It is well established that alcohol is tough on the liver. It is also well established that many people drink larger quantities of alcohol during the holiday season. The liver must break down alcohol to help the body metabolize and excrete it, so we know it’s working extra hard during these times of indulgence. The good news is that there are ways to support liver function during this time.
Liver detoxification is characterized by a few steps, including phase 1 and phase 2 detox. During phase 1 detoxification the toxin (alcohol) is modified to allow it go through phase 2 detox so it can be excreted from the body. The modification of these toxins in phase 1 results in byproducts that are more toxic than the original compound before they are able to go through phase 2. With alcohol phase 1 detoxification results in the production of free radicals. If phase 2 detoxification isn’t working the way it should (which isn’t uncommon with a standard Canadian diet) these toxic byproducts can build up and cause damage.
Phase 1 and 2 detoxification require nutrients and anti-oxidants to power these reactions. What this means is that you can support phase 1 and 2 detoxification with diet and supplementation. Diets that are high in antioxidants and other healthful nutrients (fruits and vegetables) will naturally lend to better phase 1 and 2 balance and function. During the holiday season its more common for diet quality to falter.
If you are going to imbibe this holiday season then consider adding in the following to support your liver:
- N-Acetyl-cysteine (NAC) – a precursor to glutathione, an essential antioxidant involved in phase 2 detoxification. Supplementation of NAC increases intracellular glutathione levels, thereby supporting phase 2 detoxification.(1)
- Milk thistle – one of the most common and famous liver supportive herbs. Milk thistle inhibits phase 1 detoxification and supports phase 2 detoxification, acts as an antioxidant, and prevents glutathione depletion. (2)
- A good quality B complex – the detox reactions in the liver use B vitamins to help power them. As your liver is working hard to detox extra alcohol intake, it uses up a lot of B vitamins. One way to support this detox process is to supplement with extra B vitamins to ensure smooth flowing of those reactions. I recommend a vitamin complex that contains the active forms of the B’s. This reduces any extra steps to biotransform the inactive B’s to active B’s ready for use in detoxification reactions.
- Alpha lipoid acid – Potent antioxidant that can soak up some of the free radicals produced during the metabolism of alcohol. Also found to increase intracellular glutathione levels (3,4)
- Turmeric or curcumin – Shown to be liver protective with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions (5). You can take a curcumin supplement or try adding the spice turmeric to your smoothie or vegetable dishes.
I am a strong advocate of integrated healthcare. To me this means bringing together all forms of healthcare from your healthcare team and communicating to help you reach your health goals. I work along side all types of practitioners and treatments.
- Khayyat A, et al. N-acetylcysteine amide, a promising antidote for acetaminophen poisoning. Toxicology Letters. 2016, 241: 133-142.
- Silybum marianum Monograph. Alt Med Rev. 1999, 4(4): 272-274
- Goraca A, et al Lipoid acid – biological activity and therapeutic potential. Pharmacy Reports. 2011, 63: 849-858.
- Lipoid acid Monograph. Alt Med Rev. 1998, 3(4): 308-311
- Wang ME, et al. Cur cumin protects against thioacetamide-induced hepatic fibrosis by attenuating the inflammatory response and inducing apoptosis of damaged hepatocytes. J Nutr Biochem. 2012, 23:1352-1366.