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Liver Detoxification & Glutathione

The liver is one of the most important organs in the body when it comes to detoxifying of toxic substances, especially from the gut. By a complex series of enzymatic reactions, the liver is able to detoxify many harmful substances. Most of the detoxification process involves converting fat soluble toxins into water soluble substances that can be excreted in the urine or the bile.

Many of the toxic chemicals that enter the body are fat-soluble, this makes them difficult for the body to excrete. Fat soluble chemicals have a high affinity for fat tissues and cell membranes. In these fatty tissues of the body, toxins may be stored for years, being released during times of exercise, stress or fasting. During the release of these toxins, several symptoms such as headaches, poor memory, stomach pain, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and palpitations can occur.

Proper functioning of the liver's detoxification systems is especially important for the prevention of cancer. Up to 90% of all cancers are thought to be due to the effects of environmental carcinogens, such as those in cigarette smoke, food, water, and air, combined with deficiencies of the nutrients the body needs for proper functioning of the detoxification and immune systems.

The liver plays several roles in detoxification: it filters the blood to remove large toxins, synthesizes and secretes bile full of cholesterol and other fat-soluble toxins, and enzymatically disassembles unwanted chemicals. This enzymatic process usually occurs in two steps referred to as phase I and phase II. Phase I either directly neutralizes a toxin, or modifies the toxic chemical to form activated intermediates which are then neutralized by one of more of the several phase II enzyme systems.
When metabolic processes are normal, the production of a wide range of chemicals and hormones is consistent, the liver has no problem to neutralize them efficiently. However, when metabolic processes go awry as it is typically as a result of nutritional deficiencies, the level and type of internally produced toxins increases greatly. These non-end-product metabolites have become a serious problem in this age of conventionally grown crops, fast foods and poor diets.

Phase I Detoxification
In order to neutralize unwanted chemicals, the liver uses two-step enzymatic process. Phase I pathway converts a toxic chemical into a less harmful chemical. This is achieved by various chemical reactions (such as oxidation, reduction and hydrolysis), and during this process free radicals are produced which, if excessive, can damage the liver cells.

Without adequate free radical defenses, every time the liver neutralizes a toxin exposure, it is damaged by the free radicals produced. Antioxidants reduce the damage caused by these free radicals. If antioxidants are lacking and toxin exposure is high, toxic chemicals become far more dangerous. Some may be converted from relatively harmless substances into potentially carcinogenic substances.
The most important antioxidant for neutralizing the free radicals produced in phase I is glutathione.

Phase II Detoxification
This is called the conjugation pathway, whereby the liver cells add another substance (eg. cysteine, glycine or a sulphur molecule) to a toxic chemical or drug, to render it less harmful. This makes the toxin or drug water-soluble, so it can then be excreted from the body via watery fluids such as bile or urine. Individual xenobiotics and metabolites usually follow one or two distinct pathways. There are essentially six phase II detoxification pathways:

• Glutathione conjugation
• Amino acid conjugation
• Methylation
• Sulfation
• Acetylation
• Glucuronidation

Through conjugation, the liver is able to turn drugs, hormones and various toxins into excretable substances. For efficient phase II detoxification, the liver cells require sulphur-containing amino acids such as taurine and cysteine. The nutrients glycine, glutamine, choline and inositol are also required for efficient phase II detoxification.
Glutathione is also critically involved in the phase II detoxification processes. If high levels of toxin exposure produce so many free radicals from phase I detoxification that the glutathione is depleted, the phase II processes dependent upon glutathione stop, producing oxidative stress or liver damage.

The toxins transformed into activated intermediates by phase I are substantially more reactive than the phase I toxins were. Unless quickly removed from the body by phase II detoxification mechanisms, they can cause widespread problems, especially carcinogenesis. Therefore, the rate at which phase I produces activated intermediates must be balanced by the rate at which phase II finishes their processing.

People with a very active phase I detoxification system coupled with slow or inactive phase II enzymes are termed pathological detoxifiers. These people suffer unusually severe toxic reactions to environmental poisons. A liver detoxification test can pinpoint exactly how efficiently your liver is carrying out the detoxification process and if you are a pathological detoxifier.