The liver receives a lot of attention. It is often at the centre of detoxification programmes, weight-loss diets, hormone-balancing treatments, attempts to increase energy levels, improving bowel function and even mood regulation. The body’s natural way of detoxing, blood from the digestive system filters through the liver before it travels anywhere else in the body. When considering the widespread nature of its function, which also includes controlling the metabolism of carbohydrates, fatty acids and protein as well as bile secretions, it is not surprising that a healthy liver is a focal point of any discussion about our wellbeing. The liver’s function is one of the amazing ways that our body ensures we stay healthy.
All chemicals we consume are eventually dealt with by the liver. Over time the incoming load of chemicals may extend beyond the processing capability of the liver and the organ can become congested, unable to process everything as efficiently as it should.
Although the liver has the capacity to deal with such excess, when other factors come into play – such as fat accumulation, alcohol misuse, viral infection, iron or copper accumulation, toxic damage or cancer – the liver may not be able to function as it should.
Acute signs and symptoms of this may include constipation, indigestion, flatulence, headaches, dizziness, irritability and fatigue while more chronic implications may include diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Another result of toxicity due to an overloaded liver can be fatty liver disease, so it’s important to manage your fat intake. High levels of fat in the blood (hyperlipidaemia) and high levels of cholesterol (hypercholesterolaemia) are common causes of fatty liver disease. Keep your levels low by keeping your fat intake low. And of the little fats you do eat, make sure they’re unsaturated (poly- and monounsaturated fats). Since the liver and gallbladder work closely together, it is also important to maintain healthy gallbladder function, ensuring bile ducts are kept clear. Eating a diet low in saturated fats will help to preserve gallbladder function as will eating small meals – and never late at night, or just prior to sleep. But even a sluggish liver, which is not unhealthy enough to be considered diseased, can influence your overall health.
The jury is still out on the impact of liver cleansing and detox diets, so it is best to focus on a healthy, well-balanced diet. Although with such a high workload, it’s not surprising the liver has a need for certain nutrients. Glutathione Often referred to as the master of antioxidants, glutathione is comprised of three amino acids: cysteine, glutamine and glycine. It is made in the liver and is essential for effective detoxification. Asparagus, brussels sprouts, cabbage, spinach, avocado and parsley all
promote glutathione production.
Glycine, Glutamine, Cysteine
The precursors to glutathione, ensuring good amounts of these three amino acids will help support glutathione levels. Including a variety of sunflower seeds, legumes, eggs, kale, fish, spinach, broccoli and mushrooms in your diet will provide all three amino acids.
Acting as a natural cleaning agent, chlorophyll helps to bind and remove toxins from the body, and so assists in regenerating liver cells. Chlorophyll is what gives leafy greens their colour and is rich in foods such as kale, spinach and fresh parsley.
Another clever substance produced by our body is betaine. It is involved in cellular reproduction and plays a significant role in liver detoxification. Research suggests that betaine may help protect against harmful fatty deposits in the liver. Dietary sources include shellfish and broccoli as well as beetroot.
This mineral plays a role in many biological processes and is required for the production of liver enzymes that are responsible for liver detoxification. The amino acids glycine, glutamine and cysteine are all sulphur bearing. Foods providing sulphur include cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower as well as eggs, onions and garlic.
In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is known to protect and improve liver function. It is the curcumin in turmeric that helps maintain liver and gallbladder health. Add black pepper to any turmeric preparation to increase absorption and efficacy. Read more about tumeric here.
A good source of vitamins A and C, as well as the minerals iron and sulphur. It is also rich in potassium and has a diuretic effect on the body, helping force toxins out of the liver. Eat fresh in salads or add to stews and sauces.
Packed full of sulphur compounds, this flavoursome bulb helps support the enzyme systems that provide assistance to the liver. It’s also a great source of selenium, which is necessary for producing glutathione in the liver, promoting detoxification and the elimination of toxic substances. Add it to pasta sauces or enjoy roasted.
The cruciferous vegetable family contains the phytochemical sulforaphane, which research suggests has the ability to increase the capacity of the liver to detoxify harmful compounds. Simply add broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, kale and brussels sprouts to any meal.
Two phytonutrients in globe artichokes – cynarin and silymarin – protect and support liver function, assist with cholesterol levels, increase bile production and decrease the chance of gallstones. Simply remove the outer leaves and boil to enjoy the benefits.
Beetroot is rich in betaine, a natural liver detoxifier and bile thinner. It also contains pectin, which encourages waste
to be flushed out of the system and not be reabsorbed to be processed by the liver. Enjoy it raw and grated in salads, roasted, juiced or steamed.