Liver is the second largest organ in the body (the skin is the largest) and one of the most important ones. This month is perfect to talk about how to look after your liver as British Liver Trust, the leading adult liver health charity are running a national awareness campaign, Love Your Liver. Their message is simple: take Three Steps to a healthy liver by being aware of the risks from alcohol, obesity and viral hepatitis.
If you overindulged over festive season and overworked your liver, now it’s the time to look at your diet and see how you can improve it to help your liver recover quicker. However, diet is not the only thing you can change to improve your liver’s functions. In this blog post I explore different ways of looking after your liver; from eating foods good for liver to exercising.
What does your liver do exactly?
To understand why you should look after your liver, we should take a look at the function of the liver first. Liver does lots of things and its most important function is to filter blood coming from the digestive tract and remove toxins from it before passing it to the rest of the body. Imagine if liver didn’t work very well. What do you think it will happen to your body? One thing that happens for sure is the toxins start to accumulate in your body, creating all sorts of health issues.
Some other functions liver has:
- it makes proteins important for blood clotting and other functions
- it controls the amount of cholesterol
- it turns glucose into glycogen that can be stored both in the liver and in the muscle cells
- it makes bile that helps with food digestion
- it breaks down medications and drugs, including alcohol
Looking at the functions of the liver it becomes clear how important role this organ carries and shows that it is crucial to keep it healthy. Healthy liver means healthy body!
Foods good for liver
To keep your liver working at its best eat unprocessed foods as much as possible. Avoid foods high in saturated fats and sugar, such as junk food, chocolate, cakes and biscuits and instead eat lots of organic vegetables especially cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage. From fruits, dark grapes and berries are especially helpful at stimulating energy flow through the liver. As a part of a healthy and balanced diet also include healthy grains such as amaranth, millet and quinoa and legumes such as kidney beans, peas and soybeans.
There are also lots of herbs and spices which help to improve liver function such as parsley, turmeric, dandelion, peppermint, and many more.
Milk thistle is a herb that is sometimes used as a natural treatment for liver problems and its main active ingredient silymarin is claimed to protect the liver from toxins. There are some studies suggesting that silymarin can be helpful in protecting the liver but more studies are needed to show whether milk thistle has any effects in the body (1).
What to drink for liver health
For liver health it’s important to avoid alcohol which is one of the most common causes of liver damage and one of the most toxic substances to the liver. Drinking enough water helps liver flush out the toxins and drinking lemon water on an empty stomach every morning will also help as lemon water reduces inflammation and oxidation in the liver (2).
You have to be careful not to take too many supplements and only those that you think you really need and benefit from as these are all processed by liver and too much of them can actually damage the liver. The US study showed that “liver injury caused by non-bodybuilding supplements is most severe, occurring more often in middle-aged women and more frequently resulting in death or the need for transplantation than liver injury from bodybuilding supplements or conventional medications.” (3)
Be especially careful with iron supplements as too much iron can really damage your liver. The best is to talk to your doctor and regularly monitor iron levels in your body.
“Too much iron can cause liver scarring which in some cases can lead to cirrhosis, a condition where the liver slowly deteriorates and malfunctions. Excess iron can also increase a person’s risk of developing liver cancer. ” (4)
Also, be careful with vitamin A as excessive consumption can cause damage to your liver too.
So be careful – the supplements you take may not be as safe as you think! Do not take high dose supplements unless recommended by a medical practitioner.
Smoking and liver
Smoking is bad for your liver and it dramatically increases your risk of developing liver cancer (5). If you smoke, seek some help to help you quit and reduce your risk of developing liver cancer.
If you regularly use cannabis this could cause liver damage and other drugs have also potential to put stress on your liver. Amphetamines (speed) can damage your liver and cocaine and ecstasy can cause liver toxicity and even liver failure. If you want to look after your liver, the best is to avoid any kind of drugs.
Other toxins to avoid
Every day people are exposed to toxins which they are not even aware of. These come in all forms and from various sources such as:
- passive smoking
- polluted air
- mercury (found in certain fish)
- tap water
- body and skin care products
- make up and perfumes
- cleaning products
Too many toxins in your blood and your liver will feel overworked and will not able to efficiently remove the toxins from the body. But what can you do? A lot actually. Use only natural cosmetics, cleaning products that are not harmful to humans in any way, live away from the big cities, polluted towns and busy roads. Avoiding different types of toxins will not keep only liver in good health but the whole body will be much healthier too.
Importance of exercise
Exercise can actually improve liver health, studies have shown. By exercising, you can reduce the amount of fatty tissue in the liver that can make you feel exhausted or sluggish. A combination of aerobic exercise and weight training has the greatest effect on liver function (6).
The key to a healthy liver is a healthy lifestyle. Don’t smoke and avoid alcohol. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Avoid various toxins if you can and be careful with dietary supplements. These are the key points to follow to look after your liver and keep them in good health.
***Please note that the video clips are produced by the British Liver Trust but they’ve had no editorial input in the information provided.***