Keeping your liver healthy should be important to you because its condition determines how well you feel and the health of so many other organs in your body. Your liver is the cleanser and filter of your bloodstream; keeping your bloodstream clean is vital for a healthy immune system. The health of your liver determines your bowel function, your cholesterol level and even the health of your thyroid gland.
Six ways you can preserve the health of your liver:
1. Avoid abdominal obesity.
Carrying excess weight on your waist and abdomen, particularly your upper abdomen places an enormous strain on your liver. Carrying fat there doesn’t just mean the fat sits on the outside; a lot of fat also gets into and between your abdominal organs, particularly your liver. Fat can infiltrate and invade the liver, not unlike cancer cells invade organs and tissues.
Having excess fat in your liver compromises its functions, as there are less healthy liver cells capable of carrying out their jobs. Fat also causes inflammation in the liver; fatty tissue causes damage to liver cells. The damage can cause liver enzymes to leak from inside liver cells out into the bloodstream. This can cause a liver function test to show elevated levels of liver enzymes. If the inflammation is allowed to continue, the liver may eventually develop cirrhosis. Luckily a fatty liver is completely reversible. See our book titled Can’t Lose Weight? Unlock the Secrets that keep you Fat for help with weight loss and reversing a fatty liver.
2. Don’t drink too much alcohol
Alcohol has a toxic effect in the body, therefore as soon as it enters your body your liver wants to break it down and excrete it. The enzyme that breaks down alcohol in your body is called alcohol dehydrogenase and it is mainly produced in liver cells. Your liver can roughly break down one standard drink per hour, but this depends on your state of health, your body size, recent food intake and genetic factors. If you drink alcohol faster than this, the alcohol that has not been broken down travels to other parts of your body and has toxic effects (for example damaging brain cells).
In most healthy people the liver can cope with moderate drinking; moderate refers to not more than two drinks per day in women and not more than four per day in men. If more alcohol than this is consumed regularly, the liver and other body organs will suffer. Excess alcohol consumption impairs the liver’s ability to metabolise fatty acids, thereby causing the formation of fatty liver disease (regardless of a person’s weight) and alcoholic hepatitis. Eventually the liver cells can die and are replaced by scar tissue; this is cirrhosis of the liver.
3. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates
Foods made from white flour such as bread and pasta, cakes, biscuits, crackers and pastries all rapidly get digested into sugar inside your body. This means that they flood your blood with glucose after you eat them. Candy, chocolate, soda, corn chips and potato chips are either high in sugar or are rapidly digested into sugar in your body.
The average person eats far more carbohydrate than they need for energy. Indeed if you have excess body fat stores it means you have stored energy that you have not used up. By following a healthy low carbohydrate diet your body can burn up those fat stores, using them for energy. Carbohydrate rich foods promote weight gain around the abdominal area and the development of fatty liver, as described in the first point. A high sugar diet can be just as damaging to the liver as alcohol.
4. Avoid contracting hepatitis B or C
Hepatitis is a general term and refers to inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by a variety of factors. Hepatitis C and hepatitis B are caused by viruses and can cause long term liver damage. Initial infection with the hepatitis C virus usually produces very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all; therefore many people are unaware they have become infected. Hepatitis B infection may produce mild symptoms or quite intense symptoms such as jaundice, fever, nausea and joint pain.
Most people who have been infected with hepatitis B recover fully. In a small percentage of people the virus remains in the body long term. These people are known as carriers and they can infect other people with the virus. A significant percentage of carriers of hepatitis B go on to develop cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. With hepatitis C, around 40 percent of people recover fully from the virus, and the rest become carriers. A high percentage of those people eventually develop cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
Hepatitis B is spread through contact with blood and sexual secretions of an infected person. It is a hardy virus that can survive for some time on tooth brushes and razer blades. Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with infected blood, although there is a risk of contracting the virus sexually.
5. Eat lots of vegetables and fruit
As most fruit is fairly high in sugar, please consume a lot more vegetables than fruit. Aim for at least seven serves of vegetables each day and two or three pieces of fruit. A serve of vegetables is equivalent to half a cup of chopped vegetables. Vegetables and fruit are extremely rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber; all necessary for healthy liver function. They are also an excellent source of antioxidants, most of which cannot be obtained through nutritional supplements.
Many of the antioxidants in fruit and vegetables are the pigments that give these foods their bright colors. Therefore it is beneficial to eat as wide variety of fruit and vegetables as possible; a few from each color of the rainbow. Antioxidants have an anti-inflammatory effect and help to heal damaged liver cells.
6. Take a good quality liver tonic
A good liver tonic will help to make your liver cells more efficient at detoxification, will help to reduce damage to liver cells and can even help damaged cells to regenerate. St Mary’s thistle is the most important herb for the liver and it has all of the above mentioned benefits. A good liver tonic helps to keep your liver in good health when you stray from a healthy diet, gain some weight or ingest too much alcohol and other liver toxins. Of course no liver tonic will undo all of the damage caused by chronic heavy alcohol consumption or chronic hepatitis. It will work best when combined with the eating principles in our book The Liver Cleansing Diet.