What does the liver actually do?
The liver is an amazing organ that performs over 500 different functions. A healthy liver can process food nutrients well and helps deal with toxins in the body. It can help you feel generally more healthy and vibrant – more energetic and clear-minded, with fewer difficulties with weight loss, metabolism and hormones to name a handful of benefits.
The main functions of the liver that we would notice impacting us day to day include:
1. Processing nutrients. The liver helps to process and regulate food nutrients such as sugars, carbohydrates and protein.
2. Detoxification. It is also extremely important in helping us deal with toxins in the body – it detoxifies substances like alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, or other chemicals we might be inadvertently exposed to in our diet or in our environment.
3. Regulating blood clotting. It helps to regulate blood clotting, so that we don’t have issues with healing and bleeding.
4. Storing nutrients. It also stores some key nutrients, like fat soluble vitamins E, A and K, which all have very specific and important roles in the body.
5. Boosting immune function. The liver produces long term immunity cells to fight infection.
"Aim to have 80% of your diet made up of fresh, unprocessed wholefoods. The other 20% can be all the other things you love."
Signs and symptoms of liver problems
The signs and symptoms of poor liver health can be subtle or obvious. Subtle signs can include:
• Feeling fatigued
• A white coating on your tongue
• Dark circles under your eyes
• Inability to lose weight
• Weight gain around your middle
• Red spots on your skin
• Fluid retention
• Being unable to deal well with alcohol or coffee
• Looking pasty and unwell
• Generally feeling unrefreshed and unwell
Symptoms of more significant liver issues can include:
• Pain under the right side of the ribs
• Problems with the immune system
• Digestive issues
• Bruising easily
• Vitamin deficiencies in the blood due to the liver being unable to process nutrients well.
• High blood sugar and/or cholesterol levels
"Too much sugar has a huge impact on liver health and can contribute to fatty liver disease. Most of us have too much sugar in our diet."
Eating for a healthy liver
Food plays an important role in liver health. There is no special diet to follow – the basics of healthy, balanced eating applies to your liver as well as your overall wellbeing. Our body is not very complicated. If you give it the right environment, it returns itself to good health.
Here are a few guidelines for a healthy liver.
1. Follow the 80/20 rule. A general principle for creating healthy balance is to aim to have 80% of your diet made up of fresh, unprocessed wholefoods. The other 20% can be all the other things you love.
2. Stay well hydrated. You need lots of water to help your liver function well and detoxify the body.
3. Reduce bad fats. Things like processed meats can clog up the liver, so try to limit them in your diet.
4. Eat less sugar. Too much sugar has a huge impact on liver health and can contribute to fatty liver disease. Most of us have too much sugar in our diet, so cutting back can really help.
5. Have regular meals. Eating regular meals has a big impact on reducing blood sugar spikes that may contribute to fatty liver disease.
6. Cut back on alcohol. Alcohol is a toxin and can overload the liver. The amount that’s considered safe for liver health and overall health is one standard drink a day, five days a week for women, or two standard drinks a day, five days a week for men. Try to have at least two alcohol-free days a week – ideally consecutive days – to give your liver a rest.
7. Have a salad every day. I like to keep things as simple as possible, so if there’s one guideline I go by it’s to have a large salad every day. If you can aim to have at least that, you’ll be in a good position for a more balanced diet.
You can recover your liver health
The liver can regenerate, even if there is significant damage present. That’s not permission to abuse it – but it is encouragement for a healthier future. If you think the damage has been done and you’ve ruined your chances of ever having a healthy liver, it’s simply not true. It may take time depending on how significant the damage is, but you can recover it.
The liver has a good blood supply and is one of the best organs in the body at regenerating itself. Give it the right environment for it to heal, and you can start to feel better within a week, a month or three months.
Learn more about keeping your liver in good health with Healthy Liver by Dr Cris Beer, available now from Rockpool Publishing.