The liver is one amazing organ! However, our modern lifestyles and urban living puts a lot of strain on the liver. Believe it or not, maintaining a healthy liver really isn’t complicated. Some healthy living practices is all it takes to keep it in great shape.
Let the liver amaze you
It is the largest solid organ in the body and about the size of a football. It also has the ability to regenerate after injury, in as fast as a week. The liver has a few very important roles in the body that include:
- cleansing your blood by removing toxins
- producing bile to aid digestion
- storing the sugar glycogen, an important source of energy
- producing cholesterol
- aiding blood clotting
- breaking down chemical components such as medicines and supplements
Detoxification for liver care
Detoxification is a major function of the liver and the most well-known. We can break it down into three different phases:
PHASE I – the first line of defence against toxins. Here, a group of enzymes called cytochrome P450 help neutralise substances such as caffeine and alcohol, converting them into less harmful substances, offering protection to the liver.
However the by-products of this phase can still pose a toxic threat to the body and if allowed to build up and remain in the liver can cause damage. This is where phase 2 comes in.
PHASE II – this phase, known as conjugation, neutralises the by-products produced during phase 1 along with any other remaining toxins. It does this by making the toxins water-soluble so they can be easily excreted from the body via urine or stool.
The amino acids glutathione and glycine, as well as sulphate are responsible for the optimal functioning of this phase
PHASE III – involves transporting the water-soluble conjugates produced in phase 2 out of the body. Either your kidneys filtrate them out via urine or they are removed with your bile into your small intestine and down through the GI tract for elimination via stool.
Sometimes these phases of detoxification do not function as well as they should, causing unpleasant symptoms. In most cases phase 1 will function effortlessly and we run into trouble when we hit phase 2. Some symptoms that may indicate poor liver function:
- nausea, bloating and indigestion
- constipation and diarrhoea
- intolerances to foods or chemicals
- menstrual irregularities
- food and sugar cravings
- skin itchiness or breakouts
The good news is there are many ways to help support your liver to fulfil its many important roles including detoxification.
Ways to help your liver
- Watch your alcohol intake – Alcohol significantly decreases phase 2 activity, as it depletes glutathione needed for this phase
- Drink enough water – to help with excretion of toxins in all phases
- Cut down portion sizes – the liver needs to produce bile to breakdown your food, the more you eat the more work the liver has to do
- Food quality – try to reduce pesticides found in food and eat foods rich in nutrients and antioxidants to give your liver a well deserved break
- Exercise regularly –movement assists in detoxification through the bowel and sweating will further aid excretion of toxins
- Avoid environmental toxins – the less toxins that go in, the less work the liver has to do. Take a look at cleaning products, skincare products and exposure to pollution and chemicals
- Maintain a healthy weight – excess weight puts pressure on liver function and fat also makes a great storage facility for toxins, making it harder to get them out of the body
- Pump up the fibre – for two reasons, firstly fibre will aid detoxification through the gastrointestinal tract, kind of like a big brush sweeping through. Second, it feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut that will also aid liver function and detoxification
Foods and drinks for a healthy liver
- Green tea – brimming with antioxidants
- Broccoli – contains sulphur necessary in phase II. It will give you plenty of fibre and nutrients but is also a great source of the compound indole-3-carbinol that helps the liver remove excess hormones that can be harmful
- Nuts – packed with fibre and nutrients
- Garlic – a rich antioxidant that can also help activate liver detox enzymes
- Turmeric – can improve overall liver function and healthy digestion of fats as well as having antioxidant properties
- Fermented foods – will help promote gut-friendly bacteria for healthy elimination through the bowel
- Globe artichoke – has a long history of use in supporting the liver, aiding digestion, helping the breakdown of fats and as a prebiotic to keep the gut happy
- Radicchio, chicory, dandelion greens, rocket – these are all known as bitters, they enhance bile production
- Lemons – contain citric acid plus vitamin C and bioflavonoids which enhance liver detoxification
- Avocado – not only is it a great source of fibre but it is also rich in glutathione
Herbs for a healthy liver
- St Mary’s Thistle – the most well-known and well-researched herb for the liver. St Mary’s thistle, also known as milk thistle, contains active constituents called silymarin which promote detoxification. Plus it is a strong antioxidant that lowers oxidative stress in the liver.
- Schisandra – this herb acts in both phase I and phase II detoxification. It has antioxidant properties and is a valuable adaptogen (helping the body adapt to stress)
- Dandelion root – another herb with a long history of use in the liver and digestion. Dandelion root helps strengthen the liver and stimulates bile flow
- Globe artichoke – just like its use as a food, higher concentrations of globe artichoke can be taken for therapeutic effects in the liver and gallbladder
- Bupleurum – Used in traditional Chinese medicine for ‘restoring normal function to the liver and gallbladder’. It helps to protect the liver and improve bile flow
Nnutrients for a healthy liver
- Taurine – an amino acid that is an important component of bile. Taurine levels are low in vegetarians and vegans since it is found predominantly within animal foods. It helps bind fats for elimination through bile and has a protective role in the liver
- Glutathione – this amino acid acts as an antioxidant neutralising free radicals and regenerating other antioxidant compounds like vitamin C and vitamin E. Glutathione plays a major role in the second phase of liver detoxification and the elimination of metabolic by-products from the body. Body stores of glutathione can be easily depleted by modern day diet and lifestyle.
- N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) – a precursor to glutathione, NAC is a strong detoxifying agent and a potent antioxidant
- Vitamin C & bioflavonoids – important in liver detoxification pathways, it helps protect the enzymes created in phase I and phase II and also protects the liver tissue from oxidative stress
- B-complex vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, folic acid) – low levels of B-complex vitamins, particularly B12 and folate can negatively affect liver function
- Choline, inositol & methionine – known as lipotrophics and are compounds that break down fat in metabolism
With so much for the liver to work at everyday it’s no wonder it can sometimes get a little sluggish. Making small dietary and lifestyle changes can really help take the burden off the liver and improve your overall health.