For most of my life, just hearing the word liver made me cringe. I pictured a toxic exotic, inedible delicacy in a strange culture. I was a vegetarian, of course – and then vegan – for nearly half of my life so, liver certainly never appealed to me as a food. Fois gras? French pate? Non, merci.
But now that I understand the liver from a physiological perspective, I find this organ incredibly appealing! It’s the most metabolically active – and the largest – organ in the human body with more than 500 functions. It plays a major role in metabolism, including the breakdown, processing, storage and activation of nutrients to use as energy and to support the gut and immunity; regulates blood flow and blood sugar; metabolizes steroids and many hormones; filters toxins, bacteria and other harmful substances into waste products for elimination; and processes drugs and medications.
Here’s my case: to avoid overburdening your liver – and to keep your liver healthy and functioning well – be proactive and intentional about your habits.
As with all body systems, a wide range of internal and external influences affect liver function, including (and this is just a short list): poor diet, poor digestion, excess weight, excess caloric intake, a weakened immune system, inflammation, drugs and herbs, exposure to toxins, heavy metals, allergens, bacteria and viruses, diseases and inefficient accessory organ function (kidneys, gall bladder, intestines, etc.). This is just the short list of factors that encumber the liver, leading to dysfunction.
As a result of poor liver health, we may experience fatigue, poor sleep, mood alterations, brain fog, headaches, nutrient insufficiencies, inflammation, persistent colds and infections, gastrointestinal imbalances, indigestion, skin conditions, itchiness, sinus congestion, new or worsening allergies and sensitivities – even weight gain and premature aging! Again, a short list…
We often treat these symptoms individually, yet they are interconnected and digestion/gut related. Gut function and immunity go hand-in-hand. In fact, 70-80% of the immune system originates in the gut.
The significance of the liver to digestive and immune health is this: the liver is a modulator. The liver keeps the immune system in check by communicating whether to initiate a defensive response or tolerate a foreign substance; a good neighbor to the gut, the liver metabolizes carbohydrates, proteins and fats (and also produces bile to break down fats), then sends nutrients back out into the body via the bloodstream.
Rather than wage war with adverse health symptoms through sleep aids, caffeine, immune supportive supplements and/or foods, anti-histamines, skin creams, mood enhancers, elimination of trigger foods or extreme liver cleanses that may lead to metabolic dysfunction, consider more natural ways to improve your liver’s function.
First and foremost, reduce toxic load from chemicals in the environment: lawn, food, beverages, cosmetics, skin-care, and more! Reduce intake of alcohol that depletes glycogen and impedes nutrient absorption. Improve your diet and increase fiber by eating lots vegetables, especially cruciferous, leafy greens, garlic and onions, and colorful non-starchy vegetables. Proper hydration and elimination of wastes (daily bowel movements) is crucial for liver detoxification.
Lifestyle changes are also really important. Adequate sleep and at least 10 hours between dinner and breakfast will allow the liver to repair itself. Finally, regular exercise induces sweat for elimination of toxins and improves blood circulation in the liver. As always, be sure to discuss your Liver-Loving Plan with a medical or nutrition practitioner experienced in liver health.
NOTE: I had technical difficulties with citing facts in this article! Please contact me for references, if you’d like them.