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  • Patricia Pearce, ND

The Importance of Liver Function in Women's Health Conditions

In today's article, I am going to tie together my detoxification series and women's health series by introducing an interesting but little recognized concept that is absolutely essential to female hormonal health: liver clearance. In previous articles, we have discussed the concept of detoxification of harmful substances by the liver, and the fact that part of the root of many women's health conditions is hormonal imbalance. How are these two seemingly unrelated concepts crucial to managing female symptoms like painful periods, PMS, endometriosis, and PCOS?

Think of your liver like a water treatment plant. It receives and processes all manner of metabolic garbage and environmental toxins, and when working optimally, does so with great efficiency. Now think of the hormones produced naturally by your body, like estrogen, as well as hormone-like chemicals called xenoestrogens and synthetic hormones as significant components of the waste that your liver is expected to process. The liver takes these fat soluble hormones and hormone-like substances and converts them into metabolites that can be more easily excreted in phase I. In phase II, these metabolites are made water-soluble and flushed out of the body. However, depending on genetic and lifestyle factors, poor function of this process can contribute to hormonal imbalances in two ways.

1. Enzyme Efficiency

As discussed in the Myths & Realities of Detoxification article, phase I of liver detoxification involves enzymes belonging to a family called cytochrome p450. Each member of this family is expected to work on a different substance. For example, one enzyme might work on the different forms of the estrogen hormone. When estrogen levels are normal, this enzyme gets along fine, and is able to keep up with its workload. However, in instances of increased estrogen burden, like synthetic hormone use or xenobiotic exposure, the enzyme can become overworked and bogged down. Estrogen waiting to be metabolized can only "wait in line" to a point before it is ejected back out into circulation and stored in fat tissue until such a time that the liver can "get around to it."

2. Harmful Metabolites

Let's continue using estrogen as our example. Depending on genetic and lifestyle factors, the liver can convert estrogen into a weak or harmful metabolite in phase I. Harmful versions of estrogen have deleterious effects, especially when they get tossed back out into circulation. These strong, harmful metabolites are able to bind with great affinity to estrogen receptors, especially in tissues that are estrogen-receptor dense, like breast and uterine tissue. What this basically comes down to is individuals whose livers tend to create this harmful form of estrogen and kick it back out into circulation can be at increased risk for certain cancers.

In summary, liver health is essential for the efficient removal of excess levels of hormones from circulation for excretion, as well as the conversion of certain hormones into weak, harmless metabolites that are readily excreted. Luckily, we learned in the first detoxification article of this series that it is possible to support liver health by reducing inflammation through diet, exercise, and sleep, as well as using targeted nutritional supplementation to provide the liver with the co-factors it needs to function efficiently. But what about genetics? SNPs, or small genetic defects can make liver enzymes less efficient at doing their jobs and predisposed to converting hormones like estrogen into harmful metabolites that can ultimately predispose to breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer. At ANW, we can examine your SNPs using data from a 23 and Me profile. This gives us an idea of how severely your enzyme function has been affected as well as allow us to make specific supplement recommendations to help these enzymes work better.

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