Love Your Liver
You really ought to love your liver because it really is the most extraordinary organ!
The liver has many functions. These include regulating hormones, converting glucose for storage, breaking down old red blood cells and the manufacture of some vitamins.
One of the most important functions of the liver is as an organ of detoxification. It filters 1.4 litres of blood every minute, processing and neutralising toxins to be safely excreted from the body.
There are three phases of the detoxification process
- Phase 1: enzymes are attached to water-soluble toxins so they can be excreted by the kidneys, and to fat-soluble toxins to be dealt with by phase 2. Think of it as breaking down the rubbish.
- Phase 2: chemicals are attached to toxins to neutralise and stabilise them making them more water-soluble for excretion via urine, bile or stool. Like bagging the rubbish up.
- Phase 3 is excretion via urine or faeces. Putting the rubbish out.
It is important that each phase is working well. For instance if phase 1 is working well, but phase 2 is not, then ‘rubbish’ that has been made ready to process will collect in a pile. This leads to toxins being re-absorbed back into the system where they can be stored in fat cells, ultimately affecting glands and organs.
What exactly do we mean by toxins?
Toxins can come from eating poor-quality, over-processed, non-organic or excessively fatty rich foods. Stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, black tea and nicotine can add to the toxic load.
But toxins can also come from the environment, prescription or over the counter drugs, hormones or microbes.
Even overworking or emotional stress can increase the toxic load for the liver, as it tries to deactivate high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin.
Interestingly, according to the ancient wisdom of Chinese Medicine, 1-3am is liver time. If you regularly wake around this time, it could indicate that your liver is over-whelmed by the detoxification process.
How your diet and lifestyle can support your liver
If you really want to love your liver, take fewer toxins you into the body. The less ’rubbish’ the liver has to deal with, the more time it has to get on with all its other jobs!
- Avoid hydrogenated and trans fats, excess saturated fat, fried foods, unnecessary drugs and environmental pollution.
- Eliminate or reduce alcohol. Be aware that the liver will focus on getting rid of toxins such as alcohol before it does any of the other jobs that we need it to do!
- Reduce stimulants such as coffee, black tea and nicotine. Have a cut off time of 4pm, allowing time for the liver to process these toxins before bedtime, otherwise you may find your sleep disturbed.
- Take steps to reduce your stress level: Take up a yoga class; adopt a regular meditation practice; learn how to use breathing practices to manage stress levels; prioritise getting 7-8 good quality hours of sleep every night.
- Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and good quality protein to provide your liver with the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants it needs to function optimally.
- Drink plenty of water to aid with the detoxification process.
Key liver supporting foods
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower, pak choi, rocket all contain sulforaphane which triggers the liver to produce detoxifying enzymes. Broccoli sprouts are 10-100 x higher in sulforaphane then broccoli itself! You can them buy in health food stores or better still, sprout your own.
- Allium vegetables such as onion, garlic, leeks and shallots are rich in sulphur. They stimulate the production of the liver’s most potent antioxidant glutathione.
- Bitter vegetables like chicory, dandelion greens and rocket increase bile production, breaking down fats and supporting digestion.