Yesterday I asked my readers on Facebook what foods come to mind when they think “liver cleanse”. Here are some of the responses: fruit, lemon water, milk thistle, dandelion salad, kombucha, beet juice, cabbage, olive oil, citrus, nettles, tumeric.

These are all wonderfully cleaning foods, but we are missing a few key players. This list is missing  meat, eggs, and dairy. Are you shocked? Stay with me and I can explain  why I am adding such “heavy”, “clogging” foods to a detox food list.

My Story

A few  years ago I decided I needed to seriously detox my body. I was newbie to the whole foods movement and after reading that, the average newborn baby has 287 known toxins in his or her umbilical cord blood (Source), I became concerned. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the toxins I was carrying around with me all the time. My poor liver needed my help!

So I  got some green powder from the whole food store that promised to detox, cure acne and eczema, relieve my digestive bloat, and balance my mood swings, all in less than three days.  I was sold! I came home and started drinking it with  carrot, beet, apple, celery juice,and  lots of water. I felt very empowered. I was in control. I was beating these toxins out of my body!

The first day I felt great! I was hungry but the fresh squeezed juice had plenty of sugar so I was bouncing off the walls. The next day I began feeling sick and sluggish and started getting chills, and eventually I developed a fever and really intense diarrhea and dizziness. I just wanted to sleep, but I was too hungry to do so! The rash on my face flared up even more. The end of the day found me sheepishly eating some rice and hard boiled eggs thinking to myself “I failed my liver”. 🙁

Four Years Later

After reading, researching, and taking classes on detoxification, here is  a little secret most detoxification protocols don’t tell you. The liver can’t detox without protein! Let me explain. The liver has two detoxification pathways.

Phase I

The liver deactivates toxins by making them water-soluble through the biochemical processes of oxidation (where electrons are lost) and reduction (where electrons are gained).Cytochrome P450 enzymes are responsible for most phase I reactions.   Once the toxins are water-soluble, we can excrete them from our system. Bright colored vegetables, dark leafy greens, seeds, and nuts all support this phase.

If this phase were able to get rid of all of our toxins, green juice fasting would be perfect! But here’s the catch – not all toxins are created equal. While this enzymatic process renders a lot of toxins harmless, it can also make other toxins even more dangerous through a process called bioactivation.

The initial view that the cytochrome P450 enzyme system functions simply in the deactivation of xenobiotics is anachronistic on the face of mounting evidence that this system can also transform many innocuous chemicals to toxic products. However, not all xenobiotic-metabolising cytochrome P450 subfamilies show the same propensity in the bioactivation of chemicals. For example, the CYP2C, 2B and 2D subfamilies play virtually no role in the bioactivation of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals, whereas the CYP1A, 1B and 2E subfamilies are responsible for the bioactivation of the majority of xenobiotics. Electronic and molecular structural features of organic chemicals appear to predispose them to either bioactivation by one cytochrome P450 enzyme or deactivation by another. Consequently, the fate of a chemical in the body is largely dependent on the cytochrome P450 profile at the time of exposure. Source

Enter phase II liver detoxification.

Phase II

This second stage joins toxins, via a process called conjugation, with sulfur and amino acids in order to flush them out of your system. Guess what foods support this second stage. Foods high in amino acids and sulfur, like eggs, meat, fish, and even dairy!

The most important amino acids for Phase II detoxification are cysteine and methionine.
These two amino acids are the main dietary sources of sulfur and are found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Vegetarian sources of cysteine and methionine include nuts, seeds and beans. The usual adult RDA of cysteine and methionine is 700 to 1000 mg per day, but is never fixed because it fluctuates with the liver’s burden of toxic compounds. The body’s stores of these amino acids are depleted in the process of detoxification, so the greater the toxic stress, the more the body demands. Source

The higher the toxic load, the more amino acids are required to conjugate toxins and remove them from the body. So next time you decide to embark on a liver cleanse, combine your green juice, dandelion, bitters, and green veggies with runny egg yolks, pastured meat, and fermented raw dairy, if you can. Our bodies need both in order to function well.

So what happens when you don’t eat the necessary protein, but continue to drink juice and other foods that support for Phase I but avoid protein and fat? You will loose some weight. You might be thinking “That’s wonderful!”  It is and it isn’t. A lot of very toxic compounds are stored in your fat cells. When you start loosing fat and these toxins are dislodged, free to roam through your blood stream, your liver has to do double duty to flush them out. If there’s too many of them at once, the liver gets overwhelmed, and if you’re not eating enough protein, you won’t have enough amino acids or sulfur to deactivate them. This can cause head aches, fever, chills, and even activation of auto immune disease.

So please, for the love of your liver, don’t embark on detox protocol without having the correct nutritional support.

Keep Things Moving

Lastly, don’t forget that, even though those toxins are neatly packaged and ready to be flushed out of your system,  they will be reabsorbed back into your blood stream if you aren’t having regular bowel movements.  This last phase is just as important as phase I and II!.  Choosing to eat lacto-fermented foods like traditionally made sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, or raw yogurt can be very helpful. These wonderful foods will populate your colon with healthy bacteria and keep things moving.  I advise combining the powers of these foods with a probiotic supplement, especially during times of stress and sickness. At the moment I am taking probiotics to support my detox organs and help heal my recently discovered dairy intolerance.

The best defense is a good offense.

Periodic cleansing is good and necessary, but a more proactive and ultimately healthier strategy is to start cutting toxic foods and products out of your life altogether, where possible. Your liver is a magical organ and a strong ally, for which you should be very grateful – and protective. Swinging back  and forth between high toxic load and extreme detoxification  stresses your liver and can cause illness and severe health issues. Body care products, cleaning  supplies, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, industrial chemicals, building materials, and more, all contribute to toxic load. Be aware of your exposure to these things, and take steps to minimize their influence.  Choose to eat only clean organic produce and use mild natural products. Strengthen your body’s immune system by doing yoga, breathing exercises, dry-brushing and meditation for extra resilience to toxins.

Lastly, it’s about more than what you consume. My grandfather lived to the ripe age of 97, and I never saw him sipping on a big glass of green juice. His favorite meal was a big breakfast of scrambled eggs, polenta, and homemade fermented feta cheese, with a large cup of rose hip and chamomile tea. He was a shepherd after he retired from his teaching job. He spent his days reading books and playing his hand-carved whistle while hiking through the fields around our little village in search of fresh grass for his sheep, who followed him faithfully. He worked hard long days, and he also knew the meaning of true rest and relaxation. While it is essential to have the correct nutritional support for a detox protocol, remember that your lifestyle plays a critical role also. Be physically and mentally active, and eat a simple diet of balanced food groups. It’s the way our ancestors lived, and the way they remained healthy and free of dementia or Alzheimer’s into old age.