Liver detoxification: continuing our series about the liver, today we discuss  the 3 phases of liver detoxification.

There are 3 phases of liver detoxification.   For a long time, we believed there were 2 phases of detoxification.  Science has now concluded that there are indeed 3 phases. And I am going to explain them simply to you here so you know how to take care of this incredible organ known as your liver.

Liver function

Your liver is your second largest organ in your body and works around the clock metabolizes and detoxifying chemicals and drugs.  You probably don’t think about it very much unless you find your liver enzymes elevated at your annual health check.  Liver detoxification pathways are clogged.

Why this is so common even in young people? More so today that in decades previously.  As  a health professional who has worked with clients for almost 2 decades, I have seen a dramatic deterioration in detoxification pathways in the last decade.  It is alarming that most people are unaware of this.

DNA and Genetics and your liver

Our DNA and genetics haven’t changed much over the past 100 years.  But since World War II, we have introduced over 89,000 new chemicals into our environment and we are adding approximately 1500 new ones every year!  Our liver has become a dumping ground for all these toxins.

That is a lot of work for your liver.  So read on because even if your liver is currently healthy, it is not likely to stay that way unless you are eating, cleansing and supplementing in a way that is liver protective! Our environment is toxic.  You are exposed to more toxins in 10 minutes than your great grandparents were exposed to in their lifetime.


This doesn’t make for a happy liver unless you are detoxing on a daily basis.  Detoxification processes are critical for inflammation.

Inflammation and liver detoxification

As our inflammation goes up in our body, detoxification in our body goes down so controlling your inflammatory processes is critical to maintaining your liver health.

Phases of  liver detoxification

Your liver has 3 phases of detoxification.

Phase I

Phase I is very reactive.  It takes toxins that are not very reactive and turns them into free radicals.  This is the phase that metabolizes pharmaceutical and recreational drugs. You need free radicals to survive.   This is often confusing to people who have learned that free radicals are bad but like everything in nature, you want everything in balance and it is when your free radicals get out of balance that troubles arise.

Most phase I transformation reactions are performed by a family of enzymes called cytochrome P450s (CYPs). Although there are several phase I enzymes, the most abundant and important are the cytochrome P-450s (P-450s).

During detoxification, P-450s perform two functions.  They make toxins more water-soluble and they convert the toxin into a less toxic molecule that is less reactive towards our DNA and proteins.

The result is a more water-soluble, less toxic molecule.  These molecules are transported into your blood.  They move through the kidneys, and out into the urine for elimination.

Phase II

The activation of the phase II liver enzymes is responsible for the anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic properties of the metabolic detoxification systems.

Phase II enzymes protect against chemical carcinogenesis. This is especially so during the initiation phase of cancers.

Phase II is an inefficient process.  When both phase I and phase II of the liver are not working efficiently, we start improving phase II using specific supplementation.

One of the most important phase II detoxifying enzymes is  glutathione (GSH) transferase.

As the name implies, the GSH transferases transfer a GSH molecule onto the toxin. Like phase I detoxification, this step also serves to make the toxin water-soluble and less toxic to the body.

The production of phase II enzymes is controlled by Nrf2.  Nrf2 is a protein called nuclear factor erythroid-derived 2 (Nrf2). Nrf2 is a master regulator of antioxidant response. What does Nrf2 really mean for you?

Nrf2 regulates the activity of genes involved in the synthesis and activation of important detoxification molecules including glutathione and superoxide dismutase (SOD).

It also plays an important role in initiating heavy metal detoxification, and the recycling of CoQ10, a potent antioxidant.  What you are learning here is that one thing can cause another and nothing works singularly.  You need everything to work to be healthy.

Phase III

Phase III is the transport phase.  This phase of detoxification involves the elimination of toxins from cells. The byproducts of phase I and II reactions are transported out of the cells into the bloodstream.  In the liver, phase III transporters move glutathione, sulfate, and glucuronide conjugates out of cells into the bile for elimination.  This phase also requires your small intestine to be functioning properly.

In the kidney and small intestine, phase III transporters can remove xenobiotics from the blood for excretion from the body.

Xenobiotics are substances that are foreign to the body or to an ecological system.

Liver detoxification issues lie mostly with phase II because if this is not working which is very common, phase III is dumping toxins straight into bile and kidneys which you certainly don’t want!!

So what do liver friendly foods do?

They help the body up-regulate phase II liver detoxification so that phase III liver transporters work safely.   Up-regulation of the detox pathways is the safest way to health.

Detoxification is one of the three main systems of your health. We optimize your energy management system and your digestive system before we focus on your detoxification pathways.  This is the safe way to health. If we work on your detoxification pathways prematurely, you will feel worse, not better. This is because you will be moving toxins from one area to another due to other systems not working properly such as your energy management system and your digestive system.

However, you can improve your detox pathways immediately by cleaning up your diet and including liver friendly foods into your daily life.  Some of these include herbs, spices, good water and lemons.

In our next article, we will discuss liver friendly foods in more detail.  Until then, ask your questions below about your liver and  liver detoxification pathways.

Image courtesy of ditigalart at

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    1 Response to "The 3 phases of liver detoxification and what it means for you"

    • Erin Starr White

      Thank you for a clear explanation of the three phases of liver detoxification – I enjoyed it! And I wasn’t as familiar with the third phase, so that was a treat.

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