Is your liver in jeopardy?
“I will respect this liver, after all, it's not mine." - George Best after his liver transplant.
It is interesting how we often need a wake-up call to moderate our human behaviour. Perhaps if we stopped to consider the importance of this organ we would learn to care for it more responsibly.
The liver is the largest solid organ in the body. It is a triangular shaped filtering system with a variety of essential functions, so essential that we have evolved with a protective cage around it.
As well as the filtering of waste products from the blood, the liver makes and secretes bile to help your body absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Therefore it acts as our main fat burning organ. The liver also metabolises and stores carbohydrates, fats, sugars and vitamins for energy and brain function. It breaks down harmful chemicals produced by the body, it manufactures proteins and breaks down hormones. The liver also detoxifies water and removes drugs, alcohol and environmental toxins.
In this era when we are continuously abusing our precious filtering systems with high fructose drinks, alcohol, processed foods and a cocktail of chemicals, is it any wonder that our livers may be displaying a little fatigue? Are they under-performing? Could the rise in obesity be a reflection of our weary livers failing to allow fat burning at the rate of consumption? Perhaps the steady increase in Type 2 diabetes reflects our increasing love of sugar rich fast foods and our livers inability to keep up with the processing of glucose.
So how exactly can the liver become damaged? Among the contenders is of course heavy alcohol consumption. When you drink alcohol, the liver gets diverted from its other functions and focuses mainly on converting alcohol to a less toxic form. A high consumption of sugar can also create problems, particularly fructose as this can only be metabolized by the liver. Sweet drinks such as those containing high corn fructose syrup, and processed foods are the main threat here. High salt intake is another contender, it can cause fatty liver disease by building up fluid in the liver leading to swelling.
Fatty liver disease if often associated with alcoholism. However ‘non-alcoholic fatty liver disease’ can often occur and is on the increase. Consider fois gras, ducks and geese are force-fed sugar in the form of corn and starch, during digestion this sugar starts a 'fat-production factory' in the liver, a process known as lipogenesis, which is our body’s normal response to sugar. Fructose increases the lipogenesis response. And there you go, a fatty liver is produced. Try think of this process next time you are pulling on that cola ring. If consumed in excess, fructose could be turning to fat in your liver.
Problems with your liver can of course be inherited or due to a virus. These things we cannot control, but mistreating your liver can be stopped. Why raise the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, allergies and many other ailments?
Avoiding an excessive consumption of tobacco, alcohol, coffee and sugar and drinking lots of water are all ways to optimise liver health. Making small gradual changes is key - start introducing liver-supporting foods into your diet. Garlic helps your liver activate enzymes that can flush out toxins, it also has a high amount of allicin and selenium, two natural compounds that aid in liver cleansing.
Beetroot can make a good liver-supporting choice due to a high level of plant-flavonoids, which can improve the overall functioning of your liver. They are a firm favourite when running cleanse programmes, due to versatility and taste.
Leafy greens like spinach and lettuce are also great additions to a liver friendly diet. What we are after here is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll helps to rid the body of environmental toxins, heavy metals, herbicides, and pesticides, so acts as a protective mechanism for the liver.
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and brussels sprouts contain important phytochemicals that aid in the detox process. These phytochemicals stimulate detoxification enzymes in the digestive tract.
The delicious lemon and avocado should also feature in a liver friendly diet. They produce a type of antioxidant called glutathione, which is needed for our livers to filter out harmful substances. Squeeze lemon into your avocado dip, or sip on warm water with lemon for a liver boosting beverage. Lemons help our bodies cleanse out toxic materials and aid the digestion process.
Another useful cuppa would be green tea. This is full of plant antioxidants known as catechins, which have been known to improve the functions of our liver.
If you like spice, try using turmeric. This has recently been researched in relation to aiding liver repair in diabetic rats. This pungent powder has been known for its liver health properties. Pop some in your curries and soups or make turmeric tea.
Whatever you choose to do for liver support, choose to respect your liver for you only have one and a precious organ it is.
About the author
Belle Amatt, Registered Nutrition Consultant and Lecturer in Naturopathic Nutrition, BSc Nutritional Medicine. Belle specialises in education providing workshops and lectures on a variety of themes with the aim of providing practical solutions in order to enhance well-being.
Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.
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