Is detoxing easier with a healthy gut?

Kathy Wheddon Nutritional Therapist DipION

So, it's January, and after the excesses of Christmas and New Year many of us are on some form of detox or other. Whether this means quaffing down gallons of green vegetable juices, or simply cutting out the alcohol, is it possible that we are still missing something? Is there something more that we could be doing in our efforts to support our livers and increase the benefits of our new, highly virtuous detox regimes? Could it be, that we should be improving our digestive health in order to get the most out of any detox programme?

Beetroot, carrot and orange juice drinks

Detoxing - how do you do yours?

The gut and the liver are intimately linked, and there is continuous ‘two-way’ communication between both organs via numerous means including: the flow of bile, hormones, inflammatory markers and end products of digestion and absorption.

The liver receives approximately 70% of its blood from the intestines, via the hepatic portal vein. The liver therefore represents the first line of defence against gut-derived antigens (foreign substances which may induce an immune response) and is equipped with a wide range of immune cells to accomplish this function. In the situation whereby gut border function is impaired due either to the presence of pathogenic bacteria, lack of beneficial bacteria or exposure to toxins or allergens, increased amounts of harmful substances can infiltrate the blood stream and make their way to the liver. This results in a rise in liver enzyme production, and a marked increase in inflammatory markers. In this way it is clear that a relationship exists between poor gut health, reduced gut barrier function and secondary liver inflammation.

Having a healthy gut microflora, and optimal digestive capabilities (through the production of sufficient amounts of digestive enzymes by the pancreas, and hydrochloric acid by the parietal cells in the stomach), both play their part in safeguarding the liver from circulating toxins and other unwanted substances. Not only do beneficial bacteria help to maintain gut epithelial integrity by taking up space and effectively ‘crowding out’ pathogenic bacteria and yeasts from adhering to the gut lining, they also actively communicate with our immune system and reduce inflammation.

In this way the use of probiotics has been shown in clinical trials1 to potentially have a beneficial effect on the treatment of various liver diseases, including Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), which is the most common liver disease worldwide. Any burden that can be taken off the liver can only be a good thing when it comes to promoting its optimal functioning, and helping with its detoxification processes.

Healthcare professionals may also be interested to hear that the strains in Optibac Probiotics 'For your cholesterol' are thought to increase the liver's production of bile - this is one of the key mechanisms of action for the product. This may be an interesting connection to the question of detox, given that one way in which the body excretes toxins is through the production of bile.

So, for those of you following a detox program in January, in order to 'befriend' your livers again after the festive season, you might also want to give your gut a little TLC....anything you can do to improve your digestive health will also pay dividends when it comes to liver detoxification. Celery juice anyone?


1. Li Z, Yang S, Lin H, Huang J, Watkins PA, Moser AB, Desimone C, Song XY, Diehl AM. Probiotics and antibodies to TNF inhibit inflammatory activity and improve nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepatology. 2003;37:343–350. [PubMed]