause dysfunction in your liver or a sluggish liver:
- high exposure to toxins, chemicals in the environment, pesticides, herbicides
- prescription and over the counter medications
- eating more than your body can handle of inflammatory foods like processed grains, sugar, and oils
- synthetic hormones like hormonal birth control or hormone replacement therapy
- toxins from beauty products, plastics, water, furniture, paint, etc.
Liver dysfunction is typically the results of 2 or more of these and their overall burden on the body.
Toxic load is the amount of toxins in your body at any given time.
I know this list can feel overwhelming, but the cool part about detox and toxic load in the body is that it is cumulative. This means that any change you make to reduce it even by just replacing one product, lowers your overall toxic load. This is why reducing toxins in your life isn’t about being perfect, it’s just about being consistent and reducing them over time.
When liver dysfunction occurs, phase 1 and/or phase 2 of detox can become impaired and get backed up. This leads to an excess of chemical intermediates that will recirculate in our systems increasing our toxic load and can eventually lead to problems in other systems of the body.
Detox & Your Hormones
We process all of our hormones through our liver. If your liver is backed up and cannot fully detoxify hormones, then they will recirculate in the body and increase hormone levels just like toxins. This can lead to higher levels of that hormone in the body.
I see this a lot with estrogen. Many women deal with constipation, which means we are not properly eliminating toxins and estrogen since we poop out our estrogen, so it recirculates in the body and causes estrogen dominance—which leads to symptoms like really strong PMS, mood swings, tender breasts, cramps, painful periods, excessive bleeding, and bloating.
Another way poor liver detox impacts our hormones is through xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are toxins found in plastics, beauty products, cleaning products, etc. that mimic estrogen in the body. They must be detoxified and eliminated but if our liver is sluggish or has some dysfunction then these can also build up. Think about if you combine excess xenoestrogens from products with constipation or not eliminating toxins regularly plus a sluggish liver you can easily see how proper liver function is essential for our hormone balance.
The liver also impacts the thyroid. The liver is a major site of thyroid hormone conversion so if you have a sluggish liver whose burden is too high it can also negatively impact your thyroid hormone levels. This is a major contributor as to why a lot of women that take hormonal birth control have thyroid issues during or after. It’s also why I do a liver detox to start off with all of my clients that have thyroid disorders or suspect them.
A dysfunctional liver also impacts our stress hormone cortisol. If you have an increased burden on the liver and it cannot function properly and leads to imbalances, then this alerts your adrenal glands that there is chronic stress in the body. This leads to low levels of cortisol being dripped out and over time will lead to fatigue and adrenal burnout.
Detox & Digestion
Our liver is where we make bile. Bile helps the body break down and absorb the fats we eat. It’s stored in your gallbladder and excreted into the small intestine during meals. If your liver is toxic and not filtering properly your bile will also be toxic and it can even become stagnant and not get moved or eliminated properly. We are supposed to eliminate our bile in our poop just like our estrogen and toxins, but if our liver is working properly then that bile will get recirculated and increase our toxic load.
If you have a toxic liver you may have bile issues that cause you to not digest your food properly. Since bile is really important for fat digestion you can become deficient in essential nutrients like fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat is also important for hormone production and if we don’t’ have enough we cannot properly produce hormones. A lot of times people think it’s a problem with their gallbladder but it could actually be a problem with their liver!
One caveat I want to mention is that it’s not just how your liver impacts your gut, but our gut health can also impact your liver. If you have parasites, pathogenic bacteria, or yeast these all give off endotoxins that create a toxic gut environment. This an added stress on the body and increases the toxic burden on the liver.
Supporting Liver Detox
So how can you actually support liver detox? I like to do a targeted 10-30 day Mind Body Liver Detox with specific supplements and then support detox on a daily basis naturally. Below are my favorite ways to support daily detox.
- Have at least 1 serving of cruciferous veggies I highly recommend working in broccoli sprouts.
- Include high quality (organic, grass fed/pasture raised) animal proteins that provide essential amino acids
- Eat eggs (specifically the yolk) to give your body choline, which is essential for detox
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of water minimum–add 20oz to that if you can
- Drink dandelion root tea
- Get some form of movement–even walking and light stretching are great
- Switch over to safer personal care products
If you think your liver could be impacting your digestion, hormones, or thyroid please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!
Amanda Montalvo is an Integrative Dietitian and Functional Practitioner that runs Your Non Toxic Life, a blog, nutrition consulting service, and Facebook group that helps women detoxify their minds and bodies and balance their hormones. Amanda started off her education in nutrition with the traditional route, but after dealing with her own health problems after getting off hormonal birth control she quickly realized the value of functional medicine. After healing her acne, balancing her hormones, and learning the value of her menstrual cycle, Amanda found her purpose—to help women create a body in balance and not settle for anything less.