• Anna Johnson

The TRUTH About "Liver Detox"

I talk about what I like to call "The Detox Delusion" a LOT in my book, which will be coming out this year, but I want to talk a little bit about it now...since there's SO MUCH TALK about "detoxing" this days...PARTICULARLY detoxing your LIVER. So. Let's chat, shall we?

Before we get started, let's clear something up. Liver detoxification is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT for our health and even our survival. I have experiences first hand what happens when your liver stops detoxing properly...and trust me, you don't want to experience it. Our liver is truly the king of our internal organs...and making sure it's detoxing properly is important! But there's A LOT of misunderstanding and confusion about what exactly is needed to initiate liver detox...which is the point of this post! In this post, we will talk very briefly about liver detox (both Phase 1 and Phase 2), and the specific nutrients needed to fuel both processes--and spoiler alert: it's not what you think (i.e. special "liver cleanses" and "olive oil flushes" and super expensive 1-week herbal liver cleanse kits you get at the health food store...curious? Keep reading!)

During Phase 1 liver detox, toxic chemicals and metals (from food, water, and air) are converted into less harmful chemicals through numerous chemical reactions, through the induction of the cytochrome P-450 enzyme. If you're someone who has a really unfavorable reaction to caffeine, you may have a sluggish phase 1 pathway. HOWEVER, thanks to the phase 2 pathway that picks up the slack of phase 1, this isn't as bad as having a sluggish phase 2 (which we'll cover in a moment). Also, there are a couple things you can do to support your phase 1 detox pathway, including:

-eating cruciferous vegetables

-getting adequate protein

-getting enough whole-food vitamin C (from oranges and tangerines, for example...but NOT grapefruit, which can further slow phase 1 actions)

-taking B vitamins

-getting adequate magnesium and iron (preferably from food, as supplemental iron can cause constipation)

-consuming flavonoid-rich foods (like green tea)

(NOTE: the herbs caraway, dill, milk thistle, and sassafras have also been shown to be beneficial for phase 1 liver detox and overall liver support)

Additionally, there are a few things that can and do directly inhibit phase 1 pathways, such as:

-PPIs (and all acid or stomach secretion-blocking drugs)

-naringenin from grapefruit juice

-curcumin from turmeric

-capsaicin form chili pepper

-eugenol from clove oil

-quercetin from onions

-intestinal dysbiosis (such as candida, SIBO, etc.)

(NOTE: if you're surprised to see curcumin/turmeric on this list, you're not alone. I think we've all seen the memes on social media about how "turmeric detoxes the liver"...well, this is yet another reason why you shouldn't be getting your health advice from instagram and/or celebrities who have no training in nutrition or Naturopathic Medicine :) Just sayin'...but in all seriousness, please don't supplement with ANYTHING--natural or synthetic--without first consulting your health care practitioner and ensuring you KNOW what is going on in your body. Blindly taking supplements because "so and so said this was good for such and such" is a dangerous thing to do...remember--natural medicines are still medicines.)

Now on to phase 2...which is where things can get messy. In phase 2 liver detox, which is often referred to as the "conjugation pathway," involves converting the fat-soluble toxic chemical and transforming the toxins into water-soluble chemicals. Once converted, they can be passed out through body fluids as such as the bile or urine.

Like the phase 1 pathway, there are certain nutrients and substances that both initiate and inhibit phase 2 liver detox. Initiatory substances and nutrients include:

-Aspartic acid

-Blue green algae

-Bee pollen


-Glutamic acid



-Vitamin B12

-Sulfur containing amino acids (cysteine, methionine, glycine, taurine, etc.)

-Sulfur-containing animal foods (meat, eggs, cultured dairy)

-Sulfur-containing plant foods (cruciferous veggies, garlic, onions, etc.)

-B vitamins (especially B6, B9, and B12)

While plant foods do contain amino acids, many individuals (people with digestive problems, for example) will not be able to adequately access them and benefit from them as all plant-based amino acids can only be accessed once the tough outer cellulose shell is broken down (which people with less-than-optimal digestive systems, dysbiosis, etc. will not be able to do). In fact, as I have been learning through my ND coursework, many respected authorities in the nutrition and naturopathic medicine world actually say red meat (and animal protein in general) consumption is ESSENTIAL for liver health as only animal foods contain the necessary liver detox-stimulating amino acids. Of course, this will not be true of everyone, due to nutritional bio-individuality: some people do, indeed, do well on a vegan or vegetarian diet, while others will need the extra amino acids in readily available, easy-to-access bioavailable form (like myself)...again, I go in to this in depth in my book. Ancestral heritage, blood type, and metabolic type, among other factors like age, health status, digestive health, etc. can help determine whether or not you are someone who would need more abundant levels of amino acids. When in doubt, always consult your physician before making any dietary changes.

I have learned so very much as I have been working through my ND program. I'll admit--I was definitely one of those people who touted the "liver detox" thing, encouraging people to avoid meat and animal foods and other "acid-forming," "liver clogging" things (I also address the acid-alkaline theory in my book...hold on to your horses, y'all...it's gonna be quite the read!)...when in reality, once I actually learned HOW liver detoxification pathways work, those foods are exactly what the liver NEEDS to properly detox and do its job. Ironic, huh? The verse that came to mind over and over again (and still does, the more I learn) is Psalm 118:22: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone..." And it's so true. So many individuals (myself, included) suffer from poor liver detoxification, whether from CF or other factors--genetic or not, and choose to go vegan or cut out red meat in order to "heal," when in reality, we're doing exactly the opposite of what we should do. Not to sound like a broken record, but I mention in my book how silly it is that we focus so much on detoxification...because we are not supposed to have to focus on that--God created our bodies to detox THEMSELVES. All we should be focusing on is supporting our bodies by giving them the NUTRITION and NUTRIENTS they need so they will detox themselves and do their God-given jobs..w.which they WILL do, if we do our job :)

As you can see, contrary to popular belief, we don't need to focus on detoxing our liver...because God created our livers to detox themselves, provided we are NOURISHING our livers with the NUTRIENTS they need to do so, the most important of which are AMINO ACIDS--specifically the sulfurous amino acids like methionine, cysteine, glycine, and taurine (aka amino acids that are most prevalent in animal protein foods). Focusing on liver detox, by way of taking loads of herbs, doing lots of "flushes" and "cleanses" is not natural--it's stimulating our liver to do an action that it clearly doesn't have the proper nutrition (aka energy) to initiate...which is why our only focus should be on the nutrients we are consuming, not on the processes our body is meant to do on its own.

Remember: your body is ALWAYS on your side...it's always fighting for you and trying to keep you as healthy as it possibly can. And when it fails to "do its job" or perform essential processes that it should, instead of freaking out and trying to force it to "detox" or do its job (by doing a liver flush/taking laxatives/etc.) we have to put on our detective hats and ask "why isn't my body doing it's job?" You will find that the answer is ALWAYS that there is a lack of nutrients. When we are properly nourished, getting all necessary vitamins, minerals, amino acids, zoochemicals, and phytochemicals, our bodies are in balance--we are in a homeostatic state. Your organs and body as a whole needs nutrition...and when it's properly nourished, it will take care of the rest--just like God created it to.

If you are someone who struggles with liver detoxification, or thinks you may have sluggish liver detox, don't run to the health food store for some herbs...take a look at your diet and think logically about the nutrients you are getting. Something I have my clients do that is very helpful is tracking your food for a week in an app like Cronometer. By logging all food and supplements consumed, you can get a good understanding about your vitamin and mineral status, as well as your sufficiency (or deficiency) in certain nutrients and substances, inducing amino acids. If you still are confused and need extra help or assistance, feel free to email me and I would be happy to help you out or add you to my client waiting list for when I reopen AOW for new clients in the Spring.

I hope this has been helpful for you! Always remember that our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and will do their jobs perfectly if only we trust our Heavenly Father who made them to do so. We don't have to worry or fear or strive for self-protection--including doing accessory liver flushes and detoxes!--because we h ave a Heavenly Father who knows what we need (and what our bodies need) better than we do...all we have to do is trust, and remember that He is ALWAYS working EVERYTHING for our good.

May God bless you this day. Until next time!

Anna Johnson





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