The Importance of keeping your liver healthy
Because it is one of the most important and complex organs in your body
Did you know that after your brain, your liver is the most complex organ in your body? Its complicated network of blood vessels and metabolic cells help to keep your liver healthy, filtering food particles and producing essential chemicals that convert harmful toxins. Your liver is working hard every single minute of the day to protect your body, keep it healthy and eliminate anything that is going to cause damage, so should we be more mindful about what we put in if we are going to keep this essential protective organ functioning correctly?
The answer to this is yes! I think we all know that the liver has a regenerative ability, but did you know that this can be reduced significantly if we do not consider what you eat and drink. Developing liver healthy habits are essential for long-term health. So maybe we should tackle the list of what is possibly causing you liver damage first before we go on to look at what you could be doing to give it a boost.
The number one liver hazard is alcohol. I’m fairly sure most of you are aware of this and certainly don’t need me to tell you that alcohol has the ability to severely and irreversibly damage your liver, but maybe knowing how alcohol damages your liver could give you food for thought about how changing small things in regards to your alcohol intake could help to maintain a healthier liver. Every time you have an alcoholic drink, some of your liver cells die – the cells that contain these essential filtering agents that help to eliminate toxins and waste from your body. These cells can regenerate, but only if they are allowed to do so. Even a glass of wine every day can have a significant impact on your liver’s ability to regenerate as it isn’t getting any ‘down time’. Fats build up in the liver because it is not being given the chance to eliminate them and alcohol-related liver disease can set in very quickly. But the good news is that this is all reversible. Stop drinking for a few weeks and your liver can return to normal. Enough said – you know where I’m coming from here.
It is not just the Alcohol
Fast food, sugar and foods with a high level of saturated fats are also major contributors to a fatty liver. A recent study undertaken by Linkoping University in Sweden demonstrated the damage fast food and the subsequent weight gain can do to your liver. When your liver is overwhelmed with toxins, it cannot function effectively so maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet, taking regular exercise and managing your weight are essential for liver health.
What is a healthy diet?
So what constitutes a healthy diet? Public Health England has produced a fantastic guide on how we should be eating on a regular day to day basis. It demonstrates not just what you should be eating, but what percentage of these food groups should make up your daily intake and how some food groups need consideration when it comes to choosing lower fat or sugar alternatives. So let’s break these down:
Your ‘Five a day’ – Fruit and vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, folate and potassium which are all essential for protecting and maintaining a healthy liver. Foods that are high in folates are Asparagus, leafy greens, citrus fruits and Broccoli.
Beans and pulses – These have a detoxifying effect on your liver, helping to flush out unwanted toxins and have the added bonus of being a low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals so can be used as an alternative for certain food groups such as red meats that contain higher levels of saturated fats.
Fish – You should try to eat at least 2 portions of fish (one of which should be an oily fish) each week. Firstly, fish is low in saturated fats, so a big tick for liver health, but oily fish can also help to improve your liver function and reduce the symptoms of a fatty liver. Fresh Tuna, Salmon, Mackerel and Trout are all good examples of an oily fish and aside from the benefits to your liver, the Omega-3 fatty acids in these fish are important for maintaining a healthy heart and evidence suggests it aids with preserving cell membranes in the brain.
Starchy foods – there is plenty of evidence to suggest that starchy foods with a high GI index are directly related to liver disease or a fatty liver. We need starch as part of a healthy balanced diet, but you can make choices here that will have a direct effect on your liver health. Choosing whole grain bread, oats, brown rice or couscous and sweet potatoes over white bread, white rice and white pasta will help to reduce fat build up in the liver.
Milk and dairy products – are all essential for overall body health as they are good sources of protein and calcium. Choosing organic semi-skimmed or full-fat milk is important as vitamin D is fat soluble so it needs the fat and efficient liver function to metabolise with the calcium to build the matrix for stronger bones. If a dairy substitute is required, try almond, oat or coconut alternatives rather than soy-based as these can create excessive oestrogen that the liver struggles to eliminate.
Drinks – The obvious choice here is water. It helps to flush toxins from the tissues of your liver to be removed via the bowels and the skin. There is nothing in water that the liver has to process so drinking it regularly throughout the day is absolutely essential for maintaining a healthy liver. Steer clear of flavoured bottled waters as these contain flavourings which your liver will need to filter, reducing the effectiveness of the water. Add a slice of lemon or lime or a strawberry to your water if you really can’t cope with the taste of it.
Take Home Message
The message is quite clear from all medical sources: eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that is low in saturated fats and a source of essential vitamins and minerals if you want to maintain a healthy, non-fatty liver. If you want to take it a step further, try selecting organic options that are clear of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers. Wholesome, clean and natural food is by far the healthiest option for liver health. Try and think of your liver as a piece of waste management machinery; the less it has to deal with, the more efficient is will be and the longer it will last.
Sources: NHS, GOV.UK, WebMD, British Liver Trust