The liver is an amazing biochemical center of the body. It synthesizes important compounds for us like protein and lipids. It stores nutrients such as vitamin A and glycogen, a starch-like molecule used to maintain consistent blood sugar. The liver also is the main detoxification organ in the body. It neutralizes drugs, toxins and substances the body produces like hormones. In our increasingly toxic world, this detoxification activity of the liver is extremely important, but the liver can be overwhelmed by the burden put on it. The liver neutralizes toxins in two steps, which are called Phase I and Phase II. Sometimes the intermediate compounds produced by Phase I are actually more toxic than the original compounds. Ideally, Phase II enzymes rapidly neutralized these toxic intermediates, but when the toxic burden is too heavy these enzymes don’t have the necessary nutrients to do their work. Then, these dangerous intermediates hang around and can damage the liver.
So let’s love our livers and make sure it has the compounds it needs to rapid fight the toxins we face. Cruciferous vegetables are the liver’s best friends because they stimulate both phases of liver detoxification and have nutrients to support the Phase II enzymes. The vegetables in this family include broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage as well as many others. Glutathione is one of antioxidants that is used by Phase II enzymes. Glutathione is bound to specific toxins to transform them into neutral compounds, and it quenches the harmful free radicals that are created as byproducts of the detoxification processes. If all of the glutathione is depleted by being bound to a heavy toxin load, then these free radicals can harm the liver. The supplement N-acetyl cysteine can help the liver make glutathione, and it is one of the sulfur containing amino acids that is needed by the phase II enzymes. Milk thistle seeds are another supplement that has a well-deserved reputation for helping the liver. It has antioxidant constituents that neutralize free radicals and is one of the most potent known liver protectors. Milk thistle prevents glutathione depletion by toxins and has been shown to increase the glutathione in the liver by 35% in healthy people.