You'll often hear Naturopaths harking on about your liver and how important it is to keep it happy. Generally speaking, conventional medicine only notes a liver problem when enzymes from the liver start leaking into the blood. This will show up in a blood sample and is associated with conditions such as hepatitis, fatty liver, cirrhosis, alcoholism and some medication use.
There are, however, signs of poor liver functioning that will arise well before anything can be detected in the blood. Things such as poor appetite, fat maldigestion, alcohol intolerance (bad hangovers), excessive perspiration, PMS, constipation and mood swings. Naturopaths may call this a sluggish liver or liver dysfunction.
Liver physiology 101 -
The livers main job is to detoxify chemicals in the blood, but it also plays a role in blood sugar regulation, making bile to digest fats, making and clearing excess cholesterol from your body and making your body's carrier proteins and clotting factors.
But the main job is detoxification. And this happens in two stages. The two stages are aptly named Stage 1 and Stage 2.
Stage 1 is all about turning toxins into less toxic compounds. This is achieved by way of various chemical reactions (oxidation, reduction and hydrolysis) using specific cytochrome P450 enzyme protein structures in your liver cells. As part of these chemical reactions, free radicals are produced which can put pressure on the whole system and place a greater burden on your liver. These free radicals create oxidation (bad). But they aren't so much of a problem if there are plenty of anti-oxidants (good) to clear them up. Anti-oxidants are found in fresh, colourful fruits and vegetables and some herbs and teas.
Stage 2 is all about making chemicals water soluble so that they may be excreted and eliminated from your body once and for via your urine and poo. There are 6 main pathways in this stage and many compounds will pass through more than one stage in order to be eliminated from your system.
One of the pathways in this stage is the Methylation pathway which has got a lot of press lately with the MTHFR mutations that can be easily tested.
What do you mean by “chemicals”?
This means toxins from the environment like pesticides, heavy metals and solvents. I also mean food additives, preservatives, BPA from plastics and xeno-oestrogens (chemicals that act like oestrogen in the body). We are also talking about endotoxins from bacteria and the obvious chemicals like drugs and alcohol.
What you need for a healthy liver?
Everyone will have a unique liver situation depending on toxic exposure, genetics, hormone fluctuations, immune disruptions and diet. Here are 3 simple key tips to keeping your liver functioning optimally.
Tip #1: Get Key Nutrients
All of the chemical reactions I have mentioned require adequate amounts of certain vitamins and minerals. We are talking molybdenum, magnesium, methionine, choline, betaine, iron, Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and Vitamin C. These can come from a good diet but sometimes require supplementation under qualified advice.
Tip #2: Reduce Toxic Exposure
Read my previous article on how to live a low-tox life and implement some changes. Remember liver health and the low-grade toxic exposure that has become a part of normal modern life is linked to all sorts of health problems from allergies to IBS to mood disorders and thyroid problems (and the list goes on!).
Tip #3: Get Bitter
Bitter foods such as apple cider vinegar, rocket and endive, lemon juice and dandelion root are all great for stimulating digestion and bile from the liver. Including these foods just before you eat will stimulate bile and help to digest fats and reduce gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating and indigestion.