In this post, I talk about why our liver is so important and how to give it the love and support it deserves. We will look at some of the best foods for your liver, including the vitamins and supplements it needs to function at its best. I also share a simple liver detox juice and a one-day liver cleanse meal plan you can use to support one of your largest organs.
Our body is under increasing exposure from the many pollutants it encounters every day. Our liver is responsible for detoxifying the body through neutralising and eliminating the toxins our body is exposed to from external sources and also those created from normal metabolic reactions in the body.
The liver is responsible for many important functions including the metabolism of digested food particles, synthesis of vitamin D, synthesis of bile salts and the storage of vitamins A, B12, D, E and K. It is also responsible for the cleaning up (phagocytosis) of aged blood cells and white blood cells.
One of its most important functions is the detoxifying and processing of metabolic waste products and other substances such as drugs, pesticides, alcohol, hormones and caffeine. It is essentially our garbage waste disposal system and we need it working well!
This disposal system works in three steps. The first two steps are known as phase I and phase II liver detox pathways and this is where your liver gets the waste products together, breaking them down into small parts and neutralising them so they are safe to excrete. The excretion of the waste products is the third step and occurs mainly through the kidneys and bile.
This system needs various nutrients to keep it functioning well and it also needs each part functioning at the correct speed. If phase I is working at a faster pace than phase II you can get a banking up of garbage!
Our liver can generally cope with the pressure we put it under, but when you are exposed to lots of environmental toxins (such as xenoestrogens, BPA, phthalates, parabens etc) and you couple this with a stressful life, poor eating habits, alcohol, coffee and drugs like headache medication, your liver starts to suffer.
Some symptoms of an overburdened liver are
- Bloating or constipation
- No appetite, especially in the morning
- Hormonal imbalances
- Headache or migraines
- Chemical sensitivities
- Acne, rashes or other skin issues
- Waking during the night, around 2 am
- Intolerance to fatty foods
- Recurrent infections
If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, it’s worth seeking out the assistance of a nutritionist or integrative GP to assess your liver and devise a plan to assist.
CAN THE LIVER REPAIR ITSELF?
An overworked liver doesn’t mean it is permanently damaged. However, if you keep abusing it on a regular basis (e.g. excessive alcohol consumption or exposure to toxins), you are likely to harm the liver long-term.
The liver is an amazing organ because it can repair itself – especially if you provide the right support and self-care – and can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to heal or to recover from an excessive burden. If left untreated, recurring liver damage can turn into a permanent condition and cause various risks to your health. That’s why it’s so important to show your liver some love and to treat it with care and respect it deserves.
BEST LIVER SUPPORT
One of the best things you can do for your liver is to GIVE IT A BREAK! Don’t make it work so hard. The most simple and effective way to lessen the load on your liver is to simply reduce the burden coming in in the first place!
Cut out most alcohol and reduce caffeine, as both of these are dehydrating and our liver requires water to function correctly. When the body lacks water, the liver is forced to pull in water from other sources. As well as being dehydrating, chronic alcohol consumption damages liver cells, which results in scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). Read more on the liver and alcohol here.
Reduce exposure to environmental toxins. Studies have shown a link between liver damage and external pollutants such as heavy metals and pesticides. Even chemicals in your house cleaning products (which you may be breathing in or exposing your skin) can cause your liver to work extra hard. One way to reduce this exposure is to switch to more natural cleaning products or even make your own. I love Low Tox Life website for all the fabulous resources on this topic.
Follow a liver-nourishing diet (see my sample meal plan below) and start the day with a big glass of water (I often do lemon juice and warm water on an empty stomach). Stay hydrated throughout the day!
Liver vitamins & nutrients
Antioxidants. Your liver loves antioxidants! Make sure you are eating a rainbow of colours with every plate of food you have. Have plenty of green juices, bright coloured berries and lots of carrots, tomatoes, raw cacao and green tea.
B Vitamins. B vitamins are needed for efficient phase I functioning. Think about getting lots of greens like asparagus and broccoli in your diet. Also, add plenty of avocados, eggs and quality meats and seafood.
Sulphur. Sulphur-rich foods such as onions, garlic, cauliflower, egg yolks, broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts – all help with phase II liver clearance.
D-Glucarate. It’s found in vegetables and fruits but it is in the highest concentrations in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale etc.), oranges, apples and grapefruit. It is beneficial in assisting phase II detoxification in the liver, helping remove excess oestrogen and oestrogen metabolites from the body. You can also take a calcium D-glucarate as a dietary supplement, which has been shown to prevent recycling of hormones and environmental toxins, promoting liver detoxification and excretion of these potentially harmful substances.
Green Tea. Green tea is rich in catechins that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective (protects the liver) properties which support efficient liver functioning and proper elimination of toxins. Choose organic green tea when possible.
Dandelion Root Tea. As covered in the supplement guide, dandelion root tea is a great replacement for coffee. It is traditionally used as a liver tonic as it increases detoxifying enzymes in the liver. Because of this, you should never start taking dandelion root tea without consulting your primary health care professional as it can increase the clearance of certain medications. You can also try this Liver Dandy Detox tea.
St Mary’s Thistle (Milk Thistle). One of the most well-known hepatoprotective herbs. It can assist in reducing the effects of environmental toxins and drugs, as well as repairing and accelerating the regeneration of hepatocytes (liver cells).
There are however conflicting results with regard to St Mary’s Thistle and its impact on enzymes and is therefore not recommended to use before consulting your primary health care professional as it may increase the clearance of certain medications.
Glutathione. Glutathione is a master antioxidant produced in cells and it’s made up of three amino acids: glutamine, glycine, and cysteine. It supports detoxification and provides support for liver, brain, heart, lung, and eye health. This antioxidant is reduced by poor nutrition, environmental toxins, drugs, alcohol, caffeine and stress. Supplementing with glutathione can be extremely beneficial as most of us have reduced levels. I use Thorne Research brand (as I do for most of my vitamins and supplements). PS. Glutathione loves milk thistle as a companion
Water. Water is an essential component in detoxifying and clearing toxins from your body. It is essential that you make water a priority and aim for two litres per day!
Liver detox juice
Whenever I have a big night out or I feel like my liver is a little slugging, I like to make or buy a big juice using fruit and vegetables with liver loving nutrients. Here is a simple liver cleansing juice you can make at home:
1 large carrot
1 green apple
2 cups kale leaves
1 grapefruit or 1 orange
1 knob of ginger
1/2 cup water
Clean the fruit and vegetables before juicing. Dilute with half a cup of water or add ice to your juice.
1-DAY LIVER CLEANSE PLAN
Here is a sample meal plan for when you need to give your liver extra care. I am using foods and ingredients that will help your liver heal and recover as quickly as possible. Avoid caffeine and alcohol completely, get extra sleep and do some exercise today.
Morning. 1 big glass of warm water with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice; 2 poached or boiled eggs with avocado and tomatoes; 1 grapefruit; 1 cup of dandelion root tea.
Lunch. Big mixed salad with grilled chicken or beef; make sure to include lots of colours such as purple cabbage, green asparagus, red peppers, radicchio, spinach and so on. Try my Vietnamese beef salad or kale, chicken and apple salad. 1 cup of green tea.
Evening. Stir-fry with broccoli, prawns (shrimp), onion and garlic. Or you might like my surf’n’turf salad On a colder night, you might like my vitamin-rich lamb stew with a side or cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts).
Snack. Freshly squeezed juice (you can get one from a juice bar) with beetroot, carrot, spinach or kale, apple and celery.
If you want clear skin, to feel alive, be full of energy and have a balanced weight – you need to love your liver!
Please also note that your liver metabolises medications, so never make any changes to your diet until you have spoken with your primary health care professional. Speeding up your liver clearance and metabolism can impact the rate at which medications are also metabolised and therefore potentially impact their efficacy.
This article was written in collaboration with an Australian nutritional therapy practitioner Claire Yates.