Love Your Liver

In case you're getting tired of the heart focus, you'll be happy to hear I'm shifting to the liver. I'm also switching resources and will be sharing information from The Fat Flush Plan by Ann Louise Gittleman. This is a diet plan I've written about before which emphasizes detoxification.

Did you know that your liver is a major factor affecting your ability to lose weight? Researchers now estimate that the liver performs over 400 different functions, from metabolizing carbohydrates and protein to cleansing the system of toxins to controlling hormonal balance in the body. The liver also produces bile which is responsible for emulsifying fat. If you have a "fatty" liver, this means the liver is not working properly and has begun to store fat instead. You will probably have an accompanying roll of fat around your waist.

When the liver is overwhelmed by the toxins we eat, drink, breathe, or otherwise absorb, it can become sluggish. Instead of efficiently removing toxic substances from the bloodstream, the toxins can begin to build up. Signs of a sluggish or "toxic" liver include: weight gain (especially around the abdomen), bloating, indigestion, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, fatigue, mood swings, depression, and skin rashes. (p. 14) If your liver is not functioning properly, every other system in your body will be affected, from your hormonal balance to your immune system to your weight loss efforts. "Probably nothing you do to control your weight is as important as keeping your liver healthy." (p. 15)

Substances which put excess stress on the liver, causing it to slow down and function less effectively include: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, trans-fats, and medications. We all know alcohol can damage the liver, but any substance which the body perceives as toxic can cause harm. You might not realize that sugar is toxic to the liver. Sugar depletes the liver of crucial enzymes needed to detoxify and uses up stores of vital minerals such as zinc. (p. 16) Trans-fats impede the liver's ability to burn fat. Most drugs, including both prescription and over-the-counter, can slow down or damage the liver, depending on the dosage. Even relatively "safe" drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can cause problems, including liver failure, when taken frequently. (p. 17)

SO what can you do to help your poor, tired, sluggish liver? I'm so glad you asked!

Daily protein is crucial to your liver's health. (p. 19) Only protein can raise your metabolism by up to 25%, activate the production of enzymes needed to break down toxins, and produce bile needed for fat digestion. Without adequate protein, your liver will not produce glutathione, an antioxidant responsible for counteracting damaging free radicals.

What foods in particular help the liver?

Red meats (yes!) including beef and lamb are high in L-Carnitine, responsible for converting the fat we eat into energy and clearing waste products from the mitochondria, protecting cells from free radical damage. Flaxseed oil contains essential fatty acids which stimulate bile production, crucial to the breakdown of fats. Eggs are the highest source of several sulfur-based amino acids needed for bile production and overall liver health. Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, collards, cabbage, and brussels sprouts are high in sulforaphane, a substance which the liver needs to convert toxins into non-toxic waste. (p. 19)

Herbs and supplements including dandelion root, milk thistle, turmeric, and oregon grape root are all supportive of liver health and function. B-complex vitamins are also crucial for assisting with fat digestion and reducing fat build-up in the bloodstream. (p. 20)

It may be impossible to avoid all the pollutants in the air we breathe and in our general environment, but there is a lot we can do to detoxify our diets and support healthy liver function. Your liver works hard for you every single day. Show this organ a little kindness in return!