Our liver is an incredibly important organ, it plays an essential role in a number of bodily processes including detoxification, digestion & production of energy. Whilst the liver is also a very powerful & resilient organ there are unfortunately a number of aspects within modern life that, overtime, impact the livers capacity to do it’s job efficiency & healthily. Here we will discuss the main functions of the liver, tell-tale symptoms of compromised liver function & how you can support your liver on a daily basis. It’s the small things we do everyday not the big things we do occasionally that have the most benefit for our long-term health.
Main Functions of the Liver
- Detoxification of drugs, chemicals and poisons
- Bile production (essential for the digestion of fats)
- Storage of vitamins (especially fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D & K) and minerals
- Breakdown of blood cells
- Storage of sugar in the form of glycogen (energy reserve)
- Storage of blood, which can quickly be released if needed
- Energy production from the breakdown of fats, proteins and carbohydrates
- Protein metabolism & production of non-essential amino acids
- Breakdown excretion and/or recycling of hormones (i.e. oestrogen, cortisol)
- Production of cholesterol (essential for brain function & base molecule for many hormones)
Liver detoxification is an incredibly complex & eloquent process. Everything that enters our body either through ingestion (mouth), inhalation (respiratory) or absorption (skin & mucous membranes) is broken down, processed & eliminated via the liver. That’s right everything! It’s a pretty busy organ.
Total liver detoxification occur over 2 separate phases. Phase 1 & Phase 2.
Phase 1 consisting of 1 pathway that basically catches everything & prepares it for metabolism via Phase 2 which consists of 6 different pathways. Each of which is responsible for detoxifying different substances & requires sufficient nutrient status to support them. The individual operations & requirements for each pathways is beyond the scope of this post & will be discussed another time, so stay tuned for that. However, what we will discuss is what impacts these pathways.
There are a number of factors which can place excess burden on the liver & those that really assist it’s function. Here are a few recommendations for what you can limit in daily life & what you can do to promote a healthy thriving liver.
How to properly care for your liver
To ensure a long life of vibrant health, it is essential that we put into place daily measure to support the liver basic function but reducing excessive burden from toxic substances & ensure we are consuming a well-balanced diet that nourishes it.
Factors which SUPPORT liver function
- Try having a few alcohol free nights each week
- Try sticking to 1 coffee daily
- Eating a whole-foods, natural diet with LOADS of vegetables
- Swap over to more natural skincare
- Start making your own cleaning products
- Regular exercise (esp. cardio – getting a sweat & your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes is essential)
Factors that BURDEN liver function
- Coffee / Caffeine
- Trans fats (think margarine..yuck!)
- Refined sugars
- Synthetic substances & chemicals
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Illness & Infection
When discussing the topic of detoxification it’s important to understand that even though the liver is considered our principle detoxification organ it’s part of a symphony or other organs which work perfectly together to protect, process & eliminate many different compounds from the body. To truly support our bodies holistically we also need to support each these systems simultaneously…there’s no I in TEAM remember. The other organs involved in detoxification include:
Digestive Tract / Colon
Once all of those lovely compounds are processed successfully via the liver they are sent to the next portal of elimination from the body, the bowel. Unfortunately for a number of reasons, such as constipation & poor bowel regularity a number of these compounds to be re-absorbed & “re-toxed” back into body to be reprocessed, adding unnecessary excess burden on the liver. It’s a wicked case of double handling really. For optimal elimination, it’s important the bowel is moving regularly. We recommend increasing intake of dietary fiber & water. Fibre supplements including psyllium, slippery elm & partially hydrolysed guar gum (PHGG) may be of great benefit to you if you struggle with constipation.
The kidneys are endlessly filtering your blood & removing waste from medication, food & toxic substances. First, the liver packages waste products up into a water soluble form in order for them to then be removed from the body via urine. Ensuring you are consuming at least 1.5-2L water daily to support healthy kidney function is essential.
Not only is our skin larges organ that protects us from the outside world but it’s a major detoxification portal for waste to leave via perspiration.
Respiratory system (lungs)
The lungs play a vitally important role for detoxification, filtering out airborne toxins, fumes, moulds & allergens (even the hairs in your nose play an important role in filtering the air we breathe).
What should I eat for optimal liver function?
To really nourish & promote excellent liver (& whole body) health there are a number of foods & herbs that can help optimise the function of the liver.
At the end of the day the rule of thumb is simple. Eat a wide variety of colourful whole-foods as close to the way nature intended as possible.
Here are a few example of some delicious liver loving foods …
Foods to Support & Nourish the Liver
Green leafy vegetables
Bitter Tasting Foods (i.e. rocket, racchio)
Protein (animal or vegetable)
Supplements to support liver function.
- Silymarin enhances hepatic glutathione, the master antioxidant in the body which neutralises free radical formation to mitigate oxidative damage, contributing to the antioxidant defense of the liver (1).
- With regards to the consumption of alcohol, one of the main mechanisms by which it disrupts liver function &/or causes liver damage is via the generation of free radicals formed from its metabolism. Silymarin is an antioxidant which neutralises & protects the liver from free radical damage caused by alcohol consumption.
- We recommend: NutriVital Premium Liver Support
- Clinical trials have shown the NAC has potent antioxidant capacity in the liver, reducing peroxidation of lipids in liver membranes caused by oxidative stress (2).
- Fun fact: NAC has actually been used for a number of decades to treat & prevent the liver damage associated with paracetamol overdose
- Learn more about NAC here.
- We recommend: Healthwise N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
Mindy Duncan is a Bachelor qualified clinical naturopath with special interests in women’s health, menstrual & hormonal health, thyroid function & self-esteem. Mindy is available for consultations via the Vive Clinic on Tuesday & Wednesdays.