You've all heard the phrase, "you are what you eat". In reality, you are most of what you eat. The rest of what you eat gets filtered out through various metabolic functions you came to know at a very young age as "number one" and "number two". In addition to the body's primary excretory processes, the liver plays vital roles in human metabolism, however this article will focus on the roles played by the liver and kidneys in filtering and excreting toxins, and how to aid those organs in creating a cleaner, healthier you. The liver's primary role in drug metabolism (including alcohol, recreational, and pharmaceutical substances) is to break down and excrete toxic substances. Unlike most internal organs, the liver is capable of regenerating tissue, and there are many natural substances capable of aiding the liver in this vital role.
The availability of herbs such as milk thistle, artichoke root, and schisandra are one reason why people with liver diseases are living longer today than ever before (1). Another reason is that many practitioners of Western Medicine recognize the benefits of these products that have been staples of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. In addition to ancient formulations, modern science has made a few contributions to liver-regeneration as well. Phospholipids (components of soy-lecithin), N-Acetyl-Cystine (NAC) and Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA, rALA, kALA) are three products that have demonstrated regenerative properties to a great degree (2,3). In addition, NAC acts as a potent anti-oxidant, increases glutathione stores within the liver and chelates heavy metals, meaning that it binds with molecules of toxic metals, such as mercury, arsenic, or lead, and allows for excretion of such toxins from the body through the liver and kidneys. Other common dietary sources of chelating substances are chlorophyll, oregano, and cilantro (4). Obviously any green plant material contains chlorophyll. Oregano and cilantro are available as either delicious spices in many of our favorite Spanish, Italian, and Mexican dishes as well as in many cleansing and detoxification products. Another often-overlooked liver-aid is the popular fat-loss supplement Sesamin. A lignan unique to sesame seeds, Sesamin increases fatty acid oxidation from the liver, supports healthy cholesterol levels, and like all lignans is anti-carcinogenic (5,6).
A total liver and kidney-cleansing program should incorporate more than just extra supplements.To this end, I sought the advice of a student of Ayurvedic medicine, Ellissa Markulin. In addition to the aforementioned supplements, increasing water intake to a gallon a day or more is also a good idea. Dry-heat saunas are also an excellent way of sweating out toxins. While cardiovascular exercise is one way of sweating, saunas allow excess sweat without a raise in heart rate, which excretes a more concentrated,less watery sweat, and should be utilized in addition to cardio work, or on days off from exercise. Saunas, or sweat huts have been used for thousands of years for cleansing and achieving altered states (7,8). Avoid using deodorant every day of the week as well. Sure you won't smell like roses, but many toxins can only be sweated out (7). Also, avoiding processed foods, unnecessary medications, especially alcohol and acetaminophen or anything known to stress the liver or kidneys is a good idea.
So how will you know whether you're really cleansing yourself; chelating heavy metals and flushing toxins from your system? There are a few things that occur when the body is cleansing itself. First, you'll notice strange body odor, usually from either one armpit more than another (I've searched endlessly and can find no explanation for this phenomenon). It's also common to feel hungry, despite a high caloric intake. In addition to being smelly and hungry, you may also feel anxious, loopy, or not quite right. In other words: follow proper dietary and supplementation guidelines, in addition to increasing water intake (preferably distilled) and regular sauna sessions, and you will know your body is cleaning itself out.
1. Silibinin. Wikipedia. Available: en.wikipedia.org.
2. B.G. Hsu, Et. Al. Post-treatment with N-acetylcysteine ameliorates endotoxin shock-induced organ damage in conscious rats. Life Sciences. July 2006. Available: PubMed
3. P.J. Raubenheimer, Et. Al. A choline-deficient diet exacerbates fatty liver but attenuates insulin resistance and glucose intolerance in mice fed a high-fat diet. Diabetes. 2006 Jul;55(7):2015-20.
4. Chelation. Wikipedia. Available: en.wikipedia.org.
5. Kiso, Y. Antioxidative roles of sesamin, a functional lignan in sesame seed, and it's effect on lipid- and alcohol-metabolism in the liver: a DNA microarray study.â€ BioFactors. 2004;21(1-4):191-6.
6. Sesame. Wikipedia. Available: en.wikipedia.org.
7. Personal Interview: Ellissa Markulin. 15 September 2006.
8. Sauna. Wikipedia. Available: en.wikipedia.org.