Love your liver and treat it well. This sizeable organ is a workhorse when it comes to the different jobs it does daily. It is involved in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism; storing excess glucose as glycogen for energy and regulating amino acid levels which build body proteins. It produces bile which helps breakdown fats during digestion and also carries away waste to be eliminated from the body. Other important jobs include vitamin storage and formation, production of immune factors, cholesterol, blood proteins, and regulation of blood clotting. It also cleanses the blood by metabolizing alcohol, drugs, and chemicals and helps to neutralize poisonous substances.
One simple thing you can do to have a healthy liver is to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Eating high fat junk foods, processed fast food, and sugary snacks can cause you to have a fatty liver, also called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Know about the medicines you are taking and if they have an effect on the liver. One of the most common medications, acetaminophen (Tylenol), can cause liver damage if too much is taken, especially if taken with alcohol. You probably already know that consuming too much alcohol damages the liver.
Limit your exposure to toxins. Every year there is an increasing amount of chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, and other pollutants added to our environment. Our liver works hard to keep up with the demands of detoxification as it cleans the blood and breaks down harmful substances for removal from the body. Toxic build up can occur if the liver is over-burdened, which may lead to a variety of symptoms including fatigue, headaches, allergies and other ills. A gentle detox program that supports the health of the liver and allows the body to rid itself of toxins may help restore lost vitality.
When undergoing a basic detox program, one should avoid extra toxins such as alcohol, caffeine, tobacco smoke, and any unnecessary medicine. Research suggests that a nutritionally balanced diet has many advantages over a juice or water fast when undergoing a detox program. In general, a basic detox-supporting diet should include plenty of fresh, fiber rich, whole organic foods. If consumed, dairy and other animal products should come from organic sources where growth hormones and antibiotics are not used. Figure out food sensitivities that may also make you feel sick. Delayed food hypersensitivities can act as toxins in your body and cause IBS, migraine, fibromyalgia, depression, irritability, fatigue, fluid retention, weight gain, and more. ANY food can cause food sensitivities as everyone reacts differently. MRT food sensitivity testing or an elimination diet can uncover those foods that cause your body to release pro-inflammatory chemical mediators. Once you know those foods you are reactive to, then you can build a detox diet around your least reactive foods for better results. MRT stands for mediator release testing.
Adequate protein is needed to manufacture important P450 enzymes in the liver for toxin breakdown and removal. A detox diet that lacks protein may actually have a pro-inflammatory effect and decrease the liver’s ability to breakdown drugs and chemicals.
Carbohydrates from fruits, veggies, and whole grains are important as they provide fiber and antioxidants. Fiber is important for removal of waste from the body. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C and E, are needed to neutralize free-radicals caused by the detoxification process in the liver.
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts and the allium veggies including onions, garlic, and chives are especially important for liver health. These foods contain compounds that help the liver produce enzymes needed for toxin breakdown and elimination. They also provide antioxidants that quench free radicals produced during the detox process. Broccoli sprouts have 20-50 times more liver enzyme stimulating activity than regular broccoli. A 2012 study found that consuming broccoli sprouts may enhance detox of airborne pollutants and reduce their negative effects on the body. (Carcinogenesis. 2012 Jan;33(1):101-7.) This follows a 2005 study published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention that found broccoli sprouts may help detoxify carcinogens and reduce the risk of liver cancer.
Other foods rich in antioxidants that can provide additional support during detox include berries, avocados, and green tea. Cranberry juice (no sugar added), lemon juice, cinnamon and ginger, artichoke leaves and beets are all fantastic in detox support, as long as you do not have food sensitivities to any of them. Sesame seeds also have a protective effect on the liver.
Milk thistle can help protect the liver from damage caused by drugs, alcohol, and even viruses. The active compound found in milk thistle, silymarin, even appears to help the liver regenerate cells after damage has occurred.
Dandelion, the common yellow yard weed, has long been used to support liver health and treat various liver conditions. It also increases the production of bile from the liver and gall bladder, which helps carry toxins out of the liver. Artichoke also helps stimulate bile production.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) helps the body make more glutathione, an important antioxidant involved in liver detox. NAC is commonly used to reduce liver and kidney damage from acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdoses.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is a potent antioxidant that is both fat and water soluble. It also helps boost glutathione levels and is thought to have chelating properties which means it may help remove heavy metals from the body.
The spice turmeric (a common ingredient in curries) has been shown to boost bile production. Animal studies have also found that turmeric can help protect the liver from certain toxic substances.
Megan Witt, RD, LD
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 2013
American Liver Foundation
Percival, Dr. Mark. Nutritional Support for Detoxification. ANSR-Applied Nutritional Science Reports. Advanced Nutrition Publications, Inc. 1999.
A.D.A.M. Inc., 2010
University of Maryland Medical Center