The connection between liver health and the skin is well-known, especially in serious liver diseases. For example, a yellowing of the skin is seen with liver cirrhosis, a condition in which scarring replaces normal functioning liver tissue. Pruritis, or skin itching, can also be associated with liver disease.
The reason? The liver is one of the major detoxification organs in the body. It filters the blood and processes, breaks down, and packages major toxins (metabolites, alcohol, caffeine, medications, hormones, environmental pollutants) that your body is exposed to, in order to either make them more usable by the body, or to eliminate them. If this “processing plant” is overburdened and starts to work more sluggishly, the toxins need to go somewhere. Often, in an attempt of the body to get rid of them, many will end up in the skin, a secondary organ of elimination, and also our largest detoxification organ. Even if you don’t have a serious liver disease, your liver enzymes may not be working as optimally as they could, with repercussions showing up elsewhere, such as your skin.
Therefore, in order to have healthy-looking skin, you want to make sure that your primary organs of detoxification are working properly.
Supporting Your Primary Organs of Detoxification
Our primary organs of detoxification include the liver, the intestines, and the kidneys.
1) Drink Enough Water
You can support kidney detoxification by drinking a sufficient amount of water, typically about 2L a day for the average person (preferably mostly away from meals to prevent diluting your digestive enzymes too much). As a rule of thumb, you should be drinking about half your body weight (in lbs) in ounces (i.e. for a 150 pound person, 150/2 = 75 oz, or roughly 9 cups). This helps you eliminate water-soluble toxins from your body, with the added bonus of plumping up your skin and decreasing the visibility of wrinkles.
2) Clean Up Your Diet
Reduce foods in your diet that will put more burden on your digestive system and on your liver. This includes processed food and sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and food sensitivities. If you’re not sure about your food sensitivities, book an appointment and I’ll run a simple lab test or help you identify them through an elimination diet. You’ll also want to include foods that help improve liver function, including leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, berries, turmeric, and sufficient protein.
3) Take Probiotics
Probiotics are essential for a healthy gut and immune system. They can be obtained from fermented foods in the diet, but this can be problematic since many people with skin conditions cannot tolerate cow’s dairy, including regular yoghurt. An alternative yoghurt, such as sheep or goat yoghurt, could be an option if they are better tolerated. However, probiotic supplements may be your best option. With supplements, we can be specific about which strains of probiotics we are using, as each strain has a slightly different effect on the immune system. For example, I use a different blend with a patient with acne versus someone suffering from an autoimmune condition such as psoriasis.
4) Drink Lemon Water
One simple addition you can try at home that gently supports liver function is starting the day with a large glass of lemon water (about 500mL of water with the juice of about ¼ of a lemon). You’ll want to wait about half an hour before having your breakfast afterwards. Again, you don’t want to dilute your digestive enzymes!
5) Use Nutraceuticals To Support Liver Detoxification
With many skin conditions, including acne and eczema, I see the fastest improvement when we include some liver supporting herbs and nutrients into the treatment plan. These can include high quality, concentrated extracts of milk thistle, dandelion, turmeric, B vitamins, and other nutraceuticals. Because these supplements can interfere with medications you are taking, or could have side-effects, work with a naturopathic doctor who can recommend the best avenue for you, monitor your progress, and modify your treatment plan if necessary. A word of caution: liver supporting herbs can initially worsen a skin condition, especially if the intestines are not working well, or if you start too much, too quickly.
Do you want healthy, glowing skin from the inside out? Then making sure that your body’s primary organs of detoxification are working to your full advantage is extremely important. I can help you identify your food sensitivities, heal your digestive system, and support proper liver detoxification through an individualized program tailored to your specific needs.
You may have heard of the term “detox”, but don’t really know what it entails. It may conjure up images of juicing or cayenne pepper cleanses, starvation diets, or even drug and alcohol addiction centres. This is NOT what I’ll be talking about today. I’ll be talking about metabolic detoxification: how you can maximize your own body’s cellular detoxification capabilities so that you can clean up the inside of your body and feel your best!
You probably don’t think twice about cleaning up your outside: you brush your teeth, take a shower, wash your hair, cut your nails, etc. But what about the inside of your body? How does it deal with the onslaught of industrial chemicals, pesticides, hormone disruptors, heavy metals, and other substances that are foreign to it? How does it get rid of internal toxins, such as metabolic waste products, immune reactions to food, free radicals, and fermentation products from unhealthy gut bacteria?
Detoxification – What Is It?
Luckily, our bodies have a built-in detoxification system that helps us get rid of the toxins we are exposed to. We are constantly detoxifying through this mechanism every second of our lives! However, just relying on that and going on your merry way is often not enough. “De-toxification” literally means to remove toxins, and in today’s society, we are exposed to more and more industrial chemicals, plastics, and hormone disruptors than ever before which “clog up” our detoxification mechanisms. A study done in 2009 found that the 10 minority ethnic group babies tested (this was a US study) were born with up to 232 toxic chemicals in their umbilical cord (EWG, 2009)! This number is likely higher than the average Canadian newborn, but showcases just how our toxicity is getting passed on to the next generation.
In wholistic and integrative medicine, detoxification refers to a healing method used to improve physiological function by eliminating existing toxins, avoiding new toxins (as much as possible), and supporting the organs of elimination (primarily the liver, the gut, and the kidneys).
The liver modifies and packages the toxins into forms that can leave the body, either by getting packaged into bile to leave through the gut, or made water soluble to leave through the kidneys. If any main detoxification organ system gets “clogged up”, this puts undue strain on our other primary detox organs, as well as our secondary detox organs (the skin, lymphatic system, and lungs).
Could You Benefit From a Detox?
If you’re living and breathing in our 21st century world, eating out of plastic containers, taking (or have a history of taking) birth control pills and various pharmaceutical drugs long-term, planning to get pregnant, eating primarily non-organic food, or using perfumed products and cosmetics, chances are you’ve accumulated some of these toxins in your system and could benefit from a detox!
Here are some additional symptoms that could be associated with an elevated toxic burden:
-chronic digestive issues
This is not an exhaustive list, since toxins can have various side effects, depending on the nature of the toxins. When shouldn’t you detox? If you’re pregnant, have compromised liver or kidney function, and with some chronic diseases, a detox is likely not the right avenue for you at this time.
What Foods Can Help with Detoxification?
The liver is the primary processing plant in the body for sorting and getting rid of toxins. Most detoxification programs will include foods (and supplements) that help with both Phase 1 (modifying) and Phase 2 (packaging for elimination) detoxification enzymes in the liver. Phase 1 reactions often end up creating a more toxic bi-product, so you want Phase 2 enzymes to be working efficiently to get rid of it. While I won’t go into supplements here, you can start including more of these beneficial foods into your diet today (Hodges, 2015)!
Phase 1 supporting foods: lemons, dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, oranges, tangerines
-Pro tip: If you can’t tolerate much caffeine, you may have slow Phase 1 detox enzymes since they break down caffeine.
Phase 2 supporting foods: cruciferous veggies, legumes, adequate lean protein, turmeric, green tea, raspberries, blueberries
-Pro tip: If you have multiple chemical sensitivities, you may have a buildup of Phase 1 metabolites, either from too quick Phase 1 enzymes, too slow Phase 2 enzymes, or both.
What Does a Typical Detox Program Entail?
We typically can’t avoid our daily exposures to car exhaust, but we do have a tool that we can use daily to reduce our toxin exposure: our fork and what we put at the end of it! A typical detox program will:
-Reduce overall pesticide exposure by emphasizing organic foods
-Eliminate processed foods, sugar, alcohol, and minimize if not eliminate coffee to decrease unnecessary burden on the liver
-Remove known or typical food sensitivities that increase inflammation in the body
-Emphasize organic and nutritious foods that support Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification in the liver, as well as include liver-supporting supplements
-Emphasize lots of water and fluids to support kidney detoxification
-Include high fiber foods, probiotics, and gut healing supplements to allow the bowels to eliminate toxins adequately
There are various levels of detoxification. Have you ever started cleaning one area of your house, only to realize that other areas needed cleaning too? Once you’ve mastered the food level, you can look into decreasing toxin exposure from plastics, cosmetics, stress hormones, or other areas, if needed. Regular moderate exercise helps keep the lymphatic system running smoothly, improves overall health, and decreases stress hormones. But there’s no need to overwhelm yourself. Start with one small aspect, and you will already reap the benefits!
What About Detox Reactions?
Have you ever set out to deep clean a room in your house, only to be overwhelmed with the sheer number of items that are uprooted and need to be sorted in the process? A similar thing can happen when you are doing a detox, usually within the first 2-4 days. As your body tries to detoxify, you may feel like you are getting a flu, with body aches or headaches. Not everyone gets these symptoms, but if you do, it usually only lasts a day or two. If it lasts longer, your ND can advise you on how you can minimize your symptoms. However, just like cleaning up your room, the temporary discomfort is well worth it!
Do You Have 7 Days?
If you’ve been reading this and realizing that you can benefit from a detox, I’d like to invite you to join my 7 Day Detox program. It’s just 7 days of your life to get you feeling the benefits of a detox! Take a sneak peek here. I’d love for you join my growing list of patients who are taking advantage of this to kick-start their health! If an intense detox is not for you, that’s no problem either. I’ve done slower detoxes with patients for years with just as many benefits – it just takes a little longer to get there.
For those of you interested in my 7 Day Detox program, find out more about this revolutionary program here!
EWG Public Affairs (2009). Toxic Chemicals Found In Minority Cord Blood. Retrieved from: http://www.ewg.org/news/news-releases/2009/12/02/toxic-chemicals-found-minority-cord-blood
Hodges, R.E, and Minich, D.M. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application, J Nutr Metab, 2015: 760689.
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Dr. Tamar Ferreira is a Naturopathic Doctor in Brampton, Ontario. Her areas of focus include digestive health, hormone balance, and skin conditions.