Feeling sluggish? This vital organ might be in need of some TLC
Nestled in the upper right side of your abdomen, behind your ribcage, you probably don’t give your liver very much thought, but it is the largest internal organ and it’s always hard at work. Constantly communicating with other digestive organs, it analyses available nutrients and looks out for potential threats (like medications, heavy metals and other toxic substances) and converts them into harmless material that can be released or stored away safely in fatty tissue. Your liver is also involved in the fine balancing act of immune modulation – bringing the ratio of the different immune cells back into balance to enable the immune system to function correctly. Pretty heroic, huh? The good news is, it’s easy to maintain liver health by adopting some simple lifestyle changes. And, it’s a quick ‘win’ – if your liver has been a bit sluggish, you’ll notice the benefits of these really quickly.
Aside from detoxification, supporting digestive organs and modulating our immune response, the liver filters and stores blood, is involved in blood clotting, and breaks down damaged blood cells so that they can be eliminated. Also on the to-do list for your liver is producing bile, breaking down and converting nutrients once they reach the digestive system – keeping nutrients at optimal levels in the bloodstream and even storing some nutrients, including certain vitamins.
As well as all this, it manages the conversion of dietary fats and manufactures triglycerides and cholesterol. It helps to convert the carbohydrates you consume, turning them into glucose, and stores them for later use. Your liver is a real team player, too, working with other organs including your gallbladder, stomach and spleen, as it receives digested particles or toxins, analysing how to best process these: circulating them around through your bloodstream or eliminating them before they harm you.
When your liver is functioning well, you’ll experience improved energy levels, clearer skin, better hormonal balance (including reduced menstrual pain), fewer infections and faster recovery from infection, fresher breath, better digestion, positive mood and improved cognitive function.
Unlike any other organ in your body, the liver is able to regenerate if it has become damaged thanks to the action of growth factors, cytokines and matrix remodelling. That might seem like a magical power, but it’s true – if you had the misfortune of having three quarters of your liver damaged, it would still be able to regrow. In fact, when someone has a ‘liver transplant’ only a portion of a living donor’s liver replaces the patient’s diseased liver and it regenerates – growing back to full size.
Your liver is vulnerable to various diseases and problems including cirrhosis, alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis, liver cancer, genetic disorders and more. Just a few symptoms of liver damage and disease include: jaundice, abdominal pain, digestive issues, loss of appetite, fatigue, itching skin, spider veins, dark stool and bleeding, hormonal imbalances, low or ‘bad’ moods.
Fortunately, there is so much that you can do with a natural lifestyle approach to nurture and protect your liver and optimise its function including: reducing toxin exposure, avoiding heavy alcohol consumption and drug use, protecting against hepatitis, eating a healthy wholefood diet with high levels of fibre, avoiding obesity, using herbal supplements, exercising and managing stress.
A low-sugar, low-toxin diet with high amounts of antioxidants and fibre all support liver health and can even help to reverse liver damage and disease. Aim to eat whole foods (preferably organic – to reduce your toxin exposure), including unrefined sources of carbohydrates, veggies, fruits and healthy fats. Try to avoid adding fats or oils to your foods or during cooking as these have been shown to compromise overall health – and liver function.
Bitters! Yes, it used to be believed that ‘taking bitters’ would help your liver health – and as so often happens, these ‘old wives tales’ have been shown to be true. Foods that often taste bitter to us tend to be high in essential minerals that balance fluids and reduce heavy metals within the blood. Bitter green vegetables are really helpful – including chicory, rocket, dandelion and leafy greens, like collards or Swiss chard. In fact, leafy greens of all types (including the herbs coriander, parsley and oregano) are full of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytochemicals, and they may also increase levels of glutathione, a vital amino acid that supports the destruction of free radicals within the body.
Green grasses (including chlorella, barley and wheat grass) contain a form of chlorophyll, which supports the liver in detoxifying contaminants safely, while increasing antioxidants like superoxide dismutase.
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, kale and cauliflower raise low potassium levels and contain indole compounds that are known to help reduce your risk of disease and eliminate potential carcinogens from the body. Cruciferous vegetables also increase production of digestive enzymes called glucosinolates that support liver function and enhance its ability to draw carcinogens and heavy metals out of the blood.
Fruits, including berries and melons, provide and balance crucial electrolyte minerals (magnesium, calcium and potassium) required by the liver. In addition, they’re beneficial for improving healthy circulation by acting similar to haemoglobin.
Green tea, and matcha contain powerful antioxidant compounds known as catechins that combat free radicals within the blood, thus reducing liver inflammation and lessening the effects of oxidative stress on all of your digestive organs.
Apple cider vinegar contains beneficial enzymes and antioxidants, such as acetic acid and malic acid that help establish a healthy ratio of acid to alkalinity.
Milk thistle is an outstanding source of silymarin; an antioxidant that protects glutathione levels in the liver and also fights liver disease.
Holy basil contains essential oils that help combat bacteria, heavy metals and even strains of fungus.
Dandelion root has a natural diuretic effect, it balances fluid levels and boosts the liver’s ability to efficiently eliminate toxins, strengthens the immune system, helps balance blood sugar and relieves indigestion.
Bupleurum is a medicinal root used for combatting infections and improving digestive issues including acid reflux, diarrhoea and constipation. It helps improve adrenal gland function, reduce effects of stress and make the immune system work more efficiently.
Jayney Goddard is president of the Complementary Medical Association. Find out more at the-cma.org.uk
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