Monthly Archives: July 2020

Support Your Gut's Detox Capabilities with Fiber-Rich Foods

Time to Revive: Support Your Gut’s Detox Capabilities With Fiber-Rich Foods

When you hear the word “detoxification,” thoughts of your liver might immediately come to mind. Indeed, the liver is ground zero for detox. This extremely important organ is in charge of processing all the toxins we come into contact with, including everything from environmental toxins to the chemicals found in drugs and medications, and even our own hormones. As a board-certified internist and Functional Medicine Certified practitioner, you’ll often find me talking about how important the liver is for detox, such as in this previous blog post, “Time to Reset: Cleanse Your Liver.”

The liver definitely has the spotlight when it comes to detox, but the truth is, it’s not the only organ involved in detoxification — not even close. In fact, the following organs also play a critical role in your body’s ability to process toxins and chemicals:

  • The kidneys: The kidneys have the important job of filtering blood and excreting waste products in urine, which is essentially to the detoxification process. Factors like too much alcohol, certain medications, and the accumulation of toxins will stall the detoxification process of these two critical organs.
  • The skin: Move over, liver. The skin is actually the body’s largest detoxification organ. When other organs get backed up with toxins, the skin has the ability to step in and eliminate toxins through sweating. In fact, if you’re exercising intensely you can eliminate as many as 10 liters of water through perspiration in a single day. And all of that sweat contains toxins like arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. 
  • The gut: Your skin forms a barrier between the outside world and your body, and your gut plays a similar role inside your body. Its surface area is a remarkable 200 times greater than that of your skin, making it your largest surface of interaction with the outside world.
Detox Organs Infographic

By now I’ve hopefully convinced you that while the liver might score the game-winning goal when it comes to detox, it’s certainly not the only player on the field. In fact, the way the gut controls how we interact with the world makes it a critical but often overlooked detox organ. And that’s why we’ll be talking about it today.

How the Gut Helps With Detoxification

Prescriptions Bottles

The gut is like the gatekeeper for your body, determining what makes it from your GI tract into your bloodstream and what does not. It not only comes in continuous contact with the nutrients you consume, it also comes into contact with toxins, food additives, microbes, and drugs that may pass through your digestive tract on a daily basis. As the gatekeeper, your gut has the huge task of serving as a porous filter that allows the building blocks of life in, while making sure the detrimental substance you may be exposed to stay out.

In addition to acting as a filter that determines what’s allowed into the body, the gut also acts as a detox organ in and of itself. The cells that line the gut are rich in detoxifying enzymes and the gut works directly with the liver to remove noxious substances derived from food, your environment, gut microbes, and even the operation of your own metabolism and hormones.

The gut also works to detox the body through bowel movements. After all, when the gut does its job as gatekeeper and refuses entry to noxious substances, they have to go somewhere. If the substances we eat are not absorbed into the body, the gut sends them through the rest of the digestive tract and they are efficiently removed from the body via the stool.

As a result, your stool is full of toxins, which is why it’s incredibly important to have at least one bowel movement daily. In fact, it’s perfectly normal to have up to three bowel movements daily, one after each meal. When you suffer from constant or even intermittent constipation, the gut is not properly detoxifying and those toxins are not being properly eliminated.

So how do you make sure that your gut is detoxing efficiently, and that you’re having healthy bowel movements? Make sure the hundred trillion microbes that live inside the gut are as healthy as possible, which brings us to…

Meet the Microbiome: Another Important Detox “Organ”

Bacteria under microscope

The gut is home to trillions of microbes, including at least a thousand different species of bacteria, dozens of different types of yeasts and fungi, an unknown number of viruses, and the occasional worm. Collectively these are called the “gut microbiome.”

As a gut health doctor, I write about the importance of the gut microbiome all the time. For example, did you know that the gut is often referred to as the “second brain”? It’s true; in fact, many neurotransmitters are actually synthesized by the gut, including your feel-good serotonin and melatonin, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm.

The gut microbiome also has a hand in critical processes required to have a healthy detox system, including breaking down potentially toxic food compounds, synthesizing certain vitamins and amino acids — like B vitamins and vitamin K — that are involved in detox, and producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which fuel colon cells and promote regular bowel movements.

The gut microbiome also aids the detoxification process directly by supporting phase I and phase II detoxification in the liver. These microbes, for instance, help metabolize certain medications and manage oxalate levels in the body. (High amounts of oxalates from plant foods can bind certain minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, and contribute to problems like kidney stones.) Healthy microbes also helps increase the absorption of nutrients that help with detox, such as vitamin C and other antioxidants.   

For these microbes to manage all of their important duties, they need to be strong in number and diversity. This means not only the right ratio of “good” to “bad” microbes, but the right numbers of specific bacteria that can carry out detoxification functions. When these microbes become imbalanced, a phenomenon known as “dysbiosis,” the gut’s detoxification abilities can be impaired.

How Gut Dysbiosis Hinders Detoxification

Gut Dysbiosis

As you just learned, dysbiosis occurs when there’s an imbalance between favorable and unfavorable gut microbes. Allowing too many unfavorable microbes to grow can also increase the toxicity of certain compounds and release toxins that:

  • Increase gut permeability
  • Suppress the immune system
  • Damage cells in the gut
  • Impact how well the gut utilizes the nutrients from food
  • Create inflammation within the gut3

An imbalance in the gut, and the subsequent release of inflammatory signals, can eventually lead to other gut conditions such as a leaky gut. This leakiness or “hyperpermeability” in your gut lining exposes your body to partially digested protein molecules from food and toxic substances, which can slip through the now leaky gut barrier, causing an increase in toxicity and wreak havoc on the body. How? Oftentimes, it’s because the molecules are toxic in and of themselves but sometimes, the immune system does not recognize these molecules so it attacks, which results in food sensitivities. You might not even be aware of these sensitivities, which can manifest as hives, allergies, chronic sinus inflammation, and migraines and become the triggers for irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune disease.

All of these things – leaky gut, food sensitivities, inflammation – will impact how well the gut and other organs can effectively detoxify. Even if the other detox organs are performing smoothly, when the gut is struggling, the body will become more toxic. 

Luckily, there are some easy and effective ways to safeguard the long-term health of the gut and its role in detoxification such as taking a probiotic supplement.

How Probiotics Promote Gut Balance and Detoxification

The word “probiotics” comes from the Latin word “pro” and the Greek word “biotic,” meaning “for life.” Probiotics are supplements that contain beneficial microbes, such as  Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium (two of the most common types of probiotic bacteria) and beneficial yeasts, such as Saccharomyces boulardii.

These favorable microbes help maintain balance in the gut, allowing it to do its job and prevent over-toxicity. For example, probiotic bacteria can bind toxins such as heavy metals, which are found in much of our food and water supply. One study showed that specific probiotic bacteria, including Lactobacillus, could bind cadmium and lead. When these and other heavy metals accumulate in the body, they can overwhelm the body’s ability to manage free radicals and lead to disease.5

Probiotics are clearly important for strengthening your body’s resilience to toxins, but they don’t act alone. Dietary fiber is an equally critical part of the detoxification puzzle.

Why Fiber Is So Important for Detoxification

Colorful Fruits and Vegetables

One of the most underappreciated nutrients, fiber is good for so many other things. It can suppress your appetite, prevent constipation, balance blood sugar, and bind to toxins.

You might be wondering why fiber is so important for gut health, especially if you can take beneficial bacteria in the form of a probiotic supplement? Well, for one, certain types of fiber act as the food that probiotics eat; it’s what keeps them healthy and strong, and your detox systems thriving. These non-digestible fibers, called prebiotics, fall under several categories, including fructans (also called fructooligosaccharides, or FOS) and resistant starch. Each feed different types of gut flora that are important for detox.

As we already learned, fiber-rich plant foods (with the help of probiotics) also produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). It goes like this: The dietary fiber that you consume in plant foods passes through most of the gut undigested until it reaches the large intestine. When it arrives, microbes in the colon ferment fiber, creating three SCFAs called acetate, propionate, and butyrate.

On top of being the colon’s primary energy source, these SCFAs have anti-inflammatory benefits for the gut and immune system, which greatly benefit our ability to detox. 6 In fact, they provide a valuable energy source for the entire body to be more resilient to outside stressors and toxic substances.

Research has also shown that SCFAs might possibly prevent or treat various disorders including ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and antibiotic-associated diarrhea. But the benefits of SCFAs go beyond the gut to prevent:

  • Metabolic syndrome, a nasty cluster of conditions that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and obesity
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Fatty liver7 disease
  • Unhealthy immune cells
  • Imbalanced blood glucose levels
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels8

Dietary fiber and beneficial bacteria are the magic combination; together, they increase the resilience of your body to outside stressors, toxins, and disease. And all of this magic happens in the gut.

3 Ways to Support Your Gut + Detox Health

No matter how imbalanced your gut is to begin with, with the right strategies, you can reestablish gut happiness and get this detoxification system back on track. A healthy gut will help cleanse your body, yes, but it will also have the added benefits of helping you lose weight, think more clearly, and regain stable energy levels. Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?

The good news is that you don’t need a complicated cleanse or diet plan to restore microbiome balance and help the body detoxify. You can start this process today by following these three steps:

1. Take a probiotic supplement.

A probiotic supplement is the absolute best way to restore balance to the gut bacteria that help your body detoxify. That said, not all probiotic supplements are created equal. Numerous factors, including shelf life and their ability to withstand your harsh stomach environment, make many probiotic supplements ineffective because very few of the living organisms in the probiotic capsule actually make it to your gut. As a doctor, I struggled with this reality for years. When I realized that none of the supplements I found met all the criteria I was looking for, I created my own Happy Gut ® Restore Shelf-Stable, Broad-Spectrum Probiotics.

Happy Gut ® Restore

With probiotic supplements, quality is critical. Always look for a supplement that contains multiple strains of the following bacteria and each serving should contain billions – not millions – of organisms.

  • Lactobacillus: These bacteria predominantly live in the small bowel (the portion of the gut that follows the stomach). Probiotics containing Lactobacillus help to repopulate the small intestine with friendly organisms that will help support digestion, the performance of the immune system, and proper detoxification and elimination. The most beneficial are L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, and L. paracasei.
  • Bifidobacteria: These bacteria, also known as Bifidus, predominantly live in the colon or large intestine. They produce butyrate, which is essential for the health of the cells that line the colon, supplying them with energy so they can function optimally. Studies have also shown that B. lactis helps support normal intestinal motility, which is critical to proper elimination of toxins, and also promotes healthy immune balance and relieves IBS-like symptoms.

At the end of the day, taking a probiotic is one of the best things you can do for your gut health, detoxification health, and overall wellness.

Fiber-rich Avocados

2. Eat a fiber-rich diet.

As we already know, sufficient fiber will help support healthy bowel movements, feed beneficial gut bacteria, produce SCFAs that support gut and overall health, and more. Experts recommend that women and men should get 25 grams 38 grams of fiber daily, respectively. Most of us are eating less than half of the recommended amounts of fiber, which can at least partly be blamed on certain trendy diets, such as the ketogenic diet, which contains even less fiber than the typical diet. 9

To make sure you’re getting enough fiber, focus on eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and other plant foods, which are all high in detox-supporting fiber. Some of my favorite sources include:

  • Avocado (10 grams of fiber in one cup)
  • Raspberries (8 grams of fiber in one cup)
  • Artichokes (10 grams of fiber in one artichoke) 
  • Brussels sprouts (4 grams of fiber in one cup)
  • Walnuts (2 grams of fiber in one ounce) – I also voted walnuts as my favorite food to fight inflammation

But what about those special prebiotics we learned about earlier? The foods highest in prebiotic fiber include:

  • Raw chicory root
  • Raw Jerusalem artichoke
  • Raw dandelion greens
  • Raw garlic
  • Raw leeks
  • Raw onions (including scallions)
  • Cooked onion
  • Asparagus

By eating plenty of fiber, and regularly throwing some prebiotic-rich foods onto your plate, you can make sure your microbiome is getting the right amount and the right type of fiber at all times.

Organic Dandelion Greens

3. Eat fermented foods.

If you want to support the gut’s detoxification actions, fermented foods are another important piece of the puzzle. Why? Fermented and cultured foods can support the growth and proliferation of your “good” bacteria, which are critical to our body’s ability to process and eliminate toxins, and block them in the first place by supporting the gut’s gatekeeper abilities. Fermented foods also help crowd out nasty pathogens like unfavorable bacteria, yeast, or parasites. To increase your intake, focus on these:

  • Cultured foods: This includes foods like yogurts and kefir. Always look for no-sugar-added versions of these foods and choose non-dairy options such as coconut yogurt if you have any sensitivities to dairy.
  • Fermented foods: This includes fermented vegetables, unpasteurized sauerkraut, and kimchi.
  • Cultured beverages: This includes beverages containing favorable live bacteria, such as a low-sugar kombucha or Coconut Water Kefir.

COCONUT WATER KEFIR

A healthy prebiotic- and probiotic- rich carbonated beverage great for helping to balance your gut ecosystem.

MAKES 4 CUPS

Coconut Kefir Water

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons water kefir grains*
4 cups pasteurized coconut water
1 cup fresh strawberries or blueberries (optional)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (optional)

Notes:

* Water kefir grains can be found in natural- food stores or online at Amazon. With proper care, the culture can be used indefinitely to create probiotic- rich kefir. Your grains will not grow as quickly in coconut water as they will in a nice bath of nutrient- rich sugar. Refresh and reactivate the kefir grains in sugar water (1/2 cup sugar in 4 cups water) for 24 to 48 hours between batches of Coconut Water Kefir. The sugar water will keep the grains healthy for the long term.

Directions:

  1. Place the water kefir grains and the coconut water in a jar. Cover the jar loosely with a lid or cheesecloth and allow the kefir grains to culture the coconut water for ideally 24 to 36 (and no longer than 48) hours at room temperature.
  1. Once the culturing is complete (the mixture will have thickened), remove the kefir grains with a slotted spoon and store in a separate glass container filled with filtered water and a teaspoon of sugar to keep the kefir grains alive and active.
  1. You may drink the Coconut Water Kefir by itself, but for an added twist, puree the cultured coconut water with the berries and lemon juice in a blender to your desired consistency. The Coconut Water Kefir will last 1 to 3 weeks in the fridge; when blended with the berries and lemon juice, it will last for 2 to 3 days in the fridge. Serve cold.

Why the Gut Shouldn’t be the Forgotten Detox “Organ”

When the bacteria in the gut are in balance, everything is better for your body’s detox pathways. With a healthy balance of gut bacteria, you’re better able to absorb nutrients that help the liver detoxify, your digestive system can eliminate toxins more efficiently, and your gut is able to act as an effective gatekeeper to keep harmful substances from getting into your body in the first place. Not to mention, the gut microbiome is a detoxification organ in its own right, with the trillions of bacteria playing key roles in the detoxification process.

I often say that when it comes to your health, “it all starts in your gut.” And I mean it! Clearly, the liver is important for detoxification, but without a happy gut, the body won’t just won’t be able to properly detoxify. From here on out, the gut should get the attention it deserves when it comes to detox.

Time to Reset: Cleanse Your Liver

Time to Reset: Cleanse Your Liver

Researchers estimate that most people are potentially exposed to over 100,000 chemicals in their lifetime. Every year, about 1,000 new chemicals are added to that list. They are everywhere: In our food, water, personal products, packaging, prescription drugs, and household and products.1 

I’ve talked about detoxification and how when toxins accumulate, they can sabotage the gut, immune system, hormone balance, and overall health. In this post, I’m going to focus on your “ground zero” organ of detoxification — your liver.  

If you’re like 45 year-old Martha, you may not realize the symptoms you are experiencing are signs of an overloaded detox system, because you might chalk them up to aging. 

You wake up feeling tired and foggy-headed, don’t feel fully awake until that first cup of coffee, and you also need an espresso to make it through the afternoon. 

It takes every ounce of energy to make those 4pm calls and answer those last few emails. Every night, you have a glass of wine to “destress,” and you can’t hold back when dessert is put in front of you. 

You don’t sleep well, either, so you take CBD oil to help you relax enough to fall asleep and start the cycle back up again the next day. 

Your body is literally crying out for a detox, but you don’t realize the power of detoxification or the role it plays in feeling your best self. 

Pretty much everything that goes through your body –– the food you eat, water you drink, medications you take, and cosmetics you use –– must be filtered through the liver. Detoxification is the liver’s superpower, but it does a lot of other things, too.

For such a small organ that’s about the size of a football and only weighs about three pounds, the liver is a true workhorse. Among its duties, it: 

  • Produces proteins that play a role in blood clotting
  • Breaks down old or damaged blood cells
  • Ensures that your blood sugar level stays consistent
  • Converts the amino acids from protein into energy
  • Converts ammonia from protein to a much less toxic substance called urea
  • Helps fight infections

I can’t talk about liver health without also mentioning the gut. The gut and liver are intricately connected in ways that you might not consider: 

  • After the gut breaks down and absorbs what you eat, the liver converts food into energy and nutrients.2 
  • Blood carries nutrients, medications, and toxins from the digestive organs to the liver. This critical organ processes and eventually detoxifies these things, after which the liver releases them back into the blood or to the colon for elimination.3  
  • The liver gets 70 percent of its blood supply from the intestine via the portal vein, the blood vessel that carries blood from the gut and other organs to the liver. Studies have shown a link between the health of your good gut flora and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).4 More on that in a minute.
  • The liver produces bile, a fluid made and released in the liver that the gallbladder stores. Bile breaks down dietary fat and helps eliminate the toxins that are fat-soluble. 

Calling the liver a true workhorse organ is an understatement! The daily onslaught of chemicals that can bombard the liver might come from sources you might not think about.

The Daily Challenges Your Liver Faces

Think about a major highway during rush hour. That’s the liver every day, juggling all of its other roles while helping the body manage the toxins we are exposed to through food, beverages, plastics and so much more. 

Let’s start with what you eat and drink. Many foods, food additives, and beverages we consume are either the most difficult for our bodies to break down or are the most likely to bog down your liver as it works to detoxify them. Sugary, processed foods, which are high in fructose, are one of the biggest stressors for the liver.

Even things you might consider healthy or safe can create problems for the liver. Most medications pass through the liver, the primary site for drug metabolism. Enzymes in the liver convert prodrugs –– inactive or weakly active substances that have an active metabolite  –– to their active metabolites. This is actually how many medications work in the body to exert their desired effect. The liver also converts active drugs to inactive forms.5 If you are on any medications that get processed through the liver, talk to your practitioner about safer medication alternatives for the liver, but never discontinue or modify prescription medications without his or her consent. 

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are often overused, which take their toll on the liver. These medications include antibiotics as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories or NSAIDs such as Advil, Aleve, ibuprofen, and aspirin.  Every year, about 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and 458 deaths occur because of acetaminophen-associated overdoses alone.6 We assume that if something is a medicine, it will help us feel better or get well without untoward side effects, but even OTC medications can have serious potential secondary effects. 

The liver helps manage all these chemicals that you ingest every day from the food you eat, water you drink, medications you use. This organ also balances the hormones that your body produces. Whenever the numerous things you are exposed to everyday bog down the liver and create stress on this hardworking organ, these hormones can continue to circulate throughout the body and create problems in hormonal balance, including:

  • Eliminating excess hormones
  • Regulating hormones
  • Metabolizing some hormones, such as estrogen
  • Creating proteins such as albumin that can act as hormone carriers

When the liver can’t effectively remove these excess hormones, disruption in the body’s delicate hormone balance can occur. One example of this is cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. While cortisol can serve the body in the short term, when this hormone accumulates it can create problems such as blood sugar imbalances. I’ve talked about this too in regards to oxytocin, your bonding or love hormone, in this blog.

Overall, the liver faces an onslaught of chemicals that it must detoxify. It never gets a break! In my last blog, I talked about how sweat is an often-overlooked way to detoxify, particularly through science-backed infrared heat. However, your liver is without question your body’s main pathway for eliminating unwanted chemicals and substances. For the body to remove those toxins, the liver needs to detoxify properly.

The liver detoxifies in two phases, appropriately called Phase I and Phase II detoxification. Both are critical to completely remove the chemicals and other toxins the body encounters daily. Most toxins are fat soluble, and often congregate in fatty tissues such as the brain and other organs. They can’t dissolve in water, which makes them difficult for the body to eliminate. Generally, they travel in the bloodstream attached to carrier proteins. That’s where the liver steps in, to convert fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble components that can then be eliminated.

Liver detoxification is a complex process, but essentially occurs like this: 

  • PHASE I. The goal for the liver in this phase is to convert a toxin into a reactive intermediate, which can be potentially more harmful than the original toxin. Phase I enzymes prepare substances to be excreted from the body. Think of it this way. Phase I converts a toxin into what I call a “tagged metabolite.” It’s like collecting trash together and tagging it for removal. If this trash spills out of the trash bags, this is going to create problems. During this process, the liver produces free radicals. If the body doesn’t have an adequate antioxidant defense system, toxins can potentially become more
  • PHASE II. In this phase, the liver will attach a molecule to that toxin, such as a sulfur-containing compound, which makes the toxin water-soluble so that the body can then excrete it with the bile or in the urine.  Phase II pathways excrete carcinogens, toxins, drugs and steroid hormones. Phase II takes the reactive tagged metabolites I talked about in Phase I that can damage your body – the “trash” – and sorts them (to use the trash analogy) into organized bins for removal. It basically neutralizes those metabolites, which can then go to the kidneys or gallbladder for removal. But if those metabolites aren’t neutralized by Phase II enzymes, they can become more toxic, damaging your DNA in the process.

Think of it this way. Phase I sets the countdown timer on an intracellular bomb, and phase II deactivates that timer so the bomb doesn’t explode. 

The Problem…

Olympic Sprinter - Phase I

Phase I is like an Olympic sprinter — it can go super fast.

Sloth - Phase II

Phase II enzymes are like a sloth — super slow.

…Phase II enzymes do their best to keep up with Phase I, but if you’re nutrient-depleted, they simply can’t.

If you don’t get enough nutrient support for Phase II, you can get a backup of toxic metabolites that the body can’t eliminate fast enough. The good news is that you can turn that sloth into an Olympic runner by giving it the right nutrients in the form of amino acids.

 Many detox cleanses get this wrong, and without the right nutrients, phase II starts to slow down… Now sure, you may get some detox symptoms whenever you start a cleanse, but if these symptoms persist, it’s a sign you’re not eliminating fast enough. You risk exposing your DNA to toxic metabolites.

What Does a Burdened Liver Look Like?

In Greek mythology, Zeus punished Prometheus by having an eagle eat his liver every day. Every time this happened, however, Prometheus’ liver grew back, only to be eaten again. This highlights an interesting point:: The liver is the only organ that has the ability to regenerate itself. Even so, it can only handle so much before things go wrong. 

Being overweight, drinking too much alcohol, infections, and poor gut health are like that mythological eagle eating away at your liver. They are a few of the ways that can make it difficult for the liver to detoxify and fulfill all of its many other functions.

What about your gut microbiome? Studies have also shown that dysbiosis – an unfavorable balance between good and bad gut bugs –  may also contribute to various liver diseases.7

Unfortunately, a stressed-out or damaged liver often doesn’t show symptoms until that damage is severe enough. When it does, the liver can suffer from several types of potentially irreversible damage. 

Every day, the liver detoxifies numerous chemicals that are potential carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals in humans. This process takes a whole lot of energy production. Over time, the accumulation of toxins within the liver can create what we call hepatotoxicity. 

This can increase inflammation, free radical overload, impair liver enzymes, and diminish the ability of the little energy plants called mitochondria to function. All of these things increase the body’s risk of disease.8

That risk depends on how much, how often, how long, and when you’re exposed to these chemicals. 

Up to 50 percent of people with underlying liver disease have no symptoms. When they do occur, symptoms include feeling frequently tired, lacking motivation, and itching. More pronounced signs of liver disease include yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice), dark urine, very pale or light colored stool, bleeding from the gut, mental confusion, and fluid retention.9

When toxins overwhelm the liver, they can create inflammation and damage. The resulting problem, called toxic liver disease, can be mild or severe. Eventually, this can lead to permanent liver scarring, cirrhosis, liver failure, and even death. Prescription and OTC medications are a chief culprit for toxic liver disease. Even using acetaminophen short-term might be enough to cause liver failure.10

Fatty Liver: It’s Not Just an Overweight Problem

When I let Martha know what the biometric body mass scale showed about her visceral fat score (the fat in the middle that surrounds the organs), she was shocked. Optimal is < 5 out of 20. She scored 15! She had fatty liver disease.

One of the biggest liver problems we are facing today is called fatty liver. This condition can occur when too much fat builds up in the liver. Today, fatty liver has superseded hepatitis as the most common reason for liver transplants.

When you hear “fatty liver,” you might think about someone who consumes too much alcohol. Yes, alcohol can create fatty liver, but that’s not always the case. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – when something other than alcohol creates a fatty liver –  impacts about 10 – 20 percent of Americans. If inflammation and liver cell damage accompanies that fat buildup, a disease called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) can occur.11

Overall, studies have shown that about 30 – 45 percent of Americans have excess fat in the liver. This has especially become a problem for children and teens, with research showing that about one in 10 children now has fatty liver disease.

A big driver for NAFLD is fructose. The liver is the only place in the body that can metabolize this simple sugar. Too much sugar, including the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the sodas Martha craved and drank several times per week, can lead to a fatty liver. Shockingly, HFCS often hides in foods you may not realize, such as bread.

Fatty liver is often connected to metabolic syndrome, a nasty cluster of problems that include diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.12

Any problem with the liver, including fatty liver, will impair your ability to detoxify. Removing culprits like simple sugars and alcohol that can harm the liver is critical, but so are adding the right things to keep the liver at peak performance levels.

8 Ways to Cleanse Your Liver

The choices you make every day can dramatically affect liver health. Fortunately, you have plenty of ways to support your liver and keep this hardworking organ working well so that it can undergo detoxification and the many other roles that the liver plays.

This organ works so hard for you, so in return give your liver some loving! These eight strategies ensure that your liver gets all the support it needs to juggle numerous tasks every day.

Give up alcohol - Happy Gut Blog

1. Give up alcohol.

A healthy liver can remove a small amount of alcohol. For people who enjoy “more than a few” drinks regularly, though, the liver can easily become overloaded with processing alcohol. Excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to several problems in the liver, including fatty liver.13 If you drink alcohol, keep in mind your limits: One drink for women and two for men daily. Know your pours, too. One drink is 1.25 ounces of whiskey or spirits, four ounces of wine, or a 12-ounce beer.

Cut out the coffee - Happy Gut Blog

2. Cut out the coffee.

Conventional coffee beans are one of the most pesticide-ridden crops, and that toxic overload places a massive burden on the liver. If you swear by your morning dark roast, buy organic beans and drink it black or with stevia and/ or unsweetened nut milk. I’ve written more about coffee and weight gain here. Curious about what causes caffeine crashes? Check out my latest mindbodygreen blog.

Start Your Day with a Lemon Squeeze - Happy Gut Blog

3. Start your day with a lemon squeeze.

Give your liver some loving first thing in the morning. Squeeze half a lemon into an eight-ounce glass of room temperature or hot water and drink. This routine wakes up your liver and prepares your gut for its digestive functions for the day.

Avoid Over-The-Counter Medications - Happy Gut Blog

4. Avoid OTC medications.

If you can’t completely eliminate ibuprofen and other medications, minimize them and determine which ones aren’t absolutely necessary for your problem. More importantly, figure out why you use these medications. Is it out of habit, or do you struggle with a specific ailment like headaches or migraines? Research shows that specific nutrients, including magnesium and curcumin, are natural and liver-friendly options for pain relief.

Eat more plant-based foods

5. Eat plant-based foods.

That pigment that you see in green vegetables comes from chlorophyll, which can support the liver’s ability to remove toxins and waste. To get more chlorophyll, load up on green vegetables like spinach and asparagus. You can also add parsley, chlorella, and spirulina to smoothies. One of my favorites is raw or lightly blanched dandelion greens. They are high in gut-supporting prebiotic fibers, and are also great for liver and kidney detoxification.

Drink Green Tea - Happy Gut Blog

6. Drink green tea.

Green tea is high in antioxidants, which can improve liver enzyme levels, reduce the amount of free radicals that burden the body, and lower fat deposits in the liver.14 The L-theanine in green tea can also promote calm, something that we all need right now! Any kind of (preferably) organic green tea is great iced or hot. I especially like matcha, which is made from stone-ground green tea leaves. By using the whole leaf, it provides a powerful arsenal of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants unmatched by regular green tea. It is a cancer fighter and fat burner.

Eat More Fiber - Happy Gut Life

7. Eat more fiber.

Dietary fiber is an all-around rock star, keeping you full longer so you lose weight, supporting gut health, and even helping prevent recirculation of toxins. Fiber, by acting as a binder, can “flush” out those excess hormones and toxins, creating less of a burden for your liver. Organic vegetables, gluten-free oats, low-sugar fruits such as berries, and avocado, nuts, and seeds are all great sources of insoluble and soluble fibers.

Happy Gut - 7-Day Detox program

8. Follow an integrated liver detox program.

Without the right nutrient support – including sufficient protein and specific nutrients – the liver cannot perform phase I and phase II detoxification. Over time, the accumulated toxins the liver cannot eliminate properly can disrupt hormones, create mood imbalances, increase the risk of infections, and harm the gut. Giving your liver a little extra support with hypoallergenic plant protein and specific nutrients can help this workhorse organ effectively remove the toxins that can sabotage gut health, immune health, and total wellness.

Let’s face it. With summer here, more of us are reaching for alcoholic drinks at socially distanced cookouts. We’re not always making stellar food choices. Even though the pandemic limits us somewhat socially, it’s still summer, and that means relaxing a bit and having fun.

You don’t need to turn liver support into a new hobby to keep this organ working well. Some of you have been asking about a detox that fits seamlessly into your busy lives. From those suggestions, I’ve created the Happy Gut® Reset: 7-Day Detox.

This custom-designed package includes a gut-healing, fructose-free, hypoallergenic, vegan protein powder designed to support your gut health and promote balanced detoxification. In addition, I carefully selected a series of easy-to-swallow encapsulated supplements to support Phase I and Phase II liver detox, along with a high-potency probiotic to promote healthy gut microflora.

With the Happy Gut® Reset: 7-Day Detox, you have everything that you need to support your liver and optimize all the many tasks it performs, including detoxification. You’re providing all the nutrients to turn Phase I and Phase II enzymes into Olympic runners, so your body can detox properly. This is what I recommended to Martha, as part of an integrated food elimination detox plan, cutting out alcohol, coffee, sugar, and processed foods.

Excess hormones and toxins can slow you down, stall weight loss, and leave you feeling tired and mentally foggy. 

A well-supported, healthy liver can prevent these toxins and hormones from accumulating, helping you stay focused, bloat-free, lean and fully energized!

References
Time to Detox - Get Your Sweat On

Time to Detox: Get Your Sweat On

Toxins are everywhere: In the food and water you consume, the air you breathe, and the countless products your body is exposed to every day. They can compromise nearly everything, including your immune system and gut health.

Altogether, we are exposed to over 40,000 chemicals in products we use every day, from toys to deodorants to food containers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), less than one percent of these chemicals have been tested for human safety. 1

To be healthy, detoxification is essential. The benefits of detoxifying –– unburdening the body’s accumulated toxic load –– include more energy, better mental focus, a stronger immune system, weight loss, and a happy gut.

We are what we eat, drink, breathe, touch…. and can’t eliminate.

While the word detoxification carries a lot of different meanings, the way I refer to it here means the elimination of waste and toxins from the body. To detoxify simply means for the body to remove toxins, and to assist the body with removing those toxins.

When you think about detoxification, you probably consider removing toxins and adding the right types of nutrients. You likely think about the liver, which is ground zero for detoxification. Maybe you watched my Masterclass on Gut Detox, and learned about the 3 Pillars of Detoxification. You likely consider things like removing a few or all of the high-sensitivity foods from your diet, focusing on organic produce that is lower in pesticides, drinking filtered water, and taking specific nutrients that support the detoxification process.

All of these things are important to detoxify. To shed those accumulated toxins that can lead to disease, gut problems, weight loss resistance, and so much more, you want to support your body’s ability to excrete these things. Essentially, you breathe, pee, or poop out these toxins. I’ll talk more about the key roles that the liver plays in detoxification in the next blog. Here, I want to talk about a critical and sometimes-overlooked way to remove toxins — sweating.

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To shed those accumulated toxins that can lead to disease, gut problems, weight loss resistance, and so much more, you want to support your body’s ability to excrete these things.

Sweat It Out: The Missing Link for Detoxification

Sweating is a great way to release long-held toxins in the body. Sweat often contains pollutants and heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. Making it a goal to get sweaty every day is a great way to eliminate these and other problematic substances. Other research shows that sweating can help eliminate bisphenol A (BPA), which studies show can accumulate in the gut and create imbalances in gut bacteria. 2

When I say get sweaty, you might think exercise. For many, exercise means going to the gym and running on a treadmill, or spending 45 minutes on the elliptical. Those are all great ways to sweat, but for some people, this can feel more like taking medicine than enjoyment. We have a duty to our bodies to move, but it should not feel like a chore.

Any way you get your body moving is exercise, whether through taking a dance class, hiking in the wilderness, playing a pickup game of soccer, or swimming in the ocean. The point is to move more every day and get a little sweaty so your body releases those toxins onto the skin surface.

Luckily, you’ve got a lot of options to move more, get sweaty, and shed those accumulating toxins that can compromise the gut and immune health, create weight loss resistance, and rob your energy. These are five of my favorite ways to sweat.

High Intensity Interval Training

1. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

Going to the gym or taking a fitness class is a time investment. HIIT takes the “I don’t have time” element out of exercise. This intense type of exercise alternates short bursts of activity with recovery. The intensity alone means that HIIT will help your body sweat! You have a lot of options with HIIT, including sprinting, biking, and jump rope. So you might run at full speed for 30 – 60 seconds, recover by walking for one to two minutes, and repeat. A HIIT workout typically will take a total of 10 – 30 minutes. Studies show HIIT is more efficient than moderate-intensity exercise such as steady-state cardio, and you can get those results in less time. Fat loss might be the biggest incentive for HIIT, which increases your metabolism for hours after a workout. But regular HIIT workouts will also improve your blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, and how well your body utilizes oxygen. Animal studies also show that HIIT can improve the diversity and overall quality of your gut bacteria.

Dancing

2. Dancing.

Dance comes in many forms, including ballet, jazz, ballroom, and hip hop. When you dance with energy and intensity, you’re certain to raise your body temperature, which means you’re going to sweat. Some gyms offer dance classes. If you’re shy or feel better busting a move in private, turn on some fun beats and get moving in your house.

Hot Yoga

3. Hot Yoga.

If you’ve taken a yoga class in the warm weather, you know that many instructors aren’t always fond of running air conditioning. Instead of complaining or wishing it were cooler in the room, use that to your advantage to detoxify! Hot yoga, however, is a whole different level of sweating. According to some claims, you can sweat up to two liters during an intense class. Some popular options include Bikram Yoga, where classes are heated to 105 °F with a humidity of 40 percent, guaranteeing that you will sweat. If you’re a yoga novice or you’re not used to exercising in heat, be warned these can be intense classes. Remember to drink plenty of clean, filtered water before and after class.

Play Sports

4. Play Sports.

If going to the gym or moving alone feels like work, consider getting involved in a team sport. Tennis makes a smart socially distancing option. In the future (yes, this pandemic will eventually end!), consider outside volleyball leagues in the warm weather and indoor hockey or basketball leagues in the winter. You’ll make new friends, stay physically active, and get rid of those toxins that can hijack your health and happiness.

infrared sauna

5. Sauna Therapy.

Saunas are the best way to detoxify without doing anything. Yes, the experience can be intense and even unpleasant, but you’ll feel amazing afterwards as you shed those accumulated toxins.

Beyond Detox: The Many Benefits of Infrared Saunas

If you’ve visited your gym’s sauna after an intense workout, you know how deeply invigorating and yet relaxing spending even a little bit of time in a sauna can be. Visiting a sauna at a day spa can be even more relaxing than a massage. Saunas are the best way to work up a sweat without really doing much of anything. Their therapeutic potential to help the body relax and rejuvenate makes saunas my absolute favorite way to release toxins, deeply unwind, and enjoy their many health benefits beyond detoxification.

There are several types of saunas that you can use for perspiration therapy. Traditional saunas use electric or wooden heat elements, and the heat does not penetrate the skin very deeply.

My favorite saunas are infrared saunas. Unlike traditional saunas, where temperatures can go up to 200˚F, the air around your body isn’t heated with infrared saunas. For most infrared saunas, temperatures range from 100˚F to 150˚F.

Infrared saunas come in several types. Perhaps most popular are far-infrared saunas, which use far-infrared light to emit heat and penetrate deeper into the skin (about 1 inch), opening the pores, and allowing for the release of retained subdermal toxins in the fatty layer under the skin. Far infrared saunas can help eliminate toxins, reach fat cells, and stimulate your metabolism.

Some far-infrared saunas can emit harmful levels of electric and magnetic fields (EMFs), which I’ll talk more about in a minute. EMFs may pose a problem for people with EMF sensitivity, although companies are taking measures now to reduce the EMF exposure from these saunas.

Other types of infrared saunas include:

  • Near-infrared saunas. Near-infrared saunas combine light and heat therapy. The light from near-infrared rays penetrates the skin even more deeply than far-infrared, according to NASA experiments, showing benefits in wound healing and pain reduction.
  • Mid-infrared saunas: they penetrate deeper, which increases circulation, releases toxins, reaches injured areas, and helps muscles relax.

Among their other benefits, research shows that infrared saunas can help you:

  • Lose weight
  • Lower stress levels
  • Look younger
  • Improve specific conditions such as type 2 diabetes

The type of sauna you choose will depend on what kind of benefits you want to achieve. Take a look at the table comparison and see which one is most compatible with your health goals.

If you’re new to saunas and curious about these many benefits, plan to start with 10 – 15 minutes at a lower temperature in an infrared sauna. More is not better in the beginning! Over time, you can increase duration, temperature, and how often you go.

With any type of sauna, hydration is key. Drink plenty of clean, filtered water around your visit. Be aware, too, of your body as you adjust to the heat. Start at lower temperatures, as low as 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and slowly increase over several sessions as you tolerate the heat.

The point is not to shock your system; the point is to encourage a slow burn that opens pores and releases toxins. And remember, moving too quickly after a session can lead to feeling lightheaded, so take it slow after a session, especially when getting up. 5

Regardless of which method is used, after sweating, you’ll want to wipe the body down with a towel that is not reused and washed afterwards. Dry brushing before sauna therapy increases microcirculation to the skin and may help accelerate the release of internal toxins.

Happy Gut - Sauna Comparison Chart

Click to enlarge

Saunas and EMFs

One concern about saunas are electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) and their potential harm. Cellphones, microwaves, Wi-Fi routers, computers, and other appliances send out a stream of EMFs. They come in two forms:

  • Appliances such as microwave ovens, cellphones, Wi-Fi routers, and yes, traditional saunas, send out low-level radiation.
  • High-level radiation or ionizing radiation, on the other hand, comes from sources like ultraviolet (UV) light and X-rays from medical imaging machines.

EMFs can impact the body’s nervous system and damage cells. They can also create more “every day problems” such as sleep disturbances, headaches, depression, fatigue, nausea, irritability, and disturbances in brain function. You might not connect these symptoms with being exposed to EMFs.

Overall, infrared saunas tend to have the lowest total electric fields and lowest total magnetic fields. That’s one reason why I prefer them over traditional saunas. You might look for low-EMF sauna technology, which uses comprehensive third-level testing to ensure low levels of EMFs.

One of my favorite brands is Sunlighten®, which uses an exclusive manufacturing process to cancel out EMF to levels that are virtually undetectable. For many of the country’s top healthcare professionals including myself, Sunlighten® is the go-to brand for the highest-quality infrared saunas. You can learn more about them here.

You can’t totally avoid EMFs, but you can reduce your exposure to them. Limit how often you use your cell phone, avoid microwaves if possible, and be mindful of what devices are emitting EMFs, such as in airport security. 6

Your Goal This Month: Sweat More, Period

While the gym is a perfect place to get sweaty, it’s certainly not the only one. Especially with the warm weather and the limitations of being in indoor spaces right now with the pandemic, go outside and move more.

“Getting your sweat on” might mean 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training in your nearby park, dancing to your favorite music in the kitchen, or playing in your beach volleyball league. The point is to have fun and try to sweat daily!