Updated: Jun 5, 2020
The importance of the liver in our normal metabolism and function is often underplayed. Mostly known for its detoxification and bile production, the liver actually does much more to keep us healthy and functioning normally.
In today's world of chronic exposure to toxins in the environment, poor diets, excessive alcohol and medication use and insufficient nutrient dense food, fresh air, sunshine and movement, our livers take a toll.
Maximizing this amazing organ's function is crucial to achieving lasting health and elimination of symptoms in many different body systems.
The liver plays essential roles in detoxification, hormone metabolism, fat and other nutrient processing, drug metabolism and digestion.
We've seen poor liver function cause or contribute to:
Skin diseases, including chronic itching, psoriasis and age spots
Heavy and irregular menstrual bleeding
Inability to lose weight and high cholesterol due to abnormal fat processing and metabolism
Hormone imbalances, including PMS symptoms
Poor digestion due to poor bile production and venous congestion in the digestive system. Chronic constipation is a common one we see, as well as chronic bloating after eating and slow digestion of food
Pasty or pale colored stools, floating stools
Inability to handle alcohol
Common signs that the liver is congested include:
Tenderness over a rib on the side of the body near the liver. This is known as Chapman's reflex point for the liver, and when the organ is stressed, this point is often tender
Red lines on the fingernails, just below the white upper nail, pale nail beds
The veins underneath the tongue will be swollen and engorged, and more than 2 veins will be easily seen
Dilated blood vessels of the face, red cheeks, varicose veins
The liver may also play a role in the immune system, As described in a World Journal of Hepatology 2017 article, “Beyond the metabolic functions, the liver recently has been defined as an organ of the immune system … The liver keeps a delicate balance between hepatic screening of pathogenic antigens and immune tolerance to self-antigens.”
Another amazing function of the liver is it's ability to regenerate. Patients who receive a liver transplant only actually receive a small portion of the donor's liver at the time of surgery, and over time both the donor and the recipient's liver will regenerate into the full sized organs.
This is also a useful tool to help identify liver disease, but when the liver is to the point that blood tests become abnormal, the disease process is much further along. Often, the conventional practice is to "watch and wait", or wait until the labs are abnormal before recommendations are made, and for some patients, this can be too late.
Although we see and treat some of these more severe and chronic conditions, our focus is in prevention and early intervention, which is why we screen everyone for any and all signs of reduced or congested liver function. This can then be found and addressed well before the next step in the disease process which is liver inflammation (fatty liver) and eventually, chronic liver disease.
Most common causes of chronic liver disease:
Hepatitis B/C virus infections
Hemochromatosis (genetic elevated iron levels)
Fatty liver - the liver is unable to process and metabolize fats, which causes it to deposit around the organ, reducing its normal function. This is caused mostly by diet and poor nutrition.
What can you do to keep a healthy liver?
Don't Smoke, Limit exposure to Medications and Environmental toxins: What you breathe and ingest must all be processed through the liver, so keep it clean! Avoid foods with pesticides, preservatives, dyes and unknown food science chemicals, limit your intake of pharmaceuticals, even over the counter. Tylenol is a common cause of liver failure, either due to accidental overdose or chronic overuse. Get clean, fresh air as much as possible, and that includes not smoking, vaping or other inhalation of toxic substances.
Eat Your Veggies!: Certain foods support healthy liver function, while others bog it down. Healthy foods for the liver include fresh, organic, green, leafy vegetables - especially cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, bok choy and similar. Avoiding processed and packaged foods, refined carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta, tortillas and cereals) and limiting sugar and alcohol intake are key.
Avoid your food intolerances: Chronic consumption of foods which are poorly broken down put an additional toll on the liver through production of inflammatory products in the digestive tract and abnormal bacterial balance. Stick to the foods your body digests well.
Eat Antioxidants: Antioxidants help fight the negative effects of stress, pollution and poor diet by helping improve detoxification through the liver. Some of the best antioxidants come from bright and colorful fruits and veggies.
Eat Fermented Foods: Such as sauer kraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir and other fermented veggies help support normal microbes in the digestive system, which keep the system running clean. When the digestive system gets bogged down, all that inflammation and metabolic waste goes directly to the liver.
Exercise and Get Moving: Movement improves blood flow and venous flow especially, helping to move those toxins from other tissues of the body to the liver for processing and elimination. If the venous blood flow becomes stagnant, we start to see varicose veins develop, leg swelling and loss of hair on the feet and ankles. Being overweight or obese adds to this effect, so the more you move the more your liver can process and cleanse, removing inflammation and other byproducts of metabolism.
Reduce Stress and Anger: In Chinese medicine, the liver is tied to anger and strong emotions, and is a place to store guilt, anger and shame. Let that stuff go by practicing gratitude and forgiveness as much as you can, Stress, in general, reduces digestive and liver function by diverting blood away from these organs in preference for the heart, lungs and muscles (for "fight or flight", the sympathetic nervous system).
Love your Liver! <3
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