The liver is a large organ found behind the right rib cage. It is the major organ of detoxification and takes much responsibility for determining the health of the body. Many modern foods are laced with chemicals, fried fats and sugar, which serves to weaken this impressive filtering mechanism. The liver can remove microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites from blood. A build up of these microorganisms can cause chronic infection and poor health. Alcohol, cigarettes and environmental toxins are an extra strain. Many healing authorities, both ancient and modern, believe that when the liver becomes congested and stagnant, you become more vulnerable to disease.


What is the role of the liver?

  • Controls blood sugar levels

  • Storage of excess sugar as glycogen

  • Metabolism of fats, protein and carbohydrates

  • Production of bile, used for the excretion of waste products and the breakdown of fats from the diet

  • Storage of minerals (iron, copper) and vitamins (B12, A, D, E and K)

  • Detoxification: excess hormones, toxins (from diet and environment) and medication

  • Immune function: including recycling of red blood cells

  • Formation of proteins required for blood clotting, and substances required to make red blood cells

What can contribute to liver overload?

  • Diet high in saturated fats

  • Excess consumption of alcohol

  • Low fibre diet

  • Low nutrient rich diet

  • Low protein intake

  • Particular medication

  • Ageing

  • Nicotine

  • Steroids

  • Burnt meat

  • Exhaust fumes

What are the symptoms of an overloaded liver?

Blood sugar problems - sugar cravings, hypoglycaemia, mature onset diabetes.

Abnormal fat metabolism - cellulite and water retention, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver and weight gain (especially around the abdomen).

Nervous system - fatigue, anxiety and tension, mood swings, depression, over eating, recurrent headaches/nausea.

Immune dysfunction - allergies (sinus, hey fever, asthma, dermatitis, hives), skin rashes/inflammations, chemical / food sensitivity, autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, recurrent viral/bacterial/parasitic infections.

External signs - bad breath, skin rashes/Itchy areas (pruritis), coated tongue, flushed facial appearance, excessive facial blood vessels (veins/capillaries), acne, red swollen itchy eyes, brown blemished in the skin (liver spots)

Hormonal imbalance - intolerance to hormone replacement therapy, menopausal symptoms (hot flushes / night sweats), pre-menstrual symptoms may be more severe

Digestive problems - abdominal bloating, indigestion, gall stones/gall bladder disease, intolerance to fatty foods, intolerance to alcohol, nausea, constipation, reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, haemorrhoids, candida overgrowth.

The stages of liver detoxification

There are two phases of liver detoxification, phase one and phase two.


Phase one is also known as the P450 phase, during the phase one pathway toxic chemicals and metals from water, air and food are converted by the P450 enzyme into often more toxic chemicals than the original toxin and need to enter phase two before causing damage.

Good foods - indoles (cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts), adequate protein (meat, fish, vegetable protein), oranges and tangerines.

Good Nutrients - vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12 and C), lipotrophics (cysteine, methionine, choline and inositol), minerals (iron and magnesium) antioxidants (glutathione, flavonoids- catechins found in green tea), herbs (caraway, milk thistle, sassafras tea).

Bad foods - charcoal meats, high protein diets, and saturated fats.

Bad substances - drugs (benzodiazepines, antihistamines, cimetidine, ketoconazole, sulfaphenazole), phytochemicals (naringenin- in grapefruit, curcumin- in turmeric, capsaicin- in chilli peppers, eugenol- in olive oil, quercetin- in onions), botanicals (curcumin, capsaicin, eugenol), aging, toxins from the bad bacteria in the intestines.

Does the smallest amount of caffeine keep you awake at night? 
Your phase one maybe underactive.

Can you drink lots of coffee without it affecting you?
Your phase one may be overactive. 


Phase two is also known as the Conjugation pathway. This pathway takes the fat-soluble intermediates from phase one and coverts them into water soluble chemicals. The conjugation process renders them safer whilst being transported through the body and removed. A diet low in protein (common with people on low fat diets) can slow phase two detoxification. Aspirin, and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs also slow phase two. 

There are 6 pathways in phase two, different paths detoxify different products:

Glutathione conjugation
Detoxifies - paracetamol, alcohol, antibiotics, and heavy metals.
Nutrients needed - glutathione precursors (cysteine, glycine, glutamic acid), essential fatty acids (black current seed oil, flax seed oil, EPA), parathyroid tissue and B6.
Inducers - asparagus, brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, watercress, mustard, horseradish, turnips), limonene containing foods (citrus peel, dill weed oil, caraway seeds), papaya, red beets, watermelon.
Inhibitors - selenium deficiency, B2, glutathione deficiency, zinc deficiency, age and morphine depletes glutathione levels.

Detoxifies - paracetamol, oestrogen, testosterone, alcohol.
Nutrients needed - molybdenum, cysteine and its precursor methionine its co-factors (B12, B9-folic acid, methyl donors and magnesium), MSM, S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe) and taurine.
Inducers - cysteine, methionine and taurine.
Inhibitors - non steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (eg aspirin), tartrazine (yellow food dye), molybdenum deficiency. 

Detoxifies - paracetamol, aspirin, oestrogen, and tranquillisers.
Nutrients needed - glucoronic acid, magnesium, B vitamins.
Inducers - fish oils, limonene-containing foods (citrus peel, dill weed oil, caraway oil).
Inhibitors - cigarettes, birth control pills, phenobarbital, aspirin.  

Detoxifies - aromatic amines (histamine), serotonin, PABA, P-amino salicylic acid, aniline and procaine amide.
Nutrients needed - Acetyl-CoA, molybdenum, iron, niacin (B3) and B2.
Inducers - Acetyl-CoA, molybdenum, iron, niacin (B3) and B2.
Inhibitors - B2, B5 or C deficiency. 

Amino acid conjugation
Detoxifies - paracetamol, aspirin, tranquillisers, Steroids, oestrogens.
Nutrients needed - glycine and co-factors (folic acid, manganese, B2, B6 P-5-P)
Inducers - glycine.
Inhibitors - low protein diet.

Methylation conjugation
Detoxifies - oestrogen, heavy metals.
Nutrients needed - methionine and its co-factors (magnesium, folic acid, B12 methyl donors), lipotropic nutrients (choline, methionine, betaine, folic acid – B9, B12).
Inducers - lipotropic food sources (choline- in lecithin, methionine, betaine, folic acid – B9 and B12).

Does garlic make you feel sick?
Does your urine have a strong smell after eating asparagus?
Did you suffer from toxaemia during pregnancy?

General things that help liver function

  • Apples contain pectin, which binds and excretes heavy metals from the intestines taking pressure off the liver.

  • Beets, carrots, red onions and aubergine contain flavonoids and beta-carotene, which are powerful antioxidants.

  • Garlic contains allicin and selenium. These are powerful antioxidants, which also assist the removal of heavy metals from the liver.

  • Eggs, brown rice, whole-grains, broccoli and spinach contain B-vitamins which are essential for liver function.

  • Vitamin B12 helps metabolise fats and improves liver health.

  • Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, kale, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, turnips and bok choy contain glucosinolates, which help the liver produce enzymes required for detoxification.

  • Grapefruits are rich in antioxidants and help in the natural detoxification of the liver.

  • Eat organic, unprocessed food as much as possible to avoid toxic residues.

  • Avoid artificial flavourings and colourings.

  • Avoid hydrogenated fats found in processed foods.

  • Use cold pressed oils, but don’t cook with them. Cook with coconut, grape seed or rapeseed oil.

  • Ensure nuts and seeds are fresh.

  • Avoid excess saturated animal fats (sausages, salami, hot dogs and high fat dairy such as ice cream and cheese).

  • Sulphur rich foods, such as radishes and watercress.

  • Drink plenty of water as it aids the elimination of toxins (2-litres a day).

  • Eat high fibre foods such as whole-grains, psyllium, flax seeds, fruit and vegetables, to aid the elimination of toxins.

  • Eat good quality protein (lentils, soya, beans, nuts, pulses, fish, chicken and red meat in moderation), as these are essential for good liver detoxification.

  • Alcohol is known to be a powerful toxin that damages the liver.

  • Reduce caffeine, as it speeds up phase one. This may have the affect of an accumulation of harmful toxins that the phase two pathways cannot deal with.

  • Avoid nicotine as it puts an extra strain on both the immune system and liver function.

Supplements to aid liver detoxification

  • B-complex - B vitamins are necessary for phase 1 detoxification.

  • Digestive enzymes - to ensure protein is properly digested and amino acids (esp glycine) is available.

  • Essential fatty acids

  • N-acetyl cysteine (NAC): an essential precursor for glutathione, the most important nutrient for the liver.

  • Reduced glutathione

  • Selenium, zinc, magnesium, manganese, (iron and copper if used with caution), zinc is important as a co-factor in many enzyme systems especially for the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, needed to convert alcohol to aldehydes in phase one.

  • Taurine

  • Vitamins C, E and beta-carotene - C is a powerful antioxidants and essential for liver function. E along with selenium are co-factors for the enzyme required to make glutathione (glutathione peroxidase).

  • Inositol and methionine - lipotropic agents (help with the breakdown of fat in metabolism) helping to transport fat out of the liver.

  • High ORAC vegetable extract blend with polyphenols

Herbs that are helpful for liver function

  • Dandelion root, beet leaf, and yellow dock: stimulate liver secretion and bile flow.

  • Artichoke leaf: promotes regeneration of the liver and promotes blood flow and stimulates bile flow.

  • Silymarin (bioflavonoid found in milk thistle): research has shown that this herb stabilises the membranes of liver cells, preventing virus toxins and other toxic compounds entering.

  • Turmeric: similar action to dandelion.

Lifestyle factors

Exercise improves the elimination of toxins from the body and encourages a stronger immune system to deal with toxins. Minerals and water lost during the sweating process need to be replaced. Requirement for certain minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc increases if you exercise regularly. However, over-exercise can increase the demand for nutrients such as zinc and vitamin C and can result in lowered immunity.

Bile excretion

The livers second detoxification process comes from the synthesis and secretion of bile. Bile eliminates modified toxins. In the intestines the bile that contains all the toxins is absorbed by fibre and removed from the body. A diet low in fibre will allow for the modified toxins to be re-absorbed into the body and increase the toxic load on the liver. 

This article has
been written by
Terry Fairclough