By Dr Libby Weaver
We don’t often consider our liver when we are feeling tired, irritable, headachey and run down, but this mighty organ is often at the heart of these symptoms and many others. In today’s world, we are exposed to more pollutants than ever before, through what we eat, drink, breathe and put on our skin. Our exposure to some of these are beyond our control because they are in the air or used in manufacturing; other problematic substances like alcohol, trans fats from processed cakes, biscuits and deep fried foods, we choose to consume.
// WHAT IS THE LIVER?
Our liver is the key organ responsible for helping our body to process and prepare substances for elimination, substances that if they were to accumulate, would be harmful to us. This process is called detoxification, and it goes on inside us, all day every day. Essentially, it is a transformation process, where the liver converts a problematic substance into a less harmful form so it can then be excreted safely from your body and removed forever. If our liver is overwhelmed and the mechanisms of detoxification and elimination are compromised, every process inside of us that creates health and energy, as well as those processes that help to prevent disease, can be affected.
The best way to imagine the liver is to picture a triangle shape on its side and inside that triangle are billions of little circles, each one of them a liver cell. Inside each liver cell is a mouse on a wheel running, and each turn of the billions of little wheels is driving your detoxification capacity. When we treat our liver unkindly, a circle can die. For a time, the liver can regenerate a new cell where a cell has died, but, after a while, this is no longer possible, and a globule of fat will take up residence where once that energy-producing little ‘mouse’ was working. When many fat globules take over the liver (known as ‘fatty liver’), our health and energy can suffer significantly.
Less efficient detoxification processes can lead to poor thyroid function, sex hormone imbalances, congested skin, lousy cholesterol levels, and impaired blood glucose management that often shows up as sugar cravings. Moreover, where our body wants to lay down body fat can also shift. For the first time, people may notice that they have a fat roll quite high up on their abdomen, which is called a “liver roll”. For women this is just below their bra-line, and for men, just beneath their pectoral muscles.
// THE ROLE DIET PLAYS
In the not-too-distant past, only people who regularly over-consumed alcohol developed fatty liver disease, but now we are seeing teenagers develop it simply from eating diets high in processed foods and drinks. This has become so common that a new disease has been named, called “non-alcoholic fatty liver disease”. Imagine a liver that looks just like one that has been chronically battered by alcohol, yet processed food has created it. This is the power of our diet.
The liver detoxification pathways require nutrients to function, so dietary choices can influence how efficiently each phase of detoxification is able to proceed. For the first stage of detoxification, numerous nutrients, including B vitamins, are essential. Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids are also important, and these are found in colourful plant foods. For phase two liver detoxification pathways, we require specific amino acids and sulphur.
Sulphur can be obtained from Brassica family vegetables, eggs, onion and garlic, and we get our amino acids from protein foods. Really think about this next statement: what we eat becomes part of us. The protein foods you eat are broken down into amino acids, and one of the things they go on to create is all of the cells of your immune system, which are what defend you from infection. Amino acids also go on to create the neurotransmitters in your brain that influence your mood and clarity of thought. They also build your muscles so that you can carry things. It really does matter what we eat. Your food becomes part of you.
The liver makes enzymes that are responsible for the transformation of each substance, and the rate of production of these essential enzymes determines how quickly each substance is processed. But it’s not just about ensuring our liver detoxification pathways have the nutrients they need to function properly. The load placed on the liver also determines how quickly things move through it, so we need to consider how the choices we make influence how efficiently the liver is able to do its job, which significantly contributes to how we feel.
// HOW TO DETOXIFY TO HAPPINESS
Detoxification is a process that goes on inside us all day, every day. The choices we make influence how efficiently the liver is able to do its job. Detoxification is essentially a transformation process. Any substance that would be harmful to you if it accumulated in your body must be changed into a less harmful form so that it can then be excreted safely from your body. To look and feel your best, you want this to be a highly efficient process.
‘Liver loaders’ include alcohol, trans fats, refined sugars, caffeine and synthetic substances, such as those found in pesticides and conventional skin, laundry and cleaning products. Minimising our intake or exposure to these can help to reduce the load on the liver. The liver also has to deal with substances the body makes itself such as oestrogen and cholesterol, and when our detoxification pathways are congested, these substances might only be partially detoxified (changed) and if so, they will then be recycled back into the blood (from which they came). The recycling of oestrogen can contribute to hormonal imbalances, which can be debilitating to energy.
Focus on taking good care of yourself and nourishing yourself, rather than on what you may need to consume less of, as that in itself can feel overwhelming or exhausting and just another thing to do. The liver plays a significant role in our experience of energy as well as in the metabolism of countless substances that are linked to whether the body gets the message to burn body fat or store it, not to mention disease prevention. We only have one liver. Love it accordingly.
// STAPLES FOR A HEALTHY LIVER