The liver is a football-sized organ that is found in the upper right side of the abdomen, just below the ribs. It is the largest internal organ, which is vital to maintaining life. One of its main functions is to act as a waste-purification plant that breaks down toxins and other products of metabolism before they reach to blood. The liver is a powerful organ, which protects the body from the effects of drugs, alcohol, unhealthy foods, environmental chemicals, and other common insults to the body. However, when we abuse our bodies, such as when we take too much alcohol, drugs, fatty foods, and toxic chemicals, our livers may be damaged. Although the liver can heal itself, chronic exposure to such damaging factors can result in irreversible damage to the liver.
Chronic Liver Disease
Chronic damage to the liver cells lead to chronic liver disease, an irreversible condition. There are a number of chronic liver conditions caused by damage to the cells:
- Fatty liver, which is often caused by alcohol abuse, causes liver inflammation (also called alcoholic hepatitis), leading to fat accumulation in the liver.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is liver inflammation and fat accumulation that is not related to alcohol consumption
- Drug-induced liver disease, which is often caused by chronic intake of acetaminophen, statins, niacin, some antibiotics, vitamins and herbal products
- Infectious hepatitis, which is often caused by viruses such as Hepatitis A, B, and C.
- Liver cancer, in which abnormal cells overgrow in the liver or are transported to the liver from distant tumor sites
- Other liver diseases
Chronic liver disease often manifests in symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, yellowing of the skin and the eyes, upper abdominal pain, weakness, and weight loss. Irreversible liver damage often leads to liver cirrhosis and liver failure, which ultimately lead to death.
The good news is that liver disease is highly preventable. Although aging, genetic and hereditary factors may play a role in the development of chronic diseases such as liver disease, most of these conditions may be prevented by having a healthy lifestyle.
How to Prevent Liver Disease
Health experts recommend the following steps to avoid liver disease:
- Drink alcohol moderately. This means just taking one glass of alcohol for women, and two glasses for men daily, or even less.
- Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat.
- Exercise regularly.
- Lose excess weight.
- Drink coffee – it has been found to have a protective role in liver disease.
- Avoid unnecessary intake of drugs. Talk to your doctor about long-term use of medications.
- Prevent hepatitis and other viral infections by practicing good hygiene, safe sex, and getting vaccinations.
- Quit smoking and avoid exposure to other toxins and chemicals.
- Ask your doctor about taking herbal remedies and supplements that can damage the liver.
What is Liver Detoxification?
The liver is the main organ that detoxifies, or cleans, our bodies of toxins and harmful substances. However, when abused, its function may decrease and it may not be able to function optimally. Some people believe that the liver can be detoxified to help it return to its proper function. Detox diets have become popular, and they often involve fasting, eating special foods, drinks and supplements. However, they may be hard to follow because they can cause hunger, weakness, low energy, dizziness, nausea, and muscle aches. Other health enthusiasts recommend eating specific foods that have known benefits to the liver. These include:
- Garlic, which can activate your liver enzymes and other natural compounds, such as allicin and selenium, to help in liver cleansing.
- Grapefruit, which is high in vitamin C and antioxidants, helps boost the production of liver detoxification enzymes
- Beets and carrots, which are high in flavonoids and beta-carotene that help stimulate and improve liver function
- Green tea, which is rich in antioxidants called catechins, compounds that are known to promote liver function.
- Leafy green vegetables, which are excellent sources of chlorophylls that help neutralize chemicals, heavy metals, and pesticides, from foods, and help increase bile flow to remove waste from the blood.
- Avocados, which are nutrient-dense super-foods that help increase the production of glutathione, a compound needed for the liver to remove harmful toxins.
- Apples, which are high in pectin, that help the body cleanse toxins in the digestive tract, thus reducing the toxic load on the liver.
- Olive oil, hemp and flax-seed, when used in moderation, help the body suck up harmful toxins and reduce the burden off the liver.
- Alternative grains such as millet, quinoa, and buckwheat to reduce gluten in the diet. One study found that people with gluten sensitivity also have abnormal liver enzyme test results.
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower increase glucosinolate levels, which boost enzyme production in the liver.
- Lemons and limes, which contain high amounts of vitamin C, aid in synthesizing toxic materials into substances that can be readily absorbed by water.
- Walnuts, which are high in arginine, an amino acid that helps the liver detoxify ammonia. They are also high in omega-3 fatty acids and glutathione, which support liver cleansing activity.
- Turmeric, which helps boost liver detoxification by aiding enzymes flush out carcinogens in the diet
Health Supplement that Support Liver Function
Some studies suggest that certain health supplements may support liver function. These include antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene, minerals such as selenium and zinc, and B-vitamins, which help alcohol metabolism. Certain herbs are also believed to “cleanse” the liver, including milk thistle, schizandra, and dandelion root. Silymarin, a milk thistle extract, has also been found to act on biochemical pathways that aid in liver detoxification. However, more studies are needed to prove that these supplements can help prevent or treat liver disease.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. How Not to Wreck Your Liver. http://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/features/healthy-liver
WebMD. The Truth About Detox Diets. http://www.webmd.com/diet/detox-diets
WebMD. Liver Detoxification — Fact or Fad? http://www.webmd.com/men/features/liver-detoxification—-fact-fad
Global Healing Center. 14 Foods That Cleanse the Liver.http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/liver-cleanse-foods/
Dr. Oz Show. Dr. Oz’s 48-Hour Weekend Cleanse. http://www.doctoroz.com/article/48-hour-weekend-cleanse