5 Ways to Support Your Liver While it Supports You!Dr. Miranda Wiley, ND
June 14, 2018
They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Likewise, the strength of the body is dependent upon healthy cells that make up strong organs. The liver is so important to the body that it is the only organ capable of regeneration1! If an area of the heart muscle is damaged by a heart attack, or if kidney cells are lost through infection, then the performance of that organ decreases and cannot be regained. But a section of the liver can be lost or donated for transplantation into another person and the organ will regrow and be fully functional!
The liver serves several key processes that support life and longevity2
- Bile Production
Liver cells produce a constant supply of bile, a yellow liquid that is stored in the gallbladder and released in response to fat ingestion. Since fat and water don’t mix, bile acts as an emulsifier to help with the absorption of fats and fat-soluble nutrients into the body.
- Processes Incoming Nutrients
The liver is unique in that it has two routes of circulation through it. Blood continuously passes through the liver during its ongoing pathway through the body, but there is a second set of blood vessels called the portal veins. The portal veins bring blood directly from the intestines to the liver for assessment and processing. Anything taken by mouth – food, supplements, herbs, medications, recreational drugs, additives such as synthetic colour, flavour, preservatives – goes directly to the liver through this pathway. The liver acts as the “gate-keeper” that either allows the compound (carbohydrate, mineral, alkaloid, etc.) into the bloodstream or detoxifies it for excretion.
- Vitamin Storage
Vitamins A and D (and to a lesser extent vitamins E and K) are fat-soluble, are stored in the liver from the diet, and released to the body as needed. B12, a recycled water-soluble vitamin, is also stored in the liver. Vitamins A and D are two of the most rampant nutrient deficiencies in Canada and most of us need to take supplements of them to complement our diets. They are found in the highest concentration in organ meats (like liver!), as well as in fortified dairy products and some dairy alternatives.
Vitamin A can be toxic at high levels, particularly during pregnancy, so the pro-vitamin Beta-Carotene is more widely used. Vitamin D is safer to use and comes in two main forms – cholecalciferol/D3 which is mostly animal-derived from cholesterol, and ergocalciferol/D2 which is sourced from fungi such as mushrooms and yeast. UVB rays from sunlight activate the production of vitamin D in the animal or fungus3.
- Filters Blood
Key detoxification enzymes are produced in the liver. As the blood flows through the liver toxins are identified and neutralized through a two-step process. Phase 1 and 2 liver detoxification turns fat-soluble chemicals (environmental toxins, some medications, other compounds) into water-soluble compounds that can move more safely through the blood to be excreted via the urine.
- Regulates “Qi” and “Stores Blood”
In Traditional Chinese Medicine the liver is responsible for controlling the flow of Qi, a.k.a. life force or energy, through the body as well as storing the blood to replenish what is lost by the body as needed. Fatigue and vitality is, therefore, a reflection on liver health in that paradigm.
Despite the incredibly cool regenerative powers of the liver in response to acute trauma (like having up to 75% of it removed to give to someone else!2), a chronic liver disease can be life-threatening. Liver disease is a well-known complication of alcohol abuse. Cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, is an irreparable damage to the liver that results from alcohol abuse or chronic hepatitis (often viral)2. Even scarier, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is on the rise in Western countries, and while it is reversible in the early stages, it can also lead to more extensive permanent liver damage if left unchecked4.As the name suggests NAFLD is NOT related to alcohol consumption. It is characterized by “marbling” of the liver through deposition of fats. The exact cause(s) of NAFLD is still under ongoing investigation but it appears that the “Standard North American Diet” of refined carbohydrates (namely excess fructose from high fructose corn syrup) and trans-fats are key contributors5. Certainly, insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome and obesity are strongly implicated along with some medications, and a diet high in processed foods is also linked to excess weight and insulin resistance4.NAFLD is also associated with low vitamin D levels, and while the relationship between serum vitamin D and NAFLD is unclear, both states are associated with poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Supplementation with vitamin D has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and therefore vitamin D supplementation may be an emerging factor in the treatment and prevention of NAFLD7,8.
A lack of antioxidants appears to be a contributing factor too. Fat deposits in the liver are poor indicators of health, but when those fats oxidize than the damage is amplified. To prevent or treat NAFLD (and support the liver that looks after you so well!) focus on a whole foods diet that avoids refined carbs and fats altogether, or at least keeps them to a strict minimum as occasional treats. Colourful carbs from vegetables, fruits, and herbs such as turmeric (Curcuma longa) should be the foundation of a liver-friendly diet6.
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is perhaps the most celebrated liver herb as there is good evidence for it having hepatoprotective (liver protective), as well as anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fibrotic (scar preventing) properties7.
Botanica’s Liver Support Compound includes milk thistle and turmeric, along with watercress, blessed thistle, and Oregon grape root. All five herbs in the blend have demonstrated benefits in supporting the multitude of liver functions and supporting liver health. From healing damaged liver cells, to improve the flow of bile – and with it, the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of fats and fat-soluble nutrients – these herbs work together to renew and revitalize your oh so important liver.
In TCM the liver is associated with spring, the season of renewal and regeneration! While the liver needs love and support all year round consider a more focused effort on liver health every spring. Take stock of your health, the year ahead, and look at your diet with fresh eyes. Bring in some bitter and sour foods (think of new green shoots with their fresh nutrients after a cold, dark winter), incorporate liver cleansing herbs every day for a month or more, and replenish body stores of fat-soluble vitamin D as the days lengthen towards summer again.