Learning to Love Your Liver

Image © Shuttertsock/Natali

It’s amongst the hardest working organs in the human body, but most people don’t give it a lot of thought. Here, Aleney de Winter investigates why you should learn to love your liver.

The liver is the largest organ inside our bodies and is vital to metabolic, detoxification, and immune system functions. The liver does so much for us and in return most of us tend to abuse it. Seriously, if I were my liver, I’d have applied for a restraining order against me years ago. Because, despite it filtering damaging toxins from my body, manufacturing bile to digest fats and keep things moving, regulating most of the chemicals in my bloodstream and, you know, generally keeping me alive … I’ve returned the favour by marinating it in alcohol for the last few decades.

The liver is one of the hardest working organs in the human body as, along with its job as the body’s major detoxifier, it assists with the production of energy, metabolises proteins and carbohydrates, aids digestion and stores vitamins essential to our health. And we all need to treat our own with a little more care.

A compromised liver can lead to a build-up of toxins in your bloodstream. While some of the more obvious signs that your liver is not functioning properly include fatigue, abdominal pain and jaundice, it can lead to everything from anxiety, depression, PMT and tiredness to headaches, weight gain, digestive problems, irritable bowel syndrome, bad cholesterol levels, allergies, itchiness and even bad breath. At its worst, it can lead to Hepatic encephalopathy, a decline in brain function.

The catalyst for me to learn a little more about my poor mistreated liver was losing a parent to liver cancer. A parent who ironically never drank alcohol in her life. What was that all about? Surely her liver should have been high-fiving her with optimal health.  But things aren’t that black and white and it turns out that there’s more to maintaining a healthy liver than just cutting back on the booze.

Here’s a ten step plan to loving your liver…

Keep your weight down

A healthy weight is really important for a healthy liver as obesity is a high risk factor for a spectrum of liver abnormalities including inflammation, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes, and puts us at risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Take your liver for a walk

Leave the car at home and walk. Exercise is vital for a healthy liver and it’s as easy as adding a few extra steps to your day. Walking to work, taking the stairs, or kicking around a ball with the kids are all easy ways to add to your daily step count.

Eat your veggies

Your liver loves colourful fruits and vegetables including berries, dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, sweet potatoes, which are high in beta-carotene and vitamin A, and berries which contain antioxidants that can assist in protecting the liver.

Avoid sugar

Yep, sugar is the bad guy, yet again. Our bodies break sugar down into glucose, some of which is burned off immediately as energy, and the excess glucose in the blood is turned into fat cells. Our livers are one of the repositories of these fat cells and the deposits can lead to non-alcohol related fatty liver disease.

Go for good fats

A diet high in fast and fried food does not a happy liver make as over consumption of oily, processed foods can lead to obesity and liver damage. But your liver loves good fats, like avocado, olive oil and omega-3 packed salmon, all of which can help maintain enzyme levels in the liver.

Spice up your life

Your liver will love you for it. Cinnamon and turmeric are packed with antioxidants, which help your body reduce inflammation. Oregano, sage, or rosemary are a great source of healthy polyphenols. And research has shown that ginger has beneficial effects on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Chew your food

At the risk of sounding like a nagging mother (which, for the record, I am), chew your food! At least 20 times per mouthful. Chewing your food properly can supress negative stress responses, stops overeating and sets your digestive system up for better nutrient absorption. So do as your told.

Water your way to wellness

Your liver loves a drink… of water. Water helps the blood to pass through your liver, making it more efficient at filtering out toxins, so keep it consistently hydrated throughout the day.

Sleep it off

Is there anything a good night’s sleep can’t help? Sleep deprivation can affect liver metabolism. Losing as little as one night’s sleep can affect the liver’s ability to produce glucose and process insulin, increasing the risk of Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.

Drink apple cider vinegar

Though still in its infancy, there is research to back the theory that adding apple cider vinegar to the diet can lower cholesterol levels and have a protective effect on the liver.

Take a chill pill

Anxiety and depression can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and raised blood pressure, which have all been linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Studies have also shown a possible link between liver disease death and elevated stress levels. Find some calm through meditation or yoga and be kind to yourself.

Brown and out

As well as being good for your heart, brain, kidneys and skin, regular well-formed bowel movements that pass without strain are an important sign of a healthy liver.  A sluggish bowel can cause a build-up of toxins that are absorbed from the bowel and back to the liver. Keep an eye out for healthy shades of brown poop, as pale stools can be an indication of liver and biliary drainage system damage, while black tarry stools can be an indication of advanced liver disease.

The tipsy elephant in the room

Yes, I’m talking about booze. No, alcohol is not great for your liver. It is, in fact, a liver toxin. And yes, you’ll need to back off the bevvies. But that doesn’t mean going cold turkey (although no one is suggesting that’s a bad idea), it just means cutting back on the frequency of drinking and avoiding binge drinking (four or more drinks in a period of two hours or under) as drinking too much in one sitting can cause massive stress to the liver, which can lead to liver damage.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only, and does not constitute health or medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health, seek immediate medical attention.