This 4 lb organ is responsible for some of the body’s most important functions, so show it some love!
With “detox” being all the rage in the health world these days, it’s easy to overlook the fact that our body has a pretty incredible detoxifying system in place, already.
I’m referring to the liver - a 4lb organ located in the abdomen, which plays a vital role in removing toxins from our blood and our bodies.
You might be surprised to find out, however, that our liver isn’t just a detoxifying machine - it also plays a vital role in regulating hormone health by eliminating excess hormones in your system; it targets and reduces inflammation; it can relieve allergic responses to everything from run-of-the-mill hay fever to food allergies; and, when functioning optimally, can greatly reduce the symptoms of skin conditions like psoriasis.
Clearly, this is not an organ to be trifled with… and yet you may be damaging your liver in ways you’re not even aware of.
What’s ailing your liver?
When most of us think of an ailing liver, unfortunate addictions like alcoholism and drug dependence come to mind. And it’s true: the most damaging substances for your liver are undoubtedly drugs and alcohol.
If you’re regularly binge drinking, consuming multiple drinks every day, or taking recreational drugs, you’re doing your liver a grave disservice - and there are probably some psychological factors affecting your behaviour you’ll need to deal with.
If you have a couple of glasses of wine a couple of nights a week, however, your liver is likely going to be okay (provided you don’t have any pre-existing conditions).
So why is it that so many of us don’t actually have an optimally functioning liver?
One answer could be pharmaceutical drugs - if you’re on a hefty number of prescription drugs, there’s a good chance you are stressing out your liver. It may seem counterintuitive, as these drugs are designed to treat conditions that are also bad for you - but they could be making your liver worse in the long run.
Another, more worrisome answer are that the chemicals and pesticides we now find in our cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and even food - they all can contain environmental toxins that put extra stress on our livers.
Your liver may also be maxed out because you’re consuming drugs you don’t think of as drugs. Things like excessive amounts of caffeine (think 3-4 energy drinks a day, or more) and regular consumption of acetaminophen for pain relief have a very similar effect on the liver to hard recreational drugs when taken in large amounts.
Between the rise in pharmaceutical drug prescription in the last 50 years, the industrialization of our food production, the lack of FDA regulation of cosmetics and cleaning products, and sneaky “drugs” in our diet or lifestyle, our poor livers have been taking a beating.
Luckily, there are several natural ways to support liver function.
Food is a great place to start supporting your liver.
First, let’s talk about what to avoid - you’ll want to lessen the stress on your system by skipping out on deep-fried, processed foods, and avoiding refined sugar.
Next, some foods to start including in you diet on a daily basis:
Cruciferous Vegetables - broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts are full of fibre and antioxidants, and have been proven to reduce the likelihood of liver disease and cancer.
Garlic & Onions - while they’re not great to eat if you’re planning any close-talking, garlic and onions activate the enzymes in your liver that help it flush toxins.
Fresh Fruits - blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries and pomegranates contain antioxidants and phytochemicals known to regenerate liver cells. Grapefruit also helps support the detoxification pathways.
Supplements for liver health
If food is ground zero for liver support, supplements are the next level up - they target the liver’s specific needs and act a little faster than just dietary changes. If you fear your liver is lagging, try the following:
- Milk thistle contains some of the most potent liver-protective substances known, including silymarin, which inhibits the action of free radicals that damage liver cells. It also stimulates protein synthesis, which results in the production of new liver cells to replace the damaged ones.
- N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is a molecule that supports and replenishes the natural antioxidant glutathione, sparing liver cells from the effects of oxidant and free radical damage.
- Globe artichoke head, leaves and root have traditionally been used to improve digestion as well as liver, gallbladder and kidney function. The cynarin found in artichoke has been found to stimulate bile secretion as well as lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
- Dandelion root is considered the ideal liver remedy because it is completely non-toxic and gently restores liver function. It enhances the flow of bile and supports the kidneys during cleansing and detoxification of the liver and bowels.
- Turmeric has long been considered a powerful healing plant. Curcumin, the principal active ingredient, has demonstrated potent liver protective, detoxifying, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.
- Betaine, choline, methionine, vitamin B6, folic acid, and vitamin B12 are important lipotropic agents, compounds that promote the flow of fat and bile to and from the liver. They produce a “decongesting” effect on the liver and promote improved liver function and fat metabolism.
The liver is so much more than just a detoxifying organ - regulation of its function can have a dramatic effect on your health & well-being. Some simple lifestyle and dietary changes to support the liver may be all that’s standing in the way of you having more energy, healthy hormones, better skin, and even less risk of serious disease.
Dr. Marita Schauch, Bsc, ND
Tall Tree Integrated Health Centre
5325 Cordova Bay Rd.
Victoria, BC V8Y 2L3