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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!

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