Functions: Your liver has many functions, including removing toxins, helping to digest and filter foods, beverages, vitamins, and medications. The liver also stores fuel, produces bile needed for digestion, and assists with blood clotting.
Disease: When you continuously and excessively drink alcohol or overeat, fat builds up in your liver, called Alcoholic fatty liver disease and Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NALFD). It’s estimated that as many as 25 percent of American adults have some degree of fatty liver disease.
Digestive issues: The liver is considered an accessory organ to digestion. It processes nu- trients, medications, and toxins it receives from your blood.
How to keep your liver healthy: You can protect and repair your liver with a healthy diet, portion control, exercise, and limited or no alcohol.
As human organs go, hearts and brains seem to get all the fanfare, but the human liver deserves more credit and attention. Your liver is the largest internal organ in the human body, and it works to filter out all the toxins you purposely (albeit unconsciously) put into your body, as well as those you can’t do much about (think pollens and environmental pollutants). You can’t live without your liver, and if you don’t work at keeping it healthy, you put yourself at an increased risk for liver diseases that affect your entire body and life with symptoms including abdominal pain and swelling, inflammation of legs and ankles, itchy skin, chronic fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and the tendency to bruise easily. More severe symptoms include excessive sleepiness, mental confusion, coma, and death. Thankfully, this foot- ball-sized organ can repair and regenerate itself, and there are many lifestyle strategies you can inte- grate to improve liver health.
Your liver lives in the upper right portion of your abdomen and is responsible for many essential func- tions in your body. These include:
- Removing toxins from the blood.
- Helping to digest and filter foods, beverages, vitamins, minerals, and medications.
- Storing fuel in the form of sugar (glycogen) and fat.
- Producing bile needed for digestion.
- Assisting with blood clotting.
While liver disease can have many causes, it usually starts as inflammation of the liver that can be caused by poor diet, toxins, chemicals, viruses, bacterial infections, and parasites. All forms of inflam- mation will disrupt and limit normal liver function. Usually, people associate liver disease with excessive alcohol consumption, but the most significant risk for liver disease today may be the epidemic of diabe- tes and obesity. When you continuously and excessively drink alcohol or overeat, fat builds up in your liver, called Alcoholic fatty liver disease and Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NALFD). It’s estimated that as many as 25 percent of American adults have some degree of fatty liver disease. Those who are obese or diabetic are 70 to 90 percent likely to suffer from the condition, which occurs when your liver accumulates too many fat cells and causes inflammation. Untreated, both types of fatty liver disease can lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis, or liver cancer.
Your Liver and Digestion:
The liver plays a critical role when it comes to digestion, and is referred to as an accessory organ of the digestive tract. When blood comes to the liver from your digestive organs, it carries the nutrients, med-ications, and toxic substances you have consumed. In the liver, substances are processed, saved, transformed, cleansed, removed, and/or absorbed. Once your liver has discerned what needs to go where it returns the materials to your blood or the liver will release the waste to your intestines for removal. Each macronutrient is handled differently:
- Fats: Your body needs bile (a brown, green digestive liquid that’s produced by your liver) to break down and absorb the fats you eat.
- Carbs: Eating carbs signals the hormone insulin, which ushers sugar into your cells. Your liver stores excess sugar that is not used by cells as glycogen. Excess sugar will be made into fat that is then stored in other cells of your body.
- Proteins: Your liver changes amino acids into energy your body can use, or it transforms them into carbs or fats. Ammonia is a harmful byproduct of amino acids. A healthy liver converts ammonia into urea, which is then released as waste in your urine.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Your liver stores vitamins and minerals and releases them into your blood when your body needs them.
Tips for a Healthy Liver:
- Eat Healthy: You can protect and repair your liver with a healthy diet. Follow the Mediterranean way of eating and living, which includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, olive oil, nuts and seeds, fish, and whole grains. Avoid trans fats, overly processed, and high sugar foods.
- Limit Alcohol:If you drink alcohol, drink it in moderation (one drink a day for women, two for men). When it comes to this organ the less imbibing the better. Here are some guidelines, according to the American Liver Foundation: For healthy women and men over the age of 65, one drink means 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. For those who are healthy and under the age of 65, men may safely consume two drinks per day, but less is better.
- Follow Medication Directions: Take medication as prescribed and talk to your doctor about herbal remedies (some can damage your liver). Taking too many prescription or nonprescription drugs overloads the liver. Don’t mix medicines with alcohol.
- Get Moving: Include exercise, which can help you lose weight and reduce fat in your liver. Aim to get your body moving for a minimum of at least 30 minutes at least six days a week. It doesn’t need to be complicated, lace up some good walking shoes and head out for a brisk stroll. You can even break this down into ten-minute chunks. Work up to 45 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
- Get Sunlight: Following exposure to natural daylight, the skin releases anti-inflammatory mediators such as vitamin D and nitric oxide. Animal studies have suggested that exposure to sunlight can reduce the development of liver disease, while other research supports a reduced risk to liver dis- ease when vitamin D levels are increased.