Our bodies are exposed to toxins on a daily basis. These toxins come from many environmental sources including pollution, toxic ingredients in household cleaning products, beauty products, and processed foods. One of the main ways your body gets rid of toxins is through the liver. The liver is our main detox organ. It is in charge of making toxins less dangerous through biochemical processing inside liver cells. Unfortunately, relying on the liver to do its job against all the toxins we face may not be sufficient, so we need to lighten the toxic load with occasional detoxification. Some people, myself included, need this more often than others!
I am not interested in detox teas or fad diets that claim to wash away the sins of dietary excesses. When I talk about detoxing in my book, Brain Body Diet, I mean focused and evidence-based detoxification. This type of detox involves making lifestyle changes that support your overtaxed liver in its function of breaking down toxic substances. We are exposed to many different types of toxins in small amounts over the years, without knowing it, and often the signs are invisible of liver damage, fat accumulation in the liver, rising liver enzymes in the blood, and increased fat partitioning. Even small exposures—when they accumulate, mix with other toxins, and create more toxic byproducts—may cause a backlog in the liver.
How Might We Support the Liver?
Love your liver and follow these seven steps that will improve your liver’s ability to detoxify your body.
7 Step Liver Detox
1. Choose organic. The first step is to rid your diet of the obvious toxins from pesticides found in fruits and vegetables as well as hormones and antibiotics found in meat. Choose non-GMO foods, organic fruits and veggies, and hormone-free meat.
2. Eat your broccoli. Certain vegetables help with liver detoxification, like the cruciferous family of vegetables that include broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.1 Crucifers contain sulforaphane, which helps to improve detoxification pathways. Sulforaphane boosts production of glutathione (see more on this queen detoxifier below). The same receptor on cells that environmental toxins use for their negative effects is also used by cruciferous vegetables. That means when you eat more of them, you crowd out the bad environmental toxins and strengthen your mitochondria. If you need inspiration for tasty recipes for cruciferous vegetables, take a look at these suggestions from my Insta tribe.
3. Boost your glutathione. Glutathione is the queen of detoxifiers in the body. It protects cells by cleaning up excess free radicals, the enemy agents with unpaired electrons that damage DNA, cell membranes, and proteins. Protect your cells from damage by raising your body’s internal glutathione with these three tips:
- Eat more cruciferous vegetables discussed above to help improve glutathione levels.
- Add allium vegetables (onions, garlic, leeks) to your daily meals. Alliums are another class of vegetables that help you make more glutathione.
- Drink more green tea. Green tea has been shown to induce glutathione production and help liver enzymes involved in detoxification.2
4. Detox with yoga. Exercising mildly and moderately, with calm breathing helps glutathione levels. Try yoga. Yoga has been shown to raise antioxidants like glutathione.3
5. Supplement. Glutathione and precursors help you detoxify. Liposomal glutathione or the precursor, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), is shown to lower inflammation and mercury levels.4 NAC has an excellent safety record.
6. Take regular saunas. Not only are saunas a great way to help remove heavy metals5 saunas can increase longevity. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that men who enjoyed a sauna four to seven times per year had a 40 percent drop in mortality of all causes!6 Sit in a sauna four to seven days of the week for twenty to sixty minutes. Go to your local gym or consider investing in a home sauna. Dry saunas have the most evidence that they help you age well, but infrared saunas are not far behind—and what I use most often.
7. Reduce alcohol. Out of all the toxins that the liver is busy processing, alcohol moves to the front of the toxin line, no matter what. By reducing alcohol consumption to a minimum, you free up your liver to focus on other toxins.
Brain Body Diet devotes an entire chapter to the damaging long-term effects of toxins on the health of our body and brain. We can’t always avoid exposure to toxins but neither can we shrug our shoulders in despair. By following this 7-step liver detox, you CAN reduce your toxin exposure and help your liver do its job of getting rid of toxins.
- C. W. Nho et al., “The Synergistic Upregulation of Phase II Detoxification Enzymes by Glucosinolate Breakdown Products in Cruciferous Vegetables,” Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 174, no. 2 (2001): 146–52
- H. K. Na et al., “Modulation of Nrf2-Mediated Antioxidant and Detoxifying Enzyme Induction by the Green Tea Polyphenol EGCG,” Food and Chemical Toxicology 46, no. 4 (2008): 1271–78
- S. A. Lim et al., “Regular Yoga Practice Improves Antioxidant Status, Immune Function, and Stress Hormone Releases in Young Healthy People: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Pilot Study,” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 21, no. 9 (2015): 530–38
- M. Blanusa et al., “Chelators as Antidotes of Metal Toxicity: Therapeutic and Experimental Aspects,” Current Medicinal Chemistry 12, no. 23 (2005): 2771–94;
- M.E. Sears et al., “Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review,” Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2012;2012:184745
- Laukkanen, T., et al. “Association between sauna bathing and fatal cardiovascular and all-cause mortality events.” JAMA Internal Medicine 175, no. 4 (2015): 542–48.