This past year I have been working hard to fine-tune some of my understanding of gut physiology and how it affects the rest of our health. First there was the Gluten-Summit last fall where some of the country's top experts in the field of digestive health talked about non-celiac gluten sensitivity in a series of online interviews. Then this spring the Thyroid Sessions and the Thyroid Summit became available, again with some free online interviews from top experts on thyroid function. These interviews helped me to understand the connection between gut dysbiosis and Hashimoto's thyroiditis. A couple of weeks ago I spoke with a probiotic specialist from Natren, one of the probiotic companies whose line we carry here at Elder & Sage. We talked about some awesome protocols for healing specific gut issues. And finally this past weekend I attended a course from one of my former instructors and colleagues at the Naturopathic Institute of Therapies and Education, Jackie Featherly, on the Detoxification pathways of the liver. There are still two more classes from Dr. Featherly later this fall but I wanted to get some of this info out to my clients while the information was still fresh in my mind!
The liver has at least 500 different functions including: creating over 1,000 different enzymes, making bile for fat digestion, storing nutrients, metabolizing fats and proteins, cleaning the blood, producing heat to maintain body temperature, converting thyroid hormones to an active form, activating and deactivating hormones and neurotransmitters, detoxifying from toxic substances, and more!
There are 3 phases that the liver uses to convert toxic substances into harmless substances. Phase 1 has 5 pathways, or five different ways to deal with toxins. Phase 2 has 6 pathways, and I haven't learned about Phase 3 yet!
So, when you eat your food is broken down into tiny little pieces. Your small intestinal lining allows some of those tiny pieces into your blood like amino acids, small peptides, simple sugars, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, etc. Some of those tiny pieces may even be chemicals, heavy metals like mercury, pharmaceutical drugs, food dyes, preservatives, bacterial waste products, etc. And if you have a leaky gut you may get larger proteins and food particles, yeast cells, bacteria, etc. All of this goes into your bloodstream and is carried straight into your liver.
The liver cells identify what the substance is and what to do with it. Imagine a recycling center. On the conveyor belt are all kinds of things that need to be sorted. Glass bottles, plastic, paper, metal, etc. Each thing needs to be sorted into the right bin. The liver pathways then would be the different ways to sort. For example Phase 1 deals with oxidation, reduction, hydrolysis, hydration, and dehalogenation. Chemicals that need to go through one of these five processes will head toward Phase 1. Once they have gone through Phase 1 some chemicals can now be safely sent out of the body while others will need more attention. Those will move on to Phase 2 for sulphate conjugation, glucoronadation, glutathione conjugation, acetylation, glycination, and methylation.
If Phase 1 is working fast but Phase 2 is a little slow you will get a bottleneck effect. Some of the partially broken down chemicals start building up in the system. This can also happen when any of the detox pathways are overwhelmed with material to detoxify. Many of these partially broken down chemicals are more toxic that what we started with. For example alcohol (ethanol) goes through Phase 1 oxidation and you are left with a chemical called acetylaldehyde. Eventually this chemical is converted to harmless acetic acid (like vinegar) but if the detox process gets bogged down (too much alcohol) the acetylaldehyde will build up and give you a hangover.* This bottleneck effect can cause damage to the liver, brain and immune system. In fact, most liver issues, disease, and cancer begin here.
*Acetylaldehyde detoxification also occurs in Phase 1 with a second oxidation to become acetic acid rather than moving on to Phase 2 but the bottleneck effect is similar.
With gut dysbiosis and leaky gut, there is a river of chemicals and toxins flowing into the liver and so the detoxification process is working hard around the clock but many chemicals bottleneck and are released back into the circulating bloodstream. This is why people with serious digestive issues don't feel good. You may be tired, sore, achy, fatigued and have all kinds of symptoms. The key to feeling better is reducing the amount of chemicals (from food and the environment) sealing up a leaky gut (with probiotics and bone broth) and helping the liver to process better (detoxification with juices and detox baths and selective supplementation). Healing the gut will also make it easier to absorb nutrients that the liver needs to support detoxification like the B-vitamins and magnesium.
The more the liver has to process the more congested it will become and the more toxic and dirty the blood will be - eventually putting strain on other filters such as the kidneys. Imagine how much work your liver has to do with a single meal, now imagine that same meal was full of preservatives, food additives, coloring, MSG, etc. and you took it along with a prescription drug. Every chemical put on or in your body has to be dealt with by the liver.
Many natural foods and supplements will stimulate the liver and support the Phase I detoxification pathways such as:
Cysteine and Glutathione containing foods: yogurt, cottage cheese, turkey, cheese, chicken, eggs, wild game and whole milk
Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi
Other sulphur rich foods: red meat, poultry, fish, legumes, egg yolk, onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives
Foods that aid in fat metabolism due to Vitamin B12: Brewer's yeast, organ meats, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, brown rice
Essential fatty Acids: cold water fish, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, walnuts, sesame seeds, black currant seed oil, borage oil, and evening primrose oil
Some natural health substances can also be used to reduce the bottleneck effect that causes symptoms usually attributed to a die-off effect or healing crisis by slowing down Phase I detoxification. These are: Grapefruit, turmeric, capsicum, and cloves.
Other vital herbs and supplements to support liver detoxification include: bioflavonoids, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B6, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Milk thistle, Carotenes, Co-Q-10, Copper, Iron, Selenium, Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc, Trace Minerals, Folic Acid, Lecithin, N-Acetyl Cysteine, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Artichoke extract, Black Currant Oil, Evening Primrose Oil, and Borage Oil.
All of these nutrients and vitamins can be found in a well rounded diet based on whole, real, foods such as the GAPS diet. You can give an even bigger boost to the GAPS diet by making sure to include lots of foods such as: cold water fish; garlic; onions; fresh fruit; nuts and seeds; cold pressed oils such as safflower oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil; and fresh vegetables particularly ones from the cabbage family.
To Your Health!
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.