How important is the liver for maintaining hormone balance through menopause? Very!
An understanding of how the liver works, metabolises hormones including oestrogen, and deals with the breakdown and elimination of toxins will help you understand the need to nurture this wonderful organ.
(For more information on the functions of the liver and symptoms you can experience when it needs help, click HERE).
Inside the liver cells there are sophisticated mechanisms that have evolved over many thousands of years to break down toxic substances. Which means every drug, artificial chemical, pesticide and hormone, is broken down (metabolised) by the enzyme pathways inside the liver cells.
Many of the toxic chemicals that enter the body are fat-soluble, which means they dissolve only in fatty or oily solutions and not in water. This makes them difficult for the body to excrete.
Fat soluble chemicals have a high affinity for fat tissues and cell membranes, which are made of fatty substances. In these fatty parts of the body, toxins may be stored for years, (leading to weight gain), being released during times of exercise, stress, fasting, clean eating. During the release of these toxins, symptoms such as headaches, poor memory, stomach pain, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and palpitations may occur.
Fact: The liver is the body’s primary defense against metabolic poisoning.
The liver has two pathways (Phase 1 and Phase 2) designed to convert fat-soluble chemicals into water soluble chemicals so that they may then be more easily excreted from the body. Which is exactly what we would hope for.
The Phase 1 pathway is also the main metabolic pathway for oestrogen hormones which are converted into intermediate forms, and are then further metabolised in Phase 2.
This pathway converts a toxic chemical into a less harmful chemical. This is achieved by various chemical reactions and during this process free radicals are produced which, if excessive, can damage the liver cells. Antioxidants (such as vitamin C and E and natural carotenoids, i.e. bright coloured fruit and vegetables) reduce the damage caused by these free radicals. If antioxidants are lacking in the diet and toxin exposure is high, toxic chemicals become far more dangerous.
Some may be converted from relatively harmless substances into potentially carcinogenic substances. Excessive amounts of toxic chemicals such as pesticides on foods can disrupt the Phase 1 enzyme system by causing over activity or what is called ‘induction’ of this pathway. This will result in high levels of damaging free radicals being produced. The danger is if these reactive molecules are not further metabolised by Phase 2 conjugation, they may cause damage to proteins (RNA and DNA) within the cell leading to lowered immune function, heart and brain disease and even cancer.
There are 3 types of oestrogen in the body; oestrone, oestradiol and oestriol. Researchers are gaining new insight into how these oestrogens are metabolised and the effects of that metabolism. They found that oestrogens break down into oestrogen metabolites that have varying levels of oestrogenic activity, and that the stronger the oestrogenic effect, the greater the risk of developing oestrogen related cancer.
During Phase 1 metabolism, oestrone is converted into various metabolites including 2-hydroxyestrone, a very weak oestrogen, and 16-alphahydroxyestrone, a very potent oestrogen. If the conversion process favours the stronger form rather than the weaker form, then tissue that has an abundance of oestrogen receptors, such as the breasts and uterus, may be more vulnerable to excessive oestrogen activity, potentially leading to the formation of fibroids or the stimulation of oestrogen-sensitive cancers.
Phase 1 processing can be affected by many factors, including extreme overload of toxins, the effects of alcohol or drugs, a lack of nutrients, or interference from other substances. For example, grapefruit juice can slow down the enzymes in Phase I, potentially altering hormone balance.
Some drugs are contra-indicated with grapefruit juice for this reason.
Many prescription drugs are metabolised in Phase 1, which can also interfere with the liver’s ability to handle oestrogen hormones. Conversely, phyto-nutrients derived from cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts), stimulates enzymes that promote the metabolism of oestrogens into milder forms, potentially reducing the risk of oestrogen-dependent cancers.
The message “eat more greens” starts to evolve here!
The activity of Phase 1 detoxification enzymes decreases in old age. Ageing also decreases blood flow through the liver, further aggravating the problem. So the older we get, the harder it is to detoxify and balance hormones, fight off disease.
Lack of the physical activity necessary for good circulation, combined with the poor nutrition commonly seen in the elderly, add up to a significant impairment of detoxification capacity, which is typically found in ageing individuals.
This is called the ‘conjugation pathway’, whereby the liver cells add another substance to a toxic chemical, hormone or drug, to render it less harmful. Through conjugation, the liver is able to turn drugs, hormones and various toxins into water soluble, excretable substances which is exactly what we would hope for.
The most relevant conjugations for hormones are methylation, sulphation and glutathione all of which require specific nutrients to be efficient and effectively maintain oestrogen balance.
Glutathione is particularly interesting as it acts as an anti-oxidant in Phase 1, neutralising free radicals, helping reduce the signs of ageing.
Glutathione is also required for the detoxification of alcohol and studies have shown that even a small amount of alcohol intake can increase oestrogen levels in the blood because alcohol competes for the available glutathione, preventing oestrogen excretion.
Smoking is also known to deplete glutathione levels, as do chronically stressful conditions such as infections or inflammatory disorders.
To regulate sex hormones, the liver also produces special proteins that “chaperone” the hormone molecules throughout the body. If the hormone level is too high, the protein also inactivates the body’s own hormone production as part of its chaperoning duty.
Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) is one such protein and is stimulated by oestrogen in the bloodstream. However, as the body produces more SHBG, it is more attracted to testosterone than it is to oestrogens. A consequence of this is a decrease in sexual interest, mental clarity, and the body’s ability to maintain muscle mass.
The Phase 1 detoxification pathway requires:
riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3) magnesium, iron, plus nutrients available from cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower). Think green!
The Phase II detoxification pathway requires:
sulphur- containing amino acids found in eggs and cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower), raw garlic, onions, leeks and shallots.
The amino acids glycine and glutamine from sources of good, clean proteins and choline and inositol from wheat-germ, salmon, nuts, whole-grains, citrus fruit and many more.
All nutrients available from the foods Nature supplies to us.
I think that’s enough to be going on with!
Any questions please do let me know. And if you’d like to understand how to put all this together to help you better manage this time, then please do apply for a FREE 30 minute consultation.
Helping busy ladies naturally create harmony and health through the menopause years and beyond.
Regain control, confidence, and be free to live the life they choose.
A full hysterectomy in her 30s led nutritional therapist and health coach Clare on an amazing adventure exploring the many opportunities available to manage her enforced menopause and create long-term health.
Clare prefers the natural approach, and qualifying in nutritional therapy gave her the confidence to come off HRT, take back control of her life and health, and look forward to living the best third of her life free of prescription drugs. Understanding the importance of creating harmony of health of both body and mind through menopause and beyond, she’s now on a mission to inspire, educate and empower other women, too. Help them create their ‘new life’.
Click HERE to find out more about how Clare shares her years of exploring, experience and knowledge through 1:1 consultations, speaking and online programmes, and where you can request a FREE 30 minute consultation with Clare to discuss any personal menopause/health concerns you may have.
Registered Nutritional Therapist
Member of the British Menopause Society
Award winning Menopause Coach & Educator
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