You probably don’t think about it a lot, yet you can’t live without it. You can’t feel it working, yet it plays a central role in nearly all body functions. Your liver is one of the most vital organs in your body with a wide-ranging list of functions that can be summed up into four categories; your liver either produces, metabolizes, detoxifies and/or stores. Your liver also shares a unique working relationship with your gallbladder and pancreas during the digestive process.
Even though your overall health and vitality is good, you may not be doing all you can to help protect your liver. It’s important to understand which lifestyle choices could have grim consequences for your liver. Alcohol, fast foods, obesity and drug use, including prescription drugs, can all have serious effects on normal liver function. A human can only survive for up to twenty-four hours without a functional liver. The good news is that your liver is the only internal organ capable of regeneration. With as little as 25% left, a liver can regenerate into a whole, functioning new one.
In this article we’ll look at the anatomy of your liver and its myriad of functions. We’ll review some of the diseases that can affect your liver and the lifestyle choices that could bring them about. Finally, we’ll look at the best nutrition for your liver and how a cleanse works.
The liver is the largest gland in the body weighting about 1.4kg in an adult. It is situated under the diaphragm in the upper abdominal cavity and is held in place by several ligaments. It is a reddish-brown color and comprises of four anatomical lobes.
Situated in a depression on the back surface of the liver is the gallbladder, a pear-shaped sac which stores bile synthesized by the liver.
The pancreas is a triangular gland that extends across the abdomen lying posterior to (behind) the stomach.
In short, your liver performs the following main functions in your body:
- Produces bile.
- Metabolizes carbohydrates, lipids (fats), proteins, and drugs.
- Filters harmful substances from the blood.
- Stores glycogen, B12, iron, copper, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K, and helps activate vitamin D.
- Maintains proper glucose levels in the blood.
- Produces cholesterol.
- Is responsible for the decomposition of red blood cells.
THE DETOXIFICATION PROCESS, SIMPLIFIED
Every drug, pesticide, hormone, food substance and chemical is broken down or metabolized by the liver cells. If the liver does not process these substances, they will be stored in the fat tissues and cell membranes of the body. The danger of these substances being stored is that they will be released during exercise, stress, and fasting and can then hurt the body. This can cause unwanted symptoms like headaches, stomach pain, and nausea. If these potentially harmful substances are not broken down, they can build up in the blood, which creates more work for the immune system.
Sometimes, when the liver processes a substance, the substance is activated rather than broken down. If this happens, the liver will produce toxic by-products that may hurt the body. For example, when the liver processes acetaminophen, substances that are bad for the body are produced.
In order to break down bad substances, the liver undergoes two detoxification processes that we’ll term “pathways”. Generally, the detoxification pathways change chemicals that dissolve in fat (fat-soluble chemicals) into chemicals that dissolve in water (water-soluble chemicals). Only chemicals dissolved in water can be easily removed from the body in water-based fluids such as urine and bile. The diagram below gives a simplified version of this process.
In the first pathway, a harmful chemical is changed to a less harmful one through a series of chemical reactions. Throughout the process, free radicals are made. If there are too many free radicals, damage to the liver cells can occur. How well your body gets rid of free radicals depends to a large degree on the kind of food you give your body.
After the toxic chemical has gone through and been changed, it moves on to the second pathway. In this pathway, the liver cells add a substance to the toxin to make it water-soluble. Water-soluble substances can then be removed from the body through urine and feces.
LIFESTYLE EXCESS THAT CAN AFFECT YOUR LIVER
Everyone overindulges once and a while but for best liver health, your best mantra should be “everything in moderation”. Following are some of the excesses that can seriously affect liver function:
- Fast food (deep-fried and fatty)
- Drug use
- Acetaminophen (in very high doses)
- Cholesterol-lowering Statins – have regular blood tests for liver enzymes
SIGNS YOUR LIVER MAY NOT BE FUNCTIONING PROPERLY
Following are a few symptoms you may begin to experience that could indicate a liver overloaded with toxins. If you are experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis, it is best to track these symptoms for a few weeks and take this information to your health care professional. It is very important to consult a health care professional as any of these symptoms could be attributed to other causes.
- Intolerance to greasy and spicy foods
- Unusual weight change (an increase or decrease of 5% or more within 2 months)
- Frequent headaches
- Chronic constipation
- Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or skin rashes
- Bowel problems
- Sinus and allergy problems
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin/eyes)
- Gray, yellow or light-colored stools
- Nausea, vomiting
- Abdominal swelling, tenderness or pain
- Prolonged generalized itching
- Loss of sexual drive or performance
DRUGS THAT AFFECT YOUR LIVER – The Side-Effects of Statins
Although statins are well tolerated by most people, they do have side effects, some of which may go away as your body adjusts to the medication. There are two potentially serious side effects of statins of which you need to be aware, one of which is liver damage.
Occasionally, statin use causes an increase in liver enzymes. If the increase is only mild, you can continue to take the drug. If the increase is severe, you may need to stop taking it, which usually reverses the problem. If left unchecked, increased liver enzymes can lead to permanent liver damage. Certain other cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as gemfibrozil (Lopid) and niacin, increase the risk of liver problems even more in people who take statins. Because liver problems may develop without symptoms, people who take statins have their liver function tested periodically. 1
GOOD NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY LIVER
What you eat and how well you take care of yourself can affect how well your liver works. Therefore it’s important that you choose foods that will help maintain and support your liver. Good nutrition can also help to rebuild some damaged liver cells and help the liver form new cells.
General Good Nutrition For Your Liver
Eat plenty of fresh fruits and lightly cooked vegetables, especially dark green, leafy vegetables and orange, yellow, purple, and red colored fruits and vegetables – they contain living enzymes, fibre, vitamin C, natural antibiotic substance and anti-cancer phytonutrients.
Eat foods rich in glutathione or that help to produce glutathione such as asparagus, watermelon, and broccoli (good sources of glutathione) plus papayas and avocados which help the body to produce glutathione.
Bitter foods like dandelion greens, mustard greens, bitter melon, romaine lettuce and broccoli rabe can help cleanse the liver. Herbs like dill, caraway seeds, garlic, onions, turmeric and cayenne are easy to use in cooking and can help protect the liver. Green tea has immune-boosting properties and contains less caffeine than coffee. Drink lots of water to helps the kidneys get rid of toxins that the liver has broken down. Omega-3 fats are very helpful and are found in cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and halibut. Other sources are ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and walnuts. Nuts, seeds, and avocados are good sources of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats that are less harmful to the liver than saturated fats.
Specific Elements of Some Beneficial Foods
- Soy beans – lecithin; helps break down fats and reduce high cholesterol, maintains healthy membranes around liver cells
- Cayenne Pepper – contains phytochemicals, B vitamins, vitamin C and E, aids in digestion
- Lemons – for general cleansing of the body
- Walnuts – arginine; helps detoxify ammonia, source of glutathione and omega-3 fatty acids
- Wheatgerm – arginine and essential fatty acids (EFA’s)
- Caraway Seeds – flavonoids, carotenoids, helps produce glutathione in the body
Foods That Aid In The Detoxification Process
As we mentioned before, the liver has two detoxification pathways. The work of each of these phases requires specific vitamins and minerals. These vitamins and minerals, in turn, need other nutrients called phytochemicals and amino acids to help them.
As previously discussed, when the liver changes a toxic chemical to one that is less harmful, free radicals are formed. In order to get rid of or reduce these free radicals, our bodies need foods with a lot of antioxidants and phytochemicals. The antioxidants beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and selenium and many different phytochemicals are found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. One of the most important antioxidants is an amino acid called glutathione. Glutathione is made by the body and is also found in some foods, including acorn squash, asparagus, spinach, strawberries, and watermelon, to name a few. The B vitamins, including folic acid, are also very important in this initial process. For more information on antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, CLICK HERE.
During the second part of the detoxification, the liver adds a substance to the now less harmful chemical to make it water soluble. It can then be moved out of the body in urine or feces. During this process, foods rich in sulphur compounds are needed. Some of the foods with a lot of sulphur compounds are cabbage, brussel sprouts, and broccoli.
Other specific foods that help in the detoxification process are:
- Asparagus – glutathione
- Avocado – glutathione
- Beets – contain antioxidants, carotenoids, folic acid and flavonoids
- Brazil Nuts – selenium
- Broccoli – contains B vitamins, vitamin C and folic acid
- Brown Rice – provides B vitamins and selenium
- Carrots – contain beta-carotine and other carotenoids
- Eggs – B vitamins
- Garlic – selenium, glutathione
- Melons & Peppers – vitamin C
- Mushrooms – glutamic acid (for glutathione)
- Onions – sulfur compounds, glutathione
- Papaya, plantains, guava – beta-carotene and vitamin C
- Spinach – folic acid, B vitamins, glutathione
- Tomatoes – vitamins C & E, lycopene (antioxidant)
- Watermelon – glutathione
- Wheatgerm – selenium and vitamin E, phytochemicals
THE CLEANSE CONTROVERSY
You will find experts and layman alike who will tell you that cleanses are not worth the money you pay for them or the time you put into them. Some consider cleanses to be a fad or a current trend. However, cleanses and cures have been used since the early beginnings of naturopathic medicine.
It has been said that the human body is equipped to cleanse itself and does so on a regular basis and this, for the most part, is true. But the human body has remained essentially unchanged since our Neanderthal cousins walked the earth. Back then, they used their muscles to catch their food and most of what they ate was raw and full of fibre. They exercised daily as a matter of survival and not twice a week at the gym. Today, our bodies have to contend with our lack of movement, overly stressed lifestyles and polluted environments. Something as mundane as the cleaning products we use in our homes can have catastrophic effects on our health.
Chemicals used to manufacture a variety of household items from clothing to food packaging to upholstery may make it harder for women to become pregnant, a new study suggests. Researchers have found that women who have elevated levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in their blood are anywhere from 60 to 154 per cent more likely to be infertile compared to women who have lower levels of these chemicals. The study, published in the European reproductive medicine journal Human Reproduction, included more than 1,200 women from the Danish National Birth Cohort. 2
As stated earlier, your liver can regenerate itself but a toxic liver cell, regenerated, is still a toxic liver cell. Your liver needs to be as toxin-free as possible to be healthy and fully functional.
Ensure Your Liver Is Healthy Enough For A Cleanse
It sounds silly, doesn’t it? Make sure your liver is healthy before doing a cleanse. Isn’t that what you’re undertaking a cleanse for? Let’s look at it this way; jogging is good for your muscles unless you have a twisted ankle. Not all cleanses are created equal. Do your homework, ask a lot of questions, and check with your health care professional first before beginning a cleanse to ensure your liver is in a fit state to handle it. Choose a more gentle cleanse for your first time so you know what to expect if you decide to do a cleanse again. A good rule of thumb is not to do more than two annual cleanses; one in the spring and one in the autumn. For the majority of people leading a healthy lifestyle, one cleanse per year is enough.
Liver Detox™ is an easy-to use, two-part cleanse program that contains minerals, vitamins, herbs and amino acids that have long been used to support the cleansing of the liver.
Both the Morning Formula (Part I) and the Evening Formula (Part II) contain minerals, herbs and amino acids that promote healthy liver function.
It makes sense to decide to lead a healthier lifestyle after you complete your cleanse. If your liver is functioning at peak capacity, chances are your sleep will improve, you’ll have more energy, and have a brighter outlook on life in general.
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner, registered with Natural Health Practitioners Canada, who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 9 years experience in her area of expertise, naturopathic medicine, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch ® Practitioner and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.
2. CTV Mednews Express, Wednesday, January 28, 2009.