We have all heard about using hormones or herbs to address our hormonal imbalances. But there is not much talk about the liver.
Let’s understand the organ that does more than just detoxing. The liver is the largest organ of the body. Do you know where is it found? Put your right hand over the end of your right rib cage, just below the diaphragm – your hand is now over your liver.
Your liver performs about 200 vital functions, most of which are vital for good health. Detoxification of the blood, protein synthesis, excretion of bilirubin, hormones, cholesterol, drugs, and production of bile, (an alkaline compound which helps in digestion through the emulsification of lipids), are just some of the important functions that the liver performs.
How Do You Know if Your Liver is Sluggish?
Many people tell me that their doctor has told them that their liver “is fine” based on their blood work. The reality is liver abnormalities in your lab work often do not appear at the onset of the problems but after years of suffering from a sluggish liver.
Here are some early signals that your liver might not be in the best shape:
1. Cholesterol and Level of Fat
One of the main functions of the liver is to maintain a healthy level of fats in the bloodstream. For an average person, approximately 80% of the cholesterol is generated by the liver. A sluggish liver will show up as:
- Elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol”
- Reduced high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or “good cholesterol” which is the precursor for your hormone production
- Elevation triglycerides
- Elevated ALT and AST liver enzymes
- Weight gain
- Heart disease
2. Digestive Problems
Out of the many functions that the liver performs, the most important is to produce bile, which helps in digestion through the process of emulsification of lipids. A sluggish liver produces less bile, causing many digestion problems for the affected individual, including:
- Bloating of the abdomen
- Inability to digest fatty foods
- Loss of appetite
3. Skin-Related Allergies
The liver plays an important role in eliminating toxins from the body and maintaining the efficiency of the body’s immune system.
If the process of eliminating toxins is hampered, as is in the case of a sluggish liver, skin irritation or skin allergies occur, which are considered the first sign of liver damage. A person in such a case would develop:
- Boils, acne, or moles
4. Fluctuation in Blood Sugar Level
One of the main functions of the liver is to maintain the sugar level in the blood. A sluggish liver fails to do so, and would fluctuate the sugar levels to a great extent. In such a condition, a person would show symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Weakness or dizziness
- Low energy level
- Abdominal pain
5. Hormonal Imbalance
The liver is responsible for filtering out mutated hormones. A person with a sluggish liver would be quite affected by the hormonal (and neurotransmitter) imbalance and would exhibit symptoms such as:
- Sleep and mental disturbance
- Mental confusion
- Sensitivity to medicines
- Heavy or clotted menstruation in women
- Irregular periods
- Fibroids in breast or uterus
- Hot flashes
- Cysts on ovaries
- Mood swings or any menopausal problems
6. Other Symptoms
Apart from the sluggish liver symptoms mentioned above, individuals suffering from this condition may also show other symptoms, such as:
- Intolerance to alcohol (this is a big sign!)
- Intolerance to coffee (this is a big sign, too!)
- Swollen feet or abdomen
- Easy bruising
- Yellowing of the eyes
- Dark urine and stool
- Bad breath
- Sensitivity to chemicals in paints, petrol, bleaches, etc.
- Body odor
Here is the good news: theliver is the only organ that can regenerate itself. Provided you give it the right support.
What Does the Liver Do for Us?
Your liver does so much more than you imagined.
The liver is responsible for over 200 functions in the body and is the largest internal organ, weighing in at about 55oz (or 1.5 kg). It is central to so many of the body’s functions and most people are unaware of how vital it is to good health. Some of the major functions of the liver are:
- Purifying our blood (50 oz or 1.4 liters a minute)
- Regulating the metabolism (through bile production)
- Storing minerals and fat soluble vitamins, protein synthesis, glycogen storage and conversion (energy production)
- Cholesterol production (contrary to Western medicine’s believers, cholesterol is necessary as it is the precursor for our steroid hormones; it manages our brain function, nerve function, and hormone transportation)
- Parasite protection (by filtering protozoa) and…
- More famously… detoxification!
Although the liver is wonderful at healing and amazing at self-recovery, it does take a great deal of abuse in our Western lifestyles. Some of the choices can be fairly obvious (like eating non-organic food, living in a polluted area, drinking contaminated water) but many other choices (like skin care products, house cleaning products, drinking tap water or prescription medication) can create further load which we might not even be aware of.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), studies show that an average American is daily exposed to 200 chemical toxins and carries as many as 91 of them.
Where is All the Toxicity Coming From?
There are a lot of factors which affect whether the liver performs its critical functions effectively. Poor lifestyle choices can put too much pressure on this delicate organ. Here is what contributes to our toxic load:
- Non-organic food (think: mercury, lead, PCBs and over 130 pesticides)
- Air pollution (a long list)
- Tap water (think: fluoride, chlorine, PCBs, mercury, lead, parasites)
- Skin care products (think: phthalates, BPA, triclosan, parabens)
- Household cleaning products (think: triclosan, phthalates, parabens)
- Medications; both recreational and prescription, including commonly-used ones like corticosteroids, tetracycline and aspirin
- Plastics (think: BPA, PFOA)
- Cookware like non-stick pans (think: PFOA)
Our body is designed to excrete these toxins. We have a few detoxification organs, namely: skin, lungs, kidneys, digestive tract and, of course, the liver. They are all capable of performing the beautiful job of freeing us from these toxins – the challenge is when the load is higher than what they can handle; this is when toxicity takes a toll on us.
The Role of the Liver in Female Hormone Balance
Phase One and Phase Two of Liver Detoxification
The liver’s detoxification method includes two phases which are referred to as Phase One and Phase Two.
Phase One is known as oxidation and Phase Two as conjugation. In Phase One, the liver uses oxygen and enzymes to burn toxins. This process is called oxidation as it makes the toxins more soluble in water so they can be more easily excreted from the body by the kidneys and the liver. Most environmental toxins are fat-soluble to start with, and therefore difficult or impossible to eliminate without the liver’s help. Did you know that the chemicals produced in Phase One are more toxic than those which originally entered the body?
This phase of liver detoxification is inhibited by nutritional deficiency, toxic exposure, alcohol consumption, low protein intake, and medications such as acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) that deplete glutathione which is needed for acetaminophen detoxification.
To free itself of toxins produced by Phase One detoxification, the liver performs Phase Two called conjugation. In this phase, oxidized chemicals are combined with sulfur, specific amino acids (like the methyl group) or organic acids, and then excreted in bile and urine.
Both phases are dependent on vital substances which are required to activate the catalyst for toxin conversion and they must work in balance so that no harmful toxins are left to circulate.
There are six pathways in Phase Two and each one is responsible for converting a different set of substances (e.g. estrogen, thyroid hormones, heavy metals, histamine, phenol, salicylates, bilirubin, nicotine, bacterial toxins, caffeine). The six pathways are called:
1. Amino Acid Conjugation pathway
2. The Glutathione pathway
3. The Sulphation (sulfation) pathway
4. The Methylation pathway
5. The Glucoronidation pathway
6. The Acetylation pathway.
Methylation and Sulphation Pathways Explained
For an example of how these pathways work let’s look at the methylation pathway in more detail. This allows methyl groups to pass through the liver and out of the body safely. This pathway detoxifies estrogen, dopamine, histamine and heavy metals. To support this pathway we can increase our intake of choline (avocados/eggs/non-GM soy lecithin) and B vitamins.
The sulphation pathway detoxifies excess neurotransmitters, steroids, thyroid hormones, phenol and excess bile acids. This pathway is often burdened by frequent use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). We can support this pathway through an increase in high sulfur foods (e.g. egg yolk, broccoli, onion, or MSM).
If Phase Two is not working effectively, then the highly toxic chemicals formed in Phase One cannot be converted which can cause a lot of toxicity issues in the body such as tissue damage or disease. It may also cause excess hormones to circulate through the bloodstream instead of being excreted and this can lead to hormonal imbalances which may affect the thyroid gland or our estrogen levels.
To learn more about how a sluggish liver affects your thyroid health and how to gradually detox from harmful chemicals, I recommend following the 12-Day Thyroid Detox here.
So there you have it: your liver needs to eliminate the metabolized, or “used up hormones” to make space for new ones. This is why I have never met a person who has a sluggish liver and is hormonally balanced.
What Can You Do?
I have three tips here for you to get you started in the right direction:
1. Hydrochloric Acid (aka Stomach Acid)
Improve the level of your stomach acid level by drinking 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or ½ lemon in a glass of warm/lukewarm water upon rising. Do not eat till 30 minutes later. You can have it with your thyroid medication if you are taking any.
If you prefer to use a supplement, see below for our very own Wellena brand of HCL.
Try this: Digestive Enzymes
Take at least 2-3 tablespoons of insoluble fiber per day; my favorite is ground golden flax seed as it helps estrogen metabolism as well. If you can’t tolerate flax seed, substitute with chia seeds or psyllium husk.
3. Vitamin B Complex
Get a good quality Vitamin B complex – it is a key vitamin to open up the detoxification pathways. If you don’t feel good taking it, get the methylated form of folate and B12.
Some Helpful Resources:
For concise action plans on what to remove and add to your daily diet to regain hormonal balance and detox the liver, I invite to try the program in my book, Cooking for Hormone Balance. This helpful program also includes guides for specific conditions and more than 125 easy-to-prepare, flavorful, and anti-inflammatory recipes that are free of gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and nightshades and low in sugar.
You can get a copy of Cooking for Hormone Balance on Amazon here.
If you would like to learn more about how to use supplements to balance your hormones, you can get our free supplement guide here.