We all know that the liver is the major detox organ of the body. According to http://www.womensinternational.com ” the liver takes everything we put into our bodies—whether it is swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin (including medication, drugs and alcohol)—and filters it. The liver’s filtration process separates the nutrients that the body needs for energy and all of its other functions and prepares to dispose of that which the body does not need, such as metabolic waste, toxins and excess substances.”
Did you know that the liver also metabolizes hormones? It breaks down and removes excess hormones from the body. (e.g. estrogen, testosterone, insulin, aldosterone, cortisol, adrenaline, thyroxin). What this means is that if the liver is full of toxins then it can’t function as well as it should, and estrogen, as an example, will not be removed at its normal rate. If it is not metabolized properly it can be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. This build up of estrogen results in an undesirable state of estrogen dominance where estrogen becomes dominant in the body, especially in relation to progesterone. Hormone health coach, writer and speaker, Nicole Jardin, says that (http://nicolejardim.com/hormone-balance-your-liver-function/)
estrogen dominance can lead to PMS, fibrocystic breasts, migraines, especially right before your period, irregular periods and heavy bleeding, endometriosis, fibroids and infertility.
What contributes to estrogen dominance?
According to Nicole Jardin, they are :
1) Stress – chronic stress produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. (I have talked elsewhere in my website about how stress creates toxins!).
2) Xenoestrogens – These are synthetic chemicals that mimic estrogen. Xenoestrogens act like estrogen so it makes it appear like you have more than you do. BPA and phthalates are examples of bad offenders. BPA is used in making certain plastics and resins (watch your water bottle). Phthalates are used in perfume, hair spray, deodorant, nail polish, almost anything fragranced including air fresheners, shampoo, laundry detergent, insect repellent, shower curtains, plastic toys, etc. (See separate blog I wrote on chemical toxins)
3. Alcohol. Nicole Jardin adds that alcohol consumption can increase estrogen levels and slows down fat burning. Apparently, just 2 servings a day for four weeks has been shown to raise estrogen levels by 22%!
Men too are affected by hormones. It is not just women. In an article “Men Have Hormones Too” from Men’s Health, May 14, 2010,
author Heather Hurlock says that “Off-kilter hormone distribution can make you store too much fat, hamper your ability to fight stress, and cause you to eat when you’re full. It can lead to metabolic syndrome and diabetes and can adversely affect your sleep and sex life.” (note similarity with women when their hormones are off)
Elevated estrogen levels (in men) can eclipse your testosterone, zapping sex drive. Yes, men have estrogen too. According to Dr. McLachlan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane University, the most widely spread hormone receptor in the body is the estrogen receptor. When a man is exposed to estrogenic chemicals — such as bisphenol A (BPA), the endocrine disruptor found in plastics and food-can linings — he can experience erectile dysfunction and weight gain. (This is the xenoestrogen that I talked about earlier).
“According to Dr. McLachlan,your best defense against an estrogen invasion (in men) is to lose weight and build muscle. “Fat converts your testosterone to estrogen,” says Jack Mydlo, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Urology at Temple University School of Medicine. Dropping pounds will improve your testosterone-to-estrogen ratio, which improves your sex drive . And when you’re actively building muscle, you become more sensitive to insulin, which means you can push more glucose into the muscle, says Dr. Fonseca, M.D., Chief of Endocrinology at Tulane University’s Health Sciences Center. This produces more fat-burning, libido-boosting energy.”
What can you do?
1. Get more fiber. Women eating more fiber have lower levels of circulating estrogen.
2. Cut back alcohol. (Even men who have too much alcohol can get a condition called gynocomastia, which is characterized by enlarged breasts in men!)
3. Reduce exposure to xenoestrogens.
4. Eat liver cleansing foods like dandelion greens and tumeric and avocados.
(As a side note, according to to Dr. David Williams, medical researcher, biochemist & chiropractor, he writes in his website “What Causes a Bad Gallbladder”
if the liver is overloaded with too many toxins from health conditions like constipation; persistent drug, alcohol, or hormone use; or contaminated or highly processed foods, the bile it releases to the gallbladder can become extremely concentrated. The gallbladder can then become clogged with the thickened bile or the gallstones that can form due to the extra thick bile.
Once clogged, the gallbladder will likely begin to malfunction and you may experience extremely uncomfortable bloating from 5 to 20 minutes after eating, along with other symptoms of a bad gallbladder. (the gallbladder is a small sac situated under the liver and it stores bile, a fluid made in the liver for the digestion of fat).
Here’s the link to his complete article if you wish to read it in its entirety.
According to Dr. Sandra Cabot, M.D. of http://www.liverdoctor.com in her article “The Liver Can Affect Your Hormones and Weight”, the liver also breaks down the hormone, aldosterone, which controls the balance of the minerals sodium and potassium and water in the body. This can lead to fluid retention. I had earlier already talked about estrogen and what happens if it is not broken down properly. This doctor adds that it can also lead to weight gain around hips, buttocks and thighs (pear shaped). If the male hormone testosterone is not broken down efficiently, this can lead to an excess of testosterone in the body, which can result in weight gain in the upper part of the body on the trunk and abdomen (apple shape). She adds: “Excess male hormones can also lead to excess facial and body hair, greasy skin, acne and loss of hair from the scalp. Many women with polycystic ovarian syndrome have excess male hormone levels associated with a dysfunctional liver; their hormonal imbalance can be reduced by improving liver function. Natural progesterone cream can also help women with polycystic ovarian syndrome whereas the oral contraceptive pill may overload their liver and lead to more weight gain.”
Dr. Cabot also adds “The liver also has a relationship with the hormone insulin, which is very important when it comes to your metabolism and tendency to gain weight. Insulin is made in the pancreas gland and regulates the metabolism of fats and carbohydrate. Most people with a weight problem have an imbalance in their insulin levels and this makes it very hard for them to lose weight. In overweight people insulin does not work properly and this results in the body trying to compensate by making high levels of insulin. This condition is known as Syndrome X and also as the metabolic syndrome. Insulin is a fat storing hormone so that the high levels of insulin promote the storage of fat especially in the abdominal area. The high levels of insulin also send a message to the liver to store more fat, so many people with a high insulin level develop a fatty liver. A fatty liver is very sluggish and will not break down hormones efficiently and this causes further weight gain and fluid retention. The combination of fatty liver and Syndrome X often eventually leads to diabetes type 2.
According to Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo, MS, DC, CCN, DACBN, in her article “The Critical Role of Liver Detoxification in Hormonal Imbalance”, (www.drritamarie.com), says that if the liver is not removing the toxins, then belly fat may occur as the body is trying to save you from these toxins so stores it away as belly fat! So weight gain occurs, no surprise.
She adds that hormonal imbalance also leads to diminished sex drive, fatigue, brain fog, etc.
According to Lorna Vanderhaeghe (www.hormonehelp.com), author and Canada’s leading women’s natural health expert with degrees in nutritiion and biochemistry, there are supplements that can help with hormone balancing. E.g., with maintaining healthy estrogen to progesterone balance, treating fibrocystics breasts, detoxifying toxic estrogens from plastics pesticides, cosmetics and more (especially since it is hard to completely avoid them), eliminate PMS and make periods effortless, helps menopause, perimenopause, acne, weight problems, etc
1. Calcium D-glucarate – powerful detoxifier of excess and toxic estrogens (this nutrient also found in fruits and vegetables)
2. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) – anti cancer plant nutrient found in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, bok choy, cabbage) (I recommend my clients eat more of these vegetables)
3. Green tea extract
4. Curcumin – I have talked about this before – this is the yellow pigment of tumeric. Very anti-inflammatory and inhibits all stages of cancer formation. (Very good for digestion and joint issues too).
5. Diindolymethane (DIM) – Helps to break down the cancer causing estrogens into non-toxic forms
7. Sulforaphane -broccoli sprout extract – stimulates body’s production of detox enzymes that eliminate environmental estrogens.
Lorna Vanderhaeghe has a product in her supplement line called Estrosmart that contains the above. She also has one called Estrosmart Plus (which also contains Vitex and Zinc for more support on PMS, mood swings and hormonal acne and improves fertility. Here’s the link on the product
What else can you do ?
There are various nutrients that are needed in the process of metabolizing the estrogen hormone. I won’t get into all the details (you can check this link: http://www.womensinternational.com/connections/liver.html
to read more. I will just summarize some other nutritients that they recommend we need for this process: Vitamin B6, B12, folic acid, a supplement called SAMe (s-adenylmethionine), foods containing sulphur such as egg yolks, garlic, onions and brussel sprouts). Of special note is the supplement glutathione. This is another sulfur-containing molecule which is added to estrogen for easy excretion. Foods such as avocado, walnuts and asparagus are rich in glutathione, and vitamin C stimulates the body to produce more of it. Glutathione depletion can be due to a lack of the essential nutrients and amino acids (found in fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and meats) that are needed to synthesize it. Glutathione detoxifies and is also an antioxidant and is needed to detoxify alcohol. (Dr. Loscalzo says that one can take glutathione precursors from the health store such as NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine).) As I previously mentioned, studies have shown that even a small amount of alcohol intake can increase estrogen levels in the blood because alcohol competes for the available glutathione, preventing estrogen excretion.
Dr. Loscalzo also mentions other necessary nutrients: amino acids like cysteine and methionine, magnesium, B vitamins, antioxidants vitamin A, C,E and superoxide dismutase. She says that you can get amino acids from protein in your diet and powder powder. She also says to eliminate caffeine.
Smoking is also known to deplete glutathione levels, as do chronically stressful conditions such as infections or inflammatory disorders.
Obvious things we need to do to also keep our liver healthy include eliminating or reducing processed foods, sugar, high fat (bad fats like hydrogenated, trans fats, deep fried) foods, foods full of preservatives and additives, drink lots of water and eat fresh healthy food, e.g. fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, healthy fats, etc). One also needs to reduce the toxic load in our environment (get rid of chemical air fresheners, as an e.g.), get an air filter especially if you live in a really polluted area. Try to eat organic to avoid the pesticides, antibiotics, etc in your fruits and vegetables and meat/fish. Avoid chemical cleaning products. Read labels of your cosmetics, get educated on the toxins in your food and products and environment.
Other things you can do to help your liver according to Alberta naturopath Karen Jensen in “A Little Help for the Liver” in Alive Magazine are:
Start your morning with fresh lemon juice in water; this helps flush and decongest the liver
Eat beets or drink beet and vegetable juice regularly. Beets are an excellent liver cleanser.
High quality protein foods are necessary to restore and sustain the liver. Free-range eggs, fish, raw nuts and seeds and whole grains are beneficia
Nutritional antioxidants such as vitamin E, zinc and selenium are essential for protecting the liver from free radical damage.
Liver restoration also requires lots of fresh air, exercise, adequate rest, natural foods and a minimum of 2L (approx. 2 quarts) of pure water daily. Other liquids do not count toward the required water intake.
It is also a good idea to do a liver detox to really get the toxins out of the body. Dr. Jensen recommends that during a cleanse or detoxification program ” dandelion or burdock be taken two to three times daily for the length of the program. To keep the liver healthy in our toxic and stressful world, a liver-supportive herb such as milk thistle should be taken periodically, for example two to three times daily for one week every month.
Burdock root has traditionally been used as a blood cleanser to support the liver and hormonal health. Studies show that it is also effective as an immune system enhancer, in the stabilization of blood sugar and as an antibiotic, antifungal and anti-tumor agent.
Dandelion root is considered the ideal liver remedy because it is completely non-toxic and gently restores liver function. It enhances the flow of bile and supports the kidneys during cleansing and detoxification of the liver and bowels.
Milk thistle contains some of the most potent liver-protective substances known, including silymarin, which inhibits the action of free radials that damage liver cells. It also stimulates protein synthesis, which results in the production of new liver cells to replace the damaged ones.
Turmeric has long been considered a powerful healing plant. Curcumin, the principal active ingredient, has demonstrated potent liver protective, detoxifying, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. Other effects of turmeric include lowering of cholesterol, improvement of fat metabolism and improvement of digestion.
Globe artichoke head, leaves and root have traditionally been used to improve digestion as well as liver, gallbladder and kidney function. The cynarin found in artichoke has been found to stimulate bile secretion as well as lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Artichoke also has some antioxidant activity.
You can find these herbs both on their own or in combination at your local health food store.
She adds that “The liver energy system governs the peripheral and central nervous system, the eyes and tendons and provides energy and vitality to the sexual organs. When the liver is stressed, emotions such as anger, depression, moodiness, aggression, resentment and irritability are more likely to arise. Physical symptoms such as allergies, fatigue, indigestion and distended abdomen, eye problems (spots, red, watery), headaches, hot flushes, insomnia, hormonal imbalances such as PMS, muscular pain and neck tension can occur. ”
She says that everyone could benefit from a cleanse involving the bowel, liver and blood at least once yearly.
If you are wanting extra support with a natural food based liver cleanse, I am happy to recommend the liver reset program from Refresh Natural Health. A client had recommended them to me for colon hydrotherapy and I am happy to refer them for both the colonics and their nutritional support/liver cleanse.
Next I want to present a different point of view from Dr. John Douillard of http://www.lifespa.com. He says in his article “Menopause and Menstrual Cycle Symptoms – It May not be Hormonal at All.” http://lifespa.com/menopause-and-menstrual-cycle-symptoms-it-may-not-be-hormonal/
Dr Douillard presents an Ayurvedic point of view. As I have mentioned in other blogs, the lymph system is like the drains of the body – it drains out all the wastes and toxins from all parts of the body – you would die within 14 hrs without this system.
He says that “When these drains become congested, it’s as though a traffic jam occurs in your body and it takes a toll on all of the organ systems.” During menstruation, lymph drainage increases – reproductive waste is removed at that time according to Ayurveda. If the lymph is congested, menstruation may be painful, irregular, heavy or missing. The congestion may bring on PMS – breast tenderness, swelling, bloating, skin breakouts especially around mouth and chin. I have mentioned in another blog about breast health on how the breast is composed of a high amount of lymph tissue and fluid and if the lymph is congested, breast swelling and tenderness may result.
He adds: “Just like the skin on the outside of our bodies, the epithelium “the skin that lines the intestinal tract” is drained by a massive concentration of lymph called the gut-associated-lymphatic-tissue, or GALT. This is the highest concentration of lymph in the body. Experts say that 80% of the body’s immunity is found here. When long-standing constipation, diarrhea, or other digestive issues occur, this will typically compromise the flow of this very important lymph fluid. During menstruation, clogged GALT can create a list of issues such as bloating, Candida, belly fat, allergies, joint issues, fatigue, headaches, skin issues, edema and reproductive issues.
The respiratory tract is also lined with a type of skin that is drained by mucus-associated-lymph-tissue, or MALT. If the lymph is not moving properly during menstruation, this can result in an irritation of the respiratory mucus membranes, thus predisposing one to colds, post nasal drip, chronic sinus issues or allergies.”
Dr. Douillard adds:
Further Signs of Lymph Congestion
- ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, and polycystic ovarian syndrome
- fibrocystic breasts
- rashes or acne
- joint pain typically worse in the morning
- weight gain and extra belly fat
- swollen glands
- frequent colds
- constipation, diarrhea and/or mucus in the stools
He recommends a list of things you can do at home every day to improve lymphatic flow and function:
- Alkalize your diet.
- Eat more fruits and veggies and lessen the amount of meats, breads, grains, dairy, processed or junk food. Try to shoot for a diet that is 60-70% alkaline and 30-40% acid.
- Herbal Support
- Manjistha (rubia cordifolia) is the herb that is most effective in helping de-stagnate the lymph. He says he has used this herb successfully for years in support of lymph-related reproductive issues.
- Sip plain, hot water every 10-15 minutes throughout the day for two weeks.
- Drink 1/2 your ideal body weight in ounces of room temperature water a day.
- Skin Brush and Massage
- In Ayurveda, skin brushing is called Garshana. Raw silk gloves are used to exfoliate the skin. With vigorous brushing, the silk gloves also create static electricity, which is known to alkalize the blood and help move the lymph.
- Daily massage in Ayurveda is called Abyhanga. A blend of herbs cooked into sesame oil is traditionally used to massage the body daily to enhance lymphatic flow.
Last but not least, consider lymphatic drainage massage to get the lymph moving and to get toxins out of the body. See pages in my website on this. I am hearing more and more from my clients about how their PMS and hormonal symptoms like swollen breasts, bloating, crankiness, cramps, hormonal acne, etc are disappearing from doing lymph drainage massage with me! (along with improvements in other areas of their health).