January was “Liver Awareness Month” – Find out why we all need to pay more attention to our livers if we want to live a long life full in our best health.
When we focus on healthy eating, we focus generally on the things we should or should not be eating. And yes, mainly what we should be eating supports our liver and what we should not be eating (and drinking) can place a burden on our liver.
We all know that too much alcohol places a burden on the liver, and if you ask someone “Are you looking after your liver?” they might feel offended and think you suggest they drink too much. But your liver could be under pressure even if you never drank a drop of alcohol. Too much of concentrated fructose could cause non-alcoholic fatty liver.
Our liver is actually one of our hardest-working organs, together with the brain and the heart!
In this article, I will share with you all the hard work our liver is doing for you, I will share the potential health implications of an over-worked liver and I will share what you can to do look after your liver – and how this will improve your overall health and longevity!
1. Functions of the liver
Your liver is involved in about 500 different tasks in your body! The main ones are:
- Detoxifying all harmful substances from the environment, chemicals, toxic substances you produce inside your body, food, drink, medicine, alcohol
- Storing energy
- Helps digestion
- Regulates cholesterol
- Processes hormones, excretion but also recycling
- Produces bile, which is important for fat digestion
- Helps absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vit A, E, and D and some minerals
- Helps the metabolism of proteins
- Helps the immune system
The best description I heard of how the liver works is, that it’s like a recycling centre. The liver detoxifies in two phases. Phase 1 is where everything that needs detoxification is “dumped into” the liver. Phase 2 is where the different materials are sorted. There are 5 pathways in the liver and each pathway is responsible for a different type of toxin/substance, for example, one is important to clear caffeine, another one to clear certain medication, another one to clear oestrogen, etc.
The problem is that once the substances are done with phase 1, they are changing into a more dangerous version and they need to be processed as quickly as possible by phase 2. If they are not being processed straight away because their particular pathway is too busy already, they tend to get circulated back into the body – as an even more toxic substance!
Some toxic substances can be stored away in fat cells and can be released back into the bloodstream and then safely detoxified at a later stage.
That’s actually one of the reasons why people sometimes feel really bad when they are losing a lot of weight in one go!
But storing the toxins away safely does not always happen, and quite often these toxic substances floating around our bodies can be the contributing factor to diseases such as cancers. This is why drinking a lot of alcohol is always mentioned as a risk factor for alcohol.
The processing of hormones is another main task of the liver. The liver not working optimally is an important factor that causes menopausal women in particular to have hormone fluctuations. And in an even more serious issue can be the cause for breast cancer when excess hormones are not being cleared and are getting back into the body.
For many years, women were afraid to take HRT because of the potential risk of breast cancer, now it’s being highly recommended as oestrogen plays such a vital role in many functions of our body (bone health, heart health etc). But women with a genetic risk of breast cancer or women who had oestrogen-driven cancers are still told to completely avoid oestrogen.
It’s now about whether or not or how much oestrogen you are taken in, the most important question to check is: Is your liver able to deal with it? A healthy liver will detoxify excess oestrogen!
By the way, this is also the case to a certain extent with natural foods that contain so-called phytoestrogens which are often recommended to women who cannot take HRT. These are mainly soybeans and products, lentils, pulses, and flaxseed.
By the way, did you know you can do tests to determine your oestrogen levels? If you would like more information on these tests, please let me know. DUTCH Complete™ – DUTCH Test
What a lot of people are also not aware of is that anything you put on to your skin will get into your bloodstream and it will also need to be detoxified.
Many women lash on make-up, lipsticks, creams, lotions and shampoos, shower gels, deodorants (do not use any deodorant with aluminium in it!), etc without giving it much thought or without reading labels. Look at the label of your cosmetic products and see what you actually recognise.
All of these need to be detoxified through one of the pathways of your liver. And remember if the pathway is blocked because it’s already busy, the toxic waste goes back into your body.
When it comes to healthy eating, I always recommend reading the food labels, and not eating “foods” that contain ingredients you don’t recognise. But a lot of “ingredients” do not need to be listed:
Many of our vegetables are heavily sprayed with pesticides, and they all need to be detoxified. But not only that, often food is treated with chemicals to make it look nicer for longer on the supermarket shelves. These chemicals do not need to be declared on the food label.
Non-organic salmon is treated with antibiotics that don’t need to be listed. Luckily, in Ireland, it’s not allowed to feed antibiotics to our meat-producing animals, but anything they eat still ends up in our food, and if their food is being sprayed with toxic material, it needs to be detoxified.
Our water contains chemicals, toxins and hormones which our liver needs to detoxify.
The air we breathe contains toxins that our liver needs to detoxify.
But not all toxins come from the outside. If you suffer from food allergies or intolerances, or from IBS your body produces so-called endotoxins, which also need to be detoxified.
Apart from everything mentioned so far, as you age, naturally your liver ages as well, and it gets more and more important to look after your liver the older you are!
I hope by now you appreciate the hard work our liver does day in and day out, every minute of our day. It is estimated that 1 1/2 litres of blood goes through your liver every minute – and it is cleaning it from toxins.
2. What are the early symptoms that your liver might be overburdened?
- All skin issues, such as acne, psoriasis, dermatitis, exczema (because when the liver is busy, the skin takes over some of the detoxification)
- Unbalanced hormones
- Fat around the middle that you just can’t seem to shift
- Blood sugar imbalances (cravings, lack of energy, dizziness or anxiety when not eating for longer periods, etc)
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver
- Headaches and migraines
- Food allergies and intolerances
- Waking up at night esp at between 2-3am for no apparent reason
- Constipation or diarrhoea, or IBS
- High cholesterol
- Mood swings, anger, anxiety, etc
- Just simply not feeling right
If you suffer from any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them! These are early signs from your liver long before they can turn into more serious health issues such as cancers.
It is also important to know that you might not be good at detoxification without experiencing any symptoms at all!
Your liver might not be particularly good at detoxification, but you might be good at storing away the rubbish somewhere in your body. Then you would not notice any symptoms straight away and be someone who suddenly gets a health scare diagnosis.
3. What can you do to help and support your liver?
To start with, follow the general recommendations for healthy eating:
- Eat real food, especially a huge variety of fresh, local and organic vegetables
- Avoid all foods that are highly processed and contain ingredients that you don’t recognise
- Avoid highly sugary foods
- Eat only organic, or at least free-range, quality meats, eggs, poultry and fish
- Give your liver a rest for at least 12 hours every day
Additionally pay attention to:
- Only use natural cosmetic products with as few ingredients as possible. Read the labels.
- Avoid exposure to toxic environmental substances.
- Don’t smoke or take any recreational drugs.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Limit the use of over-the-counter medication, such as painkillers.
- Limit the use of antibiotics where possible.
- Add specific foods and herbs that support your liver, such as dandelion, milk thistle, artichoke, burdock, and all bitter foods (radishes, rocket, chicory, coriander, kale, parsley). You can drink those in teas or get them in supplement form.
It is also important to give your liver a rest from time to time. By not eating for 12 hours a day, you can do this on a daily basis, but it is good to give your liver a complete break from time to time, where you strictly pay attention to avoid all toxins and triggers.
Glutathione plays an important role in the detoxification process and it requires sulfur (which you get from a lot of vegetables) and certain proteins, but also vitamin C and selenium. So an overall healthy diet will make sure you get plenty of glutathione, but you can add also in supplement form to make sure to get adequate amounts.
I also always give my liver extra bit of help in particular on days when I like to enjoy a glass of red wine. I use a product called “Toxaprevent” which helps bind toxins and helps excrete them safely. It also helps avoid build-up of histamine, which used to cause me big issues when drinking red wine. Please contact me, if you like to find out whether this might be for you and where to order it.
You could be eating the best diet though but still producing certain endotoxins for whatever reasons.
(maybe health issue in the past, a hidden parasite, several courses of antibiotics, or some unknown reasons).
Therefore, I highly recommend checking out your possible endotoxins:
You can do this through a microbiome test (which can show bacteria that might be producing endotoxins), an organic acid test, the above-mentioned hormone test or a food sensitivity test. It is important that you talk to a qualified practitioner about the options that are most suitable for you. I am happy to help to point you in the right direction and can organise some of those tests for you as well.
These tests are generally not done by your GP, but of course, the first port-of-call should always be a general blood test by your GP. A GP general blood test will give results if something is already going wrong. Whereas the above-mentioned Functional Medicine tests are for prevention.
Another test that can be important to determine how well your liver detoxifies is a genetic test. We know that you can test for susceptibility of breast cancer and other cancers, but your gene test will also show you how well you are at detoxification.
I would like you to take home these three messages:
On a daily basis avoid toxins where possible.
Give your liver the nutrients it needs to function optimally.
Watch out for early symptoms and do tests to check how well your liver is detoxifying.