There is a famous radio talk show entertainer with Master’s degrees in medical botany and medical anthropology, and a PhD in epidemiology and nutrition sciences who nevertheless laughs at people who talk about “detoxification”. I confess to be confused by this. The liver is the organ of detoxification and chemical transformation. This amazing organ divides our interior environment between the filtered and the unfiltered world. Why then does he find the notion of cleaning the filter ridiculous? Even an air conditioning or furnace man knows that when the filter is dirty, operating efficiency goes down, energy consumption goes up, and output is compromised. I really like this entertainer on many topics, but on this one I think he’s wrong.
The following may be a little gross and a little graphic but true: you’ve seen puke. We call it puke when it comes back up from the stomach. When the same material goes in the intended direction its fancy name is “chyme”.¹ So imagine this partially digested chyme leaving the stomach and entering the small intestine and think to yourself, “Eventually this puke/chyme is going to end up in my blood.” How?
First the chyme is “read” and analyzed, and depending on its chemical nature digestive enzymes from the pancreas, and bile from the gall bladder having been previously made in the liver, are added. The chyme is worked and digested and worked further rendering and transforming it into a watery/oily/salty/sweet rich chemical broth now called “chyle”.¹ Through villi, finger-like projections extending into the interior space of the small intestine, adding greatly to the absorptive surface area, the chyle enters the bloodstream.
Next stop is the liver, a multi-lobed, dense organ whose functional “lobules” are permeated by a vast network of blood vessels. This is the interface where the blood carrying the components taken in from the outside world meets the filtering cells of the interior world. The liver now acts upon the blood and its constituents to produce energy, for immediate use and for storage, sustaining the body and promoting growth. Immune cells and chemical processes within the liver work diligently to safeguard the “you” your consciousness has created. This powerful, defensive organ is tasked with responding to whatever has gone in your mouth, whatever inhalants have gone in your nose and lungs, whatever products have been absorbed through the skin and gotten into the blood. So important to your survival and homeostasis is this organ that if a part of the liver should be damaged or removed, unlike other organs, the liver is able to regenerate itself and continue normal functions.²
Digestive residue not taken up through the small intestine passes into the large intestine, the colon, where more water is absorbed along with some remaining nutrients, some vitamins and some drugs, and minerals such as sodium and chloride. And digestion continues with “anearobic” digestion of the fecal material by friendly gut bacteria known as “probiotics” (supporting life), producing important B vitamins and vitamin K before elimination of the fecal remainder.³
There are multiple ways to clean the liver and many of them are also beneficial to the intestines, another sign of their good working partnership. One clear way is to become more conscious of what one eats, and why and how one eats it. The only teeth we ever have are in the mouth; if you eat on the run, downing big bites with large slurps what arrives in your stomach to begin it’s transformative journey into becoming you will be a different “chyme” than one produced from eating calmly and chewing well.
Foods beneficial to your liver
Foods beneficial to both the liver and the intestines include: cabbage, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, turnips, rutabaga. These contain sulfur groups that aid the liver and high amounts of cellulose fiber that support the friendly bacteria and their production of Vitamin K. Fermented foods, especially fermented milks and fermented cabbage (sauerkraut and kim chee) are also useful to the gut bacteria.
Another kind of fiber useful anytime but especially during cleansing is “water soluble fiber”. Its adsorptive capacity takes up and holds elements for elimination, reducing the likelihood of being recycled. Psyllium fiber is commonly used, relatively inexpensive and easily obtained. Guar gum, oat bran and fruit pectin are also water soluble fibers. You may also add a small amount of activated charcoal or bentonite clay if labeled for internal use.
Botanicals that support liver function include artichoke and turmeric while Silybum marianum, or milk thistle, is known to be a liver regenerative. Botanicals supportive of intestinal health include marshmallow herb and aloe vera for soothing and healing of mucous membranes; aloe may also be laxative.
The amino acid, n-acetyl-cysteine, or NAC is useful for providing a substrate that promotes the formation of a powerful immune agent known as glutathione. The amino acid Methionine is a source of sulfur which aids the liver in detoxification. You may find combinations containing these components.⁴
Last but not least, remember that your body is an organism continuously moving through an environment that your liver mediates, but it is your consciousness, your spirit housed within the body that governs. Become mindful of what is in your environment that drains your energy, whether physical or psychic. Anger and Aunt Mae’s awful perfume may both challenge the liver but love and forgiveness may protect better and best.
Katy Nelson, ND, (Bastyr ’94), with an office since 1997 in Michigan’s rural Upper Peninsula on the shores of beautiful Lake Superior, promotes our Nature devoted profession through consultation, writing and mentoring. She is joined by Bastyr grad, former mentoree and Pediatric specialist, Alicia Smith Dambeck, LAc CH (also ad locum in St. Paul with Amy Johnson Grass, ND). Since 2011, Dr. Katy has been ad locum herself in SW FL for family matters.
- Balch JF, Balch PA. Prescription For Nutritional Healing. 2nd ed. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Pub. Group; 1997.
- Large intestine function. 2011. Available at: http://sciencelearn.org.nz/contexts/digestion-chemistry/science-ideas-and-concepts/large-intestine-function. Accessed March 15, 2015.
- Michalopoulos GK. Liver Regeneration. J Cell Physiology 2007;213(2):286–300. doi:10.1002/jcp.21172.
- Thomas CL. Taber’s Cylopedic Medical Dictionary, 14th Edition. Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis Company; 1981.