In our modern-day world, we are bombarded with an ever-increasing amount of toxins and it’s our liver’s job to deal with all these exposures. In its simplest form, the liver’s job is to filter the blood that comes from our digestive tract, but it has many important functions in addition to its filtering and detoxifying role.
The liver synthesises and excretes bile via the gall bladder, which helps to break down and assimilates fats in the intestines. It manufactures and stores glycogen and plays a role in stabilising blood sugar. It produces enzymes, manufactures cholesterol, regulates fat storage, manufactures new proteins, stores a variety of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin B12, metabolises and detoxifies hormones, and converts Vitamin D into its usable form.
As you can see, the liver is a busy place. And unfortunately there are many choices we make each and every day that add to the burden on our liver, including eating too much protein, too much sugar and too many simple carbohydrates. Any form of overeating can stress the liver. Additionally our level of exposure to heavy metals, toxins and pesticides, alcohol, drugs and medication can impact our liver too, but so too can internally produced toxins and by-products of metabolism.
Telltale signs of an overburdened liver
There are a number of signs that indicate our liver’s need some extra love. These include tenderness under the right-hand side of our rib case, headaches, dizziness, light coloured bowel movements or irregular bowel movements, yellowing of the skin or the eyes, fatigue, lack of appetite, itchy skin or inflamed, red eyes. Not necessarily a sign, but anger can also be an indication of liver dysfunction from a Chinese Medicine perspective.
How we can help support our liver to do its job
One of the first things I suggest is getting enough sleep, and at the right time. The liver rejuvenates during the night, typically between 11pm and 3 am, so we want to be asleep between these hours to maximise healing. I also suggest allowing at least 3 hours between our last meal and when we go to bed, so that we have time to process our meal while still awake.
Start the day with lemon juice in warm water
Give your liver a boost in the right direction early in the day by starting each day with a glass of warm water with the juice of half a lemon. This in an old Ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) practice that stimulates both the liver and gallbladder to function optimally.
Avoid unnecessary toxin exposure
Consider your chemical exposure and aim to reduce your exposure by filtering your drinking water, avoiding plastics, minimising chemicals in your personal care products, and eating the best quality food you can find. For more information on avoiding chemicals, check out my blog post on minimising exposure to chemicals in cosmetics, cleaning products and toileteries or my post on turning off the tap on toxins.
Get the right amount of protein
We need the amino acids that come from protein as cofactors in many of the detoxification processes that occur in our liver, so we need an appropriate amount of protein. However, it is a bit like a goldilocks proposition – not too much, but not too little, just the right amount. A good gauge is roughly 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, but spread it out across the day, and don’t only rely on animal protein. There are plenty of plant-based proteins that can help get your protein intake into the ideal range.
Eat for nutrient density (maximise nutrition with a whole food diet)
- Include plenty of leafy green vegetables for their B Vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and chlorophyll. These compounds all help support the liver in its detoxification role.
- Aim to include healthy fat, fibre and protein at each meal. Fibre supports the liver by binding to toxins in the digestive tract and ushering them out in a timely manner. We get fibre from fruits and vegetables, but also pulses, legumes and seeds like chia and flax. Healthy fats benefit us in a number of ways, but unhealthy ones significantly contribute to poor liver health. Avoid processed industrial oils like sunflower, soy, canola, peanut, corn and vegetable oil. Rather, enjoy healthy oils in the form of extra virgin olive oil along with fat containing nuts and seeds, and healthy vegetables like avocados.
- Include plenty of cruciferous vegetables to support the important liver process known as sulfation, which is helpful for detoxifying oestrogen. Load up on broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussell’s sprouts and bok choy. Bitter vegetables like radish, rocket, endive, and horseradish are also helpful for the liver and its detoxification processes.
- It probably goes without saying, but lessen your reliance on refined carbohydrates such as sugar and other ‘white’ foods like refined flour, and processed foods that contain additives.
Drink more herbal teas that support the liver
There are some great herbal tea combinations around that are designed to support healthy liver function. Look for those containing dandelion root, milk thistle, and nettle.
Move your body and work up a sweat
If we aren’t exercising or utilising other practises that make us sweat, our liver has to do more of the elimination work, rather than what should be happening through the skin and lungs. If you can’t exercise for whatever reason, using a far-infrared sauna can help with detoxifying and taking the burden off the liver. In addition to sweating, exercising enhances blood and lymphatic flow, which helps facilitate the movement of toxins from the tissues and allows us to process and remove them via the liver.