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 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. It brings the ratio of the different immune cells back into balance to enable the immune system to function correctly. It’s easy to maintain liver health by adopting some simple lifestyle changes.
The role of the liver: health benefits of this organ
Aside from detoxification, supporting digestive organs and modulating our immune response, the liver filters and stores blood 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. It works 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.
Signs of liver damage, and how to improve liver health
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. 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.
There are a few first signs of liver damage and disease: jaundice, abdominal pain, digestive issues, loss of appetite, fatigue, itching skin, spider veins, dark stool and bleeding, hormonal imbalances, low or ‘bad’ moods. If you’re wondering, ‘where is liver pain felt?’, the answer is that most people feel it as a dull sensation in the upper-right abdomen. It can also feel like a stabbing pain, and can even be felt as a radiating pain up into the back or shoulder blade.
If you notice any signs that your liver is struggling, keep an eye on them and book an appointment with your GP.
Fortunately, there is so much that you can do with a natural lifestyle approach to give your liver support and optimise its function. This includes: 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. In addition, these measures will help fight high cholesterol and heart disease, so what’s stopping you?
Liver friendly foods
A low-sugar, low-toxin liver friendly 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, 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.
Foods good for the liver: bitters, Green grasses and cruciferous vegetables
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 are full of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytochemicals, and they may 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. These foods are good for liver repair: they 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 and apple cider vinegar
Fruits, including berries and melons, provide and balance crucial electrolyte minerals (magnesium, calcium and potassium) required by the liver, and are excellent sources of vitamins. In addition, they’re beneficial for improving healthy circulation by acting similarly to haemoglobin.
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.
Drinking green tea and water for liver health
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.
According to nutritionist Kristin Kirkpatrick, water should be considered your liver’s new best friend: “Consuming more water means you’ll consume less soda, juice or specialty drinks – a welcome improvement for your wallet and your calorie budget. My personal policy is to avoid drinking calories as much as possible, because your body won’t compensate for liquid calories by consuming fewer calories from food. Fluid calories can quickly add up to excess amounts, contributing to weight gain. Plus, water helps keep the entire body functioning optimally, helping to regulate fluid and electrolyte balances, promoting good digestion, and more.”
LIVER CLEANSING FOODS
Lemons: try lemon water
Lemons contain strongly alkaline minerals as well as high levels of magnesium, potassium and sodium, so the fruit has a powerful alkalising effect on the body. It also supports liver detoxification, helps to cleanse the intestines and reduces bloating.
Liver detox foods: beetroot
Beetroots are a powerful food for supporting liver function. They’re high in antioxidants and contain a range of nutrients that have been shown to help cleanse and detoxify the body. These include betaine, which helps the liver cells to eliminate toxins, and betalains, pigments with strong anti-inflammatory properties which encourage the detoxification process. Beets are also an extremely versatile vegetable – you can use them in juices, salads, smoothies, veggie burgers and even cakes!
How to cleanse your liver from alcohol
Research has found there is an increased risk of liver disease for those who drink daily or near-daily compared with those who have a tipple periodically. If you’re wondering ‘how long does it take to detox your liver?’, most people find that they stop experiencing detox symptoms four to five days since their last drink.
According to Jayney Goddard, alcohol should really be entirely avoided for optimal liver function: “Over 90 percent of alcohol is metabolised in your liver. Liver enzymes convert alcohol to acetaldehyde, a known cancer-causing chemical. Recognising acetaldehyde as a toxin, your liver metabolises it to a harmless substance called acetate, which is then eliminated from your body. Excessive drinking severely damages your liver by causing fat build-up, inflammation, and scarring. When this happens, your liver cannot perform its necessary tasks, including filtering waste and other toxins from your body. Limiting or abstaining entirely from alcohol is crucial in keeping all your body’s detoxification systems running.”
Foods that are bad for liver health
According to nutritionist Kristin Kirkpatrick, most white foods should be avoided; mainly because a lot of these are processed: Tofu, cauliflower, onions, white beans, and hearts of palm can stay. But white bread, pasta, rice and crackers, as well as white potatoes and other starchy or sugary foods, need to go. They cause your insulin and blood sugar to embark on a major roller-coaster ride, which over time increases your chances of developing insulin resistance and suffering liver damage. Bean-based pastas, such as those made from black beans, red lentils and edamame are trendy because they’re loaded with protein and fibre and have less carbs than traditional pasta, so they won’t take your insulin or blood sugar levels on a wild ride.
It’s wise to be wary of trans fats, too, found in many packaged baked foods and fried foods. Trans fats are essentially toxins because they’re harmful to your blood vessels and damaging to your liver. Get in the habit of reading labels on packaged foods and avoid anything that has the words ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ on it. Also, steer clear of fried foods, which often rely on hydrogenated oils. Examples include French fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, and other fried fare.
The best liver supplements
Milk thistle extract is an outstanding source of silymarin; an antioxidant that protects glutathione levels in the liver and also fights liver disease. It’s the ultimate in liver health supplements.
Herbs for liver health
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: all signs that your liver is healing.
Bupleurum is a medicinal root used for combating infections and improving digestive issues including acid reflux, diarrhoea and constipation. It helps improve adrenal gland function, reduces effects of stress and makes the immune system work more efficiently.