Feeling a tad sluggish lately? Not quite up to par? It could be time to give your body a good spring cleaning! After all, your body is under constant assault from pollutants in the air and water. If that weren’t enough, many toxins can be as close as your dinner table. The food you eat can harbor any of an estimated 3,000 additives, preservatives, and pesticides. Food and water can also contain traces of flame retardants, heavy metals, and plasticizers. And the personal choices you make—including the use of sugar, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and even prescription drugs—simply add to your toxic load.
While it’s true that your body is designed to eliminate toxins, the sheer volume of contaminants that people today are exposed to can overwhelm this natural detoxification system. The result is a buildup of wastes and poisons that can weaken your immune system and cause frequent headaches, fatigue, joint pain, PMS, skin problems, digestive symptoms, bad breath, and a general feeling of malaise. But don’t think for a second you have to buy into a radical or trendy detox to get an effective cleanse. Three botanicals can provide ongoing daily support for your body’s natural detoxification system. The result? A healthy cleanse that fits nicely into the busiest of lifestyles.
The Liver: Your Body’s Superhero
Your liver is the largest internal organ in the body and it consists of two main lobes—left and right—that are responsible for over 500 different functions. But one of the liver’s best known and most important tasks is that of a garbage collector. In a world filled with toxins, it’s the liver’s job to breakdown the contaminants that come your way and get them ready to be escorted out of the body. Ideally, the liver could process all of the toxins you encounter. But because of the sheer volume of industrial chemicals and pollutants you are exposed to, the liver’s natural ability to detoxify can have trouble keeping up.
Consider this: Today, baby boomers and those who came after them are constantly bathed in a sea of chemical contaminants—from the air you breathe to the food you eat to the water you drink. You are exposed to toxins at home and at work through our carpeting, furniture, the paint on the walls, and the household products you use. If that weren’t enough, there are all those voluntary toxins from cigarettes, alcohol, junk food, medications, and personal care products. Other toxins, like free radicals and metabolic waste, are created internally just through the act of living. This constant barrage can make your liver vulnerable to a number of conditions that can ultimately undermine your overall health.
Because the liver is called upon to process a constant stream of contaminants, it’s important to make sure it has the nutritional support it needs. The following herbs not only help optimize overall liver function, they also support the organ’s detoxification capabilities.
Andrographis. Known primarily for its ability to fight off colds and infection, andrographis has long been used as an effective liver tonic in Ayurvedic medicine. A strong antioxidant, it protects cell viability and normalizes liver enzymes. Andrographis also acts to check inflammation in the liver, according to a review published in the journal Phytotherapy Research. Look for a standardized andrographis supplement for best results.
Curry Tree. The leaves of the curry tree are an important seasoning throughout India. But, thanks to powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it’s been shown to effectively protect against a variety of toxins. Preliminary research in the International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences found that this Ayurvedic staple also provides protection against alcohol-induced liver toxicity. Other studies suggest that the leaves of the curry tree stop oxidative damage and mutation to DNA within the liver.
Licorice. Long before this herb found its way into the candy aisle, licorice was used as a digestive and cleansing remedy—and for good reason. Licorice boasts antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, giving it potent digestion- and liver-protective powers. Preliminary research has pinpointed three bioactive compounds in licorice—glycyrrhizic acid, liquiritin, and liquiritigenin—that contribute to its ability to prevent liver damage from a variety of chemicals and drugs like acetaminophen. To get these protective compounds, opt for a liver-specific supplement that combines licorice with other liver-loving herbs like those listed here.
Milk Thistle. Native to the Mediterranean, milk thistle has been used for decades to support healthy liver function and for its detoxifying properties. The secret to this herb’s effectiveness is silymarin, a polyphenol group that includes silybin, silydianin, and silychristin. Silymarin, and silybin in particular—have been researched extensively due to their powerful antioxidant activity, which has been shown to scavenge damaging free radicals. What’s more, the compounds in milk thistle boost the activity of the body’s own antioxidants. Research suggests that milk thistle also inhibits inflammation, prevents glutathione depletion, prevents damage to the liver itself, and encourages the growth of new liver cells. Most importantly, this multi-tasking herb increases the body’s ability to detoxify a wide range of hormones, drugs, and chemicals, including heavy metals. But to get all that this herb has to offer, look for a milk thistle supplement that contains the full spectrum of silymarin and standardized silybin.
French Grape Seed Extract. This powerhouse of polyphenols is a rich source of protective antioxidant compounds called oligomeric proanthocyanidin (OPC) complexes. A study of healthy volunteers found that taking grape seed extract substantially increases antioxidant levels in the blood. These potent free-radical scavengers not only provide overall antioxidant protection, research in the journal General Pharmacology showed that pretreatment with grape seed extract reduced DNA damage in the liver by 47 percent after exposure to a strong chemical. As a bonus, French grape seed extract may also enhance overall liver function and support post-damage DNA repair. But, when it comes to the OPC compounds in grape seeds, size matters—at least when it comes to their molecular weight. Less expensive supplements may contain large OPC molecules known as tannins. Tannins are too large to be absorbed by the body. Instead, look for a supplement boasting tannin-free, low-molecular weight OPCs.
Indian Tinospora. This ancient Ayurvedic remedy increases the activity of the body’s immune system. It’s also a strong antitoxin and anti-inflammatory herb that protects the liver from various toxins by scavenging harmful free radicals. Tinospora enhances a variety of antioxidants in the liver, including glutathione, superoxide dismutase (SOD), ascorbic acid, and catalase. Preliminary tests show that this unique botanical protects against lead, carbon tetrachloride, and alcohol toxicity. Other studies report that tinospora protects glutathione levels in the liver, increases immunity, and moderates the toxicity of certain chemotherapy drugs. It also works synergistically with other Ayurvedic herbs like andrographis, curry tree, turmeric, and Indian tinospora to fortify the liver and facilitate healthy detoxification.
Sesame Seed Extract. There’s a potent lignin compound called sesamin hiding inside the tiny sesame seed that confers both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection against toxins. Lab experiments show that this unique compound protects against the depletion of glutathione and SOD, which helps to keep oxidative stress in check. Sesamin also reduces liver enzymes—a sign of injury to the liver—after exposure to carbon tetrachloride, and counteracts oxidative stress and the resulting DNA damage after exposure to nickel. Because sesamin modulates the release of liver enzymes and tames inflammation, it can also guard against liver fibrosis in those with existing liver disease.
Turmeric. The active compound in this popular curry spice is curcumin. Not only does curcumin give turmeric its distinctive golden hue, it also offers multiple health benefits thanks to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. But what has sparked interest among researchers is its effect on the liver detox pathways. Curcumin helps prevent alcohol, heavy metals, and other toxins from being converted into compounds that may be harmful to the liver. During one study that appeared in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, researchers noted that subjects exposed to mercury had less oxidative stress when taking curcumin. Supplementation also reversed mercury-induced changes that indicate liver damage and reduced the amount of mercury in liver tissue.
Spring Clean Your Life
Relying on these nutrients can provide increased protection against the constant barrage of toxins we’re exposed to every day. But taking the following steps to reduce future exposure is also an important part of a successful daily detox.
Clean Up Your Grocery Cart. Processed and packaged foods are loaded with chemical additives. Meat, fish, and dairy may be laced with hormones and antibiotics. Conventional produce is a source of pesticide residue that, over time, can accumulate in the body. To reduce your exposure to these edible toxins, avoid overly processed convenience foods. Choose organic meats and produce whenever possible and opt for wild-caught fish with low mercury levels.
Avoid Chemicals Around the House. Many of the ingredients used in conventional household cleaners have been linked to hormone disruption, birth defects, increased risk for some types of cancer, and respiratory problems. Trade in chemical cleaners for plant-based products or make your own with nontoxic ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. It’s also smart to take inventory in your kitchen. Many food storage containers, plastic wraps, and canned goods contain plasticizers like bisphenol-A (BPA) that can leach into foods. These chemicals have been linked to hormone-related health problems. That nifty nonstick cookware, while convenient, can also harbor a carcinogen called perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA) that is released into the air when heated to 450 degrees. Opt for glass storage containers and glass, ceramic, cast iron, or stainless steel cookware instead.
Look Good Naturally. From carcinogens to hormone disruptors to neurotoxins, cosmetics and personal care products can harbor an astounding number of potentially harmful chemicals. Look through your bathroom and makeup bag to see what you can live without. For those essentials, choose natural cosmetics and personal care products whenever possible.