Supporting Liver Function With Nutrition

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In the modern world, everyone is exposed to a mixture of chemical compounds daily, as well as many foods and nutrients that can upregulate the body’s natural processes of eliminating those toxicants. An overloaded detoxification pathway may lead to clinical patterns such as immune dysfunction or endocrine disruption that indicate potential toxic exposure. Food and nutrients that support liver biotransformation may help alleviate toxic burden and allow the body’s pathways to operate more efficiently.1,2

IFM’s Detox Food Plan benefits patients by helping them eat more of those foods that support pathways in the liver for healthy elimination, as well as reduce additional exposures to toxic compounds. In functional medicine, practitioners often utilize the phytonutrient-dense Detox Food Plan to support intestinal and liver function during the metabolic detoxification process. IFM certified practitioner (IFMCP) and educator Deanna Minich, PhD, CNS, shared the following view: “To me, the Detox Food Plan is one of the easiest food plans to follow. I don’t use caloric limits but rather focus on the quality protein, healthy fats, and abundant greens/non-starchy vegetables to ensure that metabolic detoxification processes have a good nutritional foundation.” In the following video, Richard Mayfield, DC, CCN, DACBN, also an IFM educator and IFMCP, expands on how the IFM Detox Food Plan works and why:

(Video Time: 1 minute) Dr. Mayfield holds national board certifications in nutrition from the American Board of Clinical Nutrition and from the American Clinical Board of Nutrition as a certified clinical nutritionist (CCN) and diplomate of nutrition (DACBN).

Foods and Phytonutrients for Biotransformation and Elimination

Dietary changes may help patients with elevated toxicant exposures.1-4 Foods that may support the biotransformation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), for example, include cruciferous vegetables, berries, soy, garlic, and spices like turmeric.5 Among the vast array of phytonutrients currently being studied for this purpose, sulforaphane, curcumin, quercetin, and resveratrol have been reported to stimulate the expression of endogenous detoxification enzymes and may neutralize harmful environmental agents.6 

Phase I and Phase II Enzymes

Phytonutrients in cruciferous vegetables, including a rich amount of glucosinolates that are hydrolyzed to bioactive isothiocyanates such as sulforaphane, regulate liver enzymes, phase I cytochrome P450 (CYP450) enzymes, and phase II conjugation enzymes to increase biotransformation rates.7,8 Polyphenols also affect CYP450 metabolism, supporting the biotransformation processes—particularly of estrogen.9

As another example, soy and soy isoflavones have many effects on the CYP450 enzymes.10,11 For patients without an allergy, soy is included in IFM’s Detox Food Plan. In a randomized controlled trial of patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a low-calorie diet including soy resulted in significant improvements in liver enzymes, even when compared with other low-calorie diets.12 

Dietary Intake – The Potential for Harm

While certain foods support the body’s natural detoxification pathways, food-based toxicant exposures may contribute to poor health. Metallic compounds in seafood,13 pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables14 as well as some fried foods,15 and hormones found in many dairy products16 are examples. To be sure, our diet can either be healthful and protective or have detrimental effects on our well-being. Limiting or eliminating certain foods to reduce the total intake of toxicants while consuming more plant-based foods rich in fiber and in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients may support the liver and promote efficient biotransformation and elimination.1,2,17

Clinical Applications

Where possible, reducing exposure to toxic compounds can positively impact health, yet avoiding all toxic exposure is not possible. IFM’s Detox Food Plan helps clinicians work with patients to safely support biotransformation and elimination of toxic compounds and reduce their exposure to these compounds through the diet. As a cautionary note, dietary components that effect liver enzymes may influence the profile of some prescription medications, impacting the duration of effect for various drugs.18

IFM educator Dr. Minich explains that IFM’s Detox Food Plan can potentially benefit patients suffering from high toxicity, chronic fatigue, and elevated liver function tests. In one case study, a patient using IFM’s Detox Food Plan showed improved liver function as well as improvements in gastrointestinal and other symptoms.19 When navigating the emerging research and implementing the Detox Food Plan, Dr. Minich offers some words of advice: “I would say two things: 1) Read through the Comprehensive Guide, as it really does explain the food plan well and gives tips on following it, and 2) Try the Detox Food Plan yourself for a good four weeks to be sure that you really know it!”

At the Environmental Health Advanced Practice Module (APM), learn more about how personalized nutritional interventions help to support biotransformation pathways.

Learn More About Biotransformation Pathways and Toxic Exposures

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