How the Liver Is the Workhorse Of Your Body
A year ago I started to gain weight, despite regular exercise and eating healthy foods. I was confused, scared and frustrated. I didn't know what was going on so I decided to try to quit sugar.
My plan was to have some blood work done when I was just starting to quit sugar, then again a couple of months later. My primary care physician happily ordered the lab tests for me and we both expected everything to be normal, given my healthy lifestyle.
But one of the tests, my liver panel, came back abnormally high. My doctor thought it might be a fluke so she had me wait for a couple of weeks, then get tested again. The second test result came back higher. So I had to get an ultrasound. There were some abnormal findings so she referred me to a gastroenterologist.
The GI doctor reviewed my test results and ordered an MRI to be done on my liver. The results showed some masses and lesions. I was assured that they weren't anything to be alarmed about but I was showing signs of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease is the inability to process sugar which leads to excess fats that result in visceral fat around the belly, diabetes, and immune problems.
I was stunned. I was eating healthy, exercising and doing everything I could to avoid poor health and chronic disease so how could this be happening?
So I did what I always do - I set out to satisfy my natural curiosity and found out everything I could about the liver and how it functioned. Here's what I learned.
The Function of the Liver
The liver has three functions:
1. To filter blood
2. To disassemble chemical compounds for detoxification
3. To synthesize and secrete bile
Bile is the carrier of many toxic compounds and aids in the digestion of fats, which happens in the small intestines.
The liver also:
- Releases vitamins when the body needs them
- Manufactures glycogen to stabilize blood sugar
- Produces enzymes that create cholesterol
- Is a source of heat
- Regulates fat storage
- Creates new protein
- Manages chemicals in the blood
- Supports the immune system
- Removes bacteria
- Stores minerals and vitamins
- Balances hormones
- Regenerates damaged tissues
As you can see, it is involved in and supports so many functions that it really is the workhorse of our bodies. So we really need it to be functioning properly and need to do everything we can to support it for optimal health.
How We Harm the Liver
Here's a number of ways that we harm our liver:
- Eating too much protein (the liver metabolizes protein and having too much of it places extra stress on the liver. Note: "too much" is subjective and unique to each individual)
- Eating too much sugar and carbohydrates
- Taking drugs (even over-the-counter ones) and drinking alcohol
- Consuming and exposing ourselves to toxins
Signs Of An Overburdened Liver
Our body sends us messages when our liver is clogged. It manifests itself differently in each person, but some signs of this are:
- A poor digestive system
- Low energy
- Allergies + hay fever
- Tenderness under the right ribs (where the liver is located)
- Headaches + dizziness
- Lack of appetite
- Skin issues
- Resistant weight loss
- Joint pain
- Impaired vision
- Emotional issues (anger)
When our natural detoxification pathways are overloaded and blocked toxins build up. Many of those toxins are fat soluble and settle in our brain and endocrine glands where our hormones are. That leads to problems with hormonal imbalances (adrenals, thyroid, etc), brain dysfunction and even premature aging.
So What Can We Do About It?
We can give our digestive systems a break from having to process toxins so the liver can go back to functioning properly and doing its job eliminating those toxins.
Here are some ways to do that.
Eight Ways To Support the Liver
- Avoid late night snacks - the liver follows the circadian cycle and regenerates between 11 pm and 3 am
- Eat clean foods - relieve the liver of having to process toxins from foods
- Eat good fats - avoid bad fats, like fried foods cooked in oxidized oils
- Don't eat excess protein - excess proteins are different for every person but we can all eat high-quality protein
- Eat nutrient dense whole foods - foods like greens, beets, turmeric, fiber, citrus and cruciferous vegetables are all liver-loving foods
- Eat superfoods - spirulina, chlorella, and chlorophyll are also liver-loving foods
- Supplement with milk thistle - also a great support for the thyroid and metabolism. And normal metabolism is when the body can continually rid itself of toxins
- Practice detoxification tools on a regular basis - castor oil packs and dry skin brushing are simple body-conscious detox practices that you can do regularly that will support liver function
Let's Connect the Dots
Going back to my story, at the time of my diagnosis I had Adrenal Fatigue from overtraining and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). This means that I had a hormonal imbalance and too many bacteria and toxins in my small intestines.
I was injured all the time, had low vitamin D, insomnia, experiencing unexplained weight gain and my gut was a hot mess.
It was so OBVIOUS that my liver wasn't functioning properly, so it's no wonder that my blood work, ultrasound, and MRI showed early signs of liver disease.
Since then I've done elimination diets, started using the body and mind-conscious detoxification tools, and eating liver-supporting foods like adding spirulina, chlorella and chlorophyll to my smoothies.
I still have a long way to go as I recover from Leaky Gut Syndrome. I didn't get this way overnight, but I am moving in the right direction.
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Naomi Nakamura is a certified Holistic Health Coach who takes a holistic approach through functional nutrition. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, coaching programs, and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with acne and other chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop! Connect with Naomi at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest.