The liver is a superhero - it's the body’s multi-talented multi-tasker workhorse - it’s the most multi-functional organs in the body, silently performing a myriad of tasks on a daily basis.
However, it could also be said that the kidneys’ tasks are even more exhaustive than the liver.
But - supporting the liver cannot be underestimated. Whenever we talk about the liver, toxic load is usually in the conversation - toxic load = liver load. We probably know the liver best as the master detoxification organ, filtering out the toxins from the blood, i.e. pharma drugs and other toxic substances including bacteria and viruses, and converting them into an excretable form to they can be eliminated out of the body, before recycling the blood back into the body.
The correct term for this conversion process is biotransforming, i.e. "the process by which a substance changes from one chemical to another (transformed) by a chemical reaction within the body". The terms metabolising or metabolic transformations are also frequently used for the biotransformation process.
However, while the liver triggers the body’s natural detoxification process, it doesn’t do the actual detoxing itself – the liver needs the kidneys to finish the detoxification job off. It could be said that the kidneys’ tasks are even more exhaustive than the liver, because while the kidneys are responsible for the massive task of regulating just about every physiological state in the body (more on this below), all primary excretion of toxins and waste is done through the kidneys via the urine.
Detoxification is a natural – and essential - process of the body to maintain a state of balanced health. Detoxification releases the body’s toxic burden, and the liver and kidneys work every second of every day to eliminate excess waste products that either come in uninvited, or are produced from the body’s natural metabolic process.
There’s another often forgotten member of the detox team, and that’s the lymph nodes (see our separate Lymphatic System page for the full story on the lymph node superstars). Collectively, the liver, kidneys and lymph nodes are what I like to call the 3-Amigos, making up the body’s natural, super vital, yet very sensitive, detoxification/purification team. The liver is without doubt the Head Honcho of the 3-Amigos - if you think of the body's organs as a solar system, the liver is the sun - it’s the centre of the body’s natural purification system, intricately connected to all the other organs.
We usually know when the kidneys and liver are overloaded with too much to do when we see typical metabolism-gone-wrong symptoms, usually in the skin, hair and hooves. To make matters worse, and a renowned issue when it comes to our horses, the kidneys also don’t like high sugar levels in the blood because it destroys their tiny capillaries, so the more sugar in the feed, the more risk to the kidneys not being able to do their vital work.
This means the body struggles to excrete all the toxins and waste, and because the body can’t live with an overload of circulating toxins, this is the point when we start to see metabolic symptoms.
Now we’re potentially in trouble. The metabolism will compensate as much as it can, take for example the wild horse in winter with a very scarse food supply, but if the metabolism isn’t reset in time, it’ll eventually throw in the towel.
From where I sit, this can be a tricky one to explain, especially if haylage is fed as the supplementary forage feed. Many of us think our horses are completely fine on haylage, or at least have been for months up to a couple of years with no changes to their diet/lifestyle, before mysteriously developing multiple symptoms for no apparent reason. I identify haylage as a potential risk, but the client will insist that their horse has been fine on it for yonks.
They haven’t; they really haven’t. Haylage is a dire forage to feed to our horses – all explained in its own chapter here – https://equinatural.co.uk/i/haylage-why-we-shouldn-t-feed-it - but because the body compensates, it can take a year, even two, and then … their horse is far from fine. Simply because their horse’s metabolism has done its level best to compensate for all the lactic-acid bacteria it’s ingested from the haylage, the horse is far from fine, until it simply can’t compensate any longer.
Here’s the timeline, and no surprise - as with everything, it all starts with the gut :
- The small intestine gets overloaded with too high, too easily and too readily available nutrients – sugar, starch, protein, fat.
- The colon biome shifts so incorrect fermentation occurs (dysbiosis).
- The liver gets overloaded because not only is it having to biotransform those nutrient excesses from the small intestine, but now other harmful byproducts, i.e. lactic-acid from bad fermentation in the large intestine, so it’s now really struggling to keep up.
- The kidneys are now overloaded with too much sugar, excess urea and other toxins, so they themselves are now struggling to perform their many multiple regulatory roles as well as the vital excretory tasks.
- And so begins the metabolic cascade as a range of issues start to develop.
It all begins with the gut, because we’ve lost the gut balance. We’ve focused for so long on feeding too-high nutrients for the small intestine to work with, that we’ve forgotten about the large intestine and fibre fermentation. We need to go back to how evolution created the horse to feed - coarse forage/roughage with plenty of cellulose fibre, and low in nutrient value.
If the gut:liver:kidney pathway is disrupted, the pro-inflammatory, toxic waste will simply be recirculated around the body, which then triggers deep-rooted systemic inflammation which if not dealt with, will lead to chronic disease, including the relatively unknown, yet now widespread, multi-metabolic detoxification disorder, Cryptopyrroluria, aka KPU.
Long and short, we need to make sure all the filters are filtering. Waste doesn't head for the exit routes without some help - it's firstly got to be transformed by the liver, then sorted from what's good and beneficial, and what isn’t, by the kidneys.
So, let’s look at these two amazing detoxing and purifying organs in full; what they do, how they do it, the various markers that there are issues, and how they totally rely on each other to keep the body functioning properly.