Episode 062: How Your Liver Is the Workhorse Of Your Body
What do acne and breakouts, weight gain, allergies, arthritis, even and heart disease have in common?
Well, when you peel back and layers and tease out what’s actually going on, at the root of all these things is the health of your liver and how it’s functioning (or not functioning).
About four or five years ago, I learned that I had a fatty liver, and despite doing all the things, when I got a repeat MRI earlier this year, we learned there had been no improvement.
My doc and I have spent most of this year searching and tweaking things to find answers and when I got the organic acids and other industrial toxins lab work back, all the pieces started to come together.
Because at the root of this is how well my body is able to move toxins out of it and the liver is one of the main filters in the human body.
So in this episode, I share:
How I came to learn I have a fatty liver
What the liver does
Signs of liver congestion and how this happens
What to do to support the liver
Now, I know that liver is not the most exciting topic to talk about. I mean, *I’m* fascinated by it, but for most people, it’s not a general topic of conversation.
But, you know what is?
Weight loss, hormones, fatigue, gut health and even how to get clear skin.
So the next time you these things are a problem for you, and you’re thinking about what to do about it, I want you to *think functionally* and uncover what the root causes of it are — and more often than not, how your liver is functioning will be part of that equation.
Listen to the Episode:
Click Here to Read the Episode Transcript...
You’re listening to The Live FAB Life Podcast, Episode 062.
What do acne and breakouts, weight gain, allergies, and even things like arthritis and heart disease have in common?
They’re all a result of how your liver is (or isn’t working)! And on today’s show, we’re talking all about your liver and how its the workhorse of your body!
About four or five years ago, despite running dozens of miles a week training for marathons, working with a personal trainer twice a week and cutting out gluten and dairy, despite doing all of these things, I was gaining weight.
I thought that I was a beacon of health because I did all of these things. So you can imagine just how confused I was that this was happening.
I tried many different things, poured over my food journals and realized that although I was gluten-free and grain-free, I was eating lots of carbs and sugar. So I decided to quit sugar altogether.
I went to see my doctor at the time for some routine blood work done so I could have a comparison of my glucose levels, before and after. We both expected the results to be normal, but to our surprise, my liver panel came back really high.
My doctor thought it might be a fluke so she told me to wait a couple of weeks and then come back and do the test again.
But the second results came back higher than the first, so she referred me to a GI specialist. He ordered an ultrasound and MRI and then came to the conclusion that I had a fatty liver.
It was a wakeup call for me because I realized that in focusing on diet and exercise without taking into account the health of my liver, I had missed a key point.
So for the next several years, I worked really hard to quit sugar - which I did, to fill my body with nourishing foods, and reduce my toxic load.
And while so many parts of my health improved, my fatty liver didn’t - again to my surprise and those of my current doctor, my integrative doctor.
For the past year my doctor and I have explored why I’ve continued to gain weight despite so many changes I’ve made - from changing my diet, my beauty and personal care products, cookware - to switching up supplements - so many things.
And let me just give some context - we’re not talking about 5-10 pounds here. In the past two years I’ve gained over 40 pounds in spite of doing all the things that I’ve shared. This is not normal. So we’ve known that something isn’t in my body, it’s just taken a while to tease it out.
After months of searching, I finally pulled the trigger and got some lab work done. Now I’d been hesitant to do these labs because they are costly and my insurance didn’t cover them.
But I’d already “backed things up” and addressed my non-negotiables (and if you’re not sure what I mean by that, go back and listen to Episode 052), so I decided to go for it and get the lab work done.
The lab results, while initially surprising, weren’t all that surprising because it finally gave us answers. Primarily, I’m highly toxic - I have high levels of mold and other industrial toxins in my body that’s likely coming from my immediate environment within my home.
These toxins, they’re challenging to address because I can’t just pick up and move. Moving to a new home isn’t easy - especially in the Bay Area where the housing market is insane. So while I’m working through figuring out a game plan on what to do about it, I decided that a liver cleanse is essential and I shared about it on Instagram - and if you’re not following me on Instagram yet, come on over and join me because its my favorite place to hang out on social media!
Anyway, I was kinda surprised because when I shared that I was thinking about doing a liver cleanse, I had a lot of people interested in hearing more about it, so I decided to dedicate an episode to it. And this is what we’re diving into today.
Now much of what I’m sharing today actually comes from a blog post that I wrote over two years ago. So I’m repurposing much of that content here today with some updates, of course.
Now before I get into a liver cleanse, I think its important to establish a basic understanding of the liver. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be an anatomy class, so if you were thinking about stopping this episode and moving to the next show in your playlist, please don’t.
Because what I’m about to share is vital foundational information that is going to change your entire perspective on your body and your weight. And as a health coach, I’ve come to learn that everyone cares about weight - even if they say they don’t.
So listen up because this is going to explain a lot of things for you.
Now I’m embarrassed to admit this, but up until I found out I had a fatty liver, I didn’t even really know where my liver was in my body. So if you don’t know either, no worries - not everyone does.
Your liver is on the right side of your body, just underneath your rib cage.
And it’s one of the detoxification organs in your body, along with your skin, kidneys, colon, and your lymphatic system. And I’m pretty sure I may have missed a few others there, but you get the picture - the liver - and these other organs are responsible for moving toxins out of your system.
It’s also the largest organ in your abdominal area. While your mouth, stomach, large and small intestines, and a few others are the primary organs in your digestive system, you also have auxiliary organs like your liver, pancreas and gallbladder which are also crucial in how your whole digestive system works.
When it comes to digestion, your liver plays a crucial role in the filtration of your blood and the ability to selectively absorb and secrete nutrients. There’s an entire process that goes on here which I won’t get into, but essentially, your cells get their food (their nutrients) after your liver has cleaned things up.
Now I want to take a short aside and spend a minute or two on the gallbladder because I know a lot of people who have had gallbladder issues.
Everyone thinks that its no big deal if you don’t have a gallbladder because you can live without it - but it does play a pretty big role in digestion.
To understand the gallbladder, you need to know how your body digests foods. Carbs are the quickest macronutrient to digest because it mostly gets digested in your mouth. Protein is mainly digested in your stomach and fats are mostly digested in your small intestines. Fats take the longest to digest which is why they kept you full the longest.
We all have digestive enzymes that help us to digest foods. Your gallbladder helps to digest fats by regulating bile secretion and problems with this happen when there’s a diet that’s too high in bad fats or oxidized oils.
Allergies to dairy and eggs, low stomach acid, and not enough fiber in the diet are also things that can also cause gallbladder problems like gallstones.
Now gallbladder removal is the most performed surgery in the US, but the gallbladder isn’t always what’s responsible for gallbladder issues. If you look at the root cause, which is what we do in functional nutrition, the culprit is usually the health of the liver.
So removing the gallbladder isn’t addressing the root cause, it just eliminates symptoms and trades one set of problems for another.
Okay, back to the liver.
Your liver is the primary filter in your body and it's so critical to your health because every nutrient, and every toxin that enters into your body through your mouth, lungs and skin passes through your liver.
Your liver filters your blood and removes toxins and waste, it supports your natural detoxification system, and it aids in digestion by synthesizing and secreting bile.
- Stores vitamins and minerals and releases them into your body when it needs them
- Stabilizes your blood sugar - if your blood sugar is too low and you show signs of hypoglycemia, your liver will work on breaking down your glycogen reserves to get glucose into your bloodstream.
But if the opposite happens and your blood sugar is too high, the liver will remove it from your blood and store it or turn it into fat so your liver plays a key role of your metabolism and thus your weight.
- Regulates fat storage
- Manages chemicals in your bloodstream
- Supports your immune system by removing any antibodies - at a high level, this is how the liver plays a role in dealing with allergies
- Removes bacteria
Balances your hormones - your liver is responsible for removing and recycling extra hormones so you can’t address hormonal imbalances without looking at your liver.
The liver also controls how your body produces and secretes cholesterol. When it comes to cholesterol, it's not necessarily an indicator of heart disease but rather how a person’s liver is functioning.
- It regenerates damaged tissues
- Is a key player in your body’s ability to absorb Vitamin D
So as you can see, your liver is involved in and supports so many functions on your body that it really IS the workhorse of it, which is why it’s critical that it functions the way it’s supposed to, and you always do everything you can to support it!
Before we get into how to support your liver, I want to talk about how we harm it because it happens in so many different ways.
In fact, did you know that it’s been found that babies are being born with a toxic overload that they inherit from their mothers when chemicals cross bodies in the placenta?
So unfortunately, it’s so easy to become bombarded with toxins.
- It happens from eating too much sugar, too many simple carbs and even too much protein. Your liver has to process all of this which places extra stress on it.
When it comes to excess sugar and carbs, it’s stored in your liver as fat and a major contributor for heart disease, which is why sugar is a bigger factor in heart disease than fat.
In the past I’ve worked with clients who have had majors fear of fat because they’ve been warned about being at risk for heart disease but yet, they weren’t looking at their diets which were full of carbs and sugar.
Now “too much” is going subjective and unique to each person, so it's your personal responsibility to figure out what that threshold is for you.
We also burden our liver by:
- Drinking alcohol, which I’m pretty sure most people are aware of - again, sugar is a big role player here
- Taking medications - even over the counter ones
- Not getting enough exercise - remember when we sweat, we’re removing toxins from our bodies And by exposing ourselves to heavy metals, pesticides and industrial toxins.
So how can you tell that your liver is overburdened?
Your body sends you tons of messages when your liver is congested and some of those signs are:
- Bloating and poor digestion
- Allergies and hay fever
- Obesity and weight loss resistance - toxins promote weight gain because they’re fat-soluble - when they enter your body, they make themselves at home in your fat cells. And I talk about this in more depth when I talked about obesogens in Episode 055.
- Headaches + dizziness
- Joint pain - like fat cells, toxins will also end up in your joints and cause swelling and inflammation. So you could have arthritis but the root cause of it could be poor liver function
- Poor vision - In Paul Pitchford’s book, Healing with Whole foods, which by-the-way is an excellent resource to have, he talks about how the eyes are directly affected by the liver.
If you think about it, liver damage can cause the eyes to become yellow. So the root cause of near and far-sightedness could also be poor liver function.
- Emotional issues - in Chinese medicine, the liver is correlated with anger and depression.
- And of course, skin issues: If you have a skin problem, then an impaired liver is going to make your symptoms worse.
Liver blood nourishes and moistens your skin so if your blood is deficient, your skin becomes dry and itchy. So lotions and moisturizers can help but if you’re looking for the root cause, consider the liver.
When your natural detoxification system is overburdened, toxins become blocked and build up in your body.
And like I said earlier, because many of these toxins are fat-soluble, so they settle in your brain, your fat cells and endocrine glands, leading to problems with cognitive function, weight and hormones.
I had someone comment to me - “Do you really think your weight gain has anything to do with toxins?” And my answer was an undoubted - Yes.
So you might be wondering, “Well Naomi, what are YOU doing, to support your liver?”
So finally, let’s talk about a liver cleanse..
My number one rule and the best way to deal with toxins is to avoid them as best as I can.
There are many things that we’re exposed to that we can’t control, like air pollution, but there are many things that we can.
You can control what you put in your mouth and what’s in your immediate environment. You do this by making safer choices in the beauty and personal care products that you’re putting on your skin, by detoxing your home - and I’m not going to get into these things because I just did in Episode 060 so go back and listen to that episode on how to detox your home.
Other ways to support the liver, that’s a part of my liver cleanse are:
- Stop the bedtime snacks. The liver follows our circadian rhythm. It regenerates itself between 11 pm and 3 am so don’t eat late and allow your body to rest and renew itself.
- Eat organic produce and grass-fed, wild and pasture-raised animal protein to avoid pesticides. This alone will support your gut health by giving your digestive system and your liver a break from having to work extra hard to get rid of toxins from pesticides.
- Eat good fats like avocados and salmon, and avoid bad fats, like fried foods cooked in oxidized oils
- To not eat too much protein - “too much” will be different for each person, but I’m paying attention to what the limits are for me and I’m balancing it out by…
- Eating nutrient-dense whole foods like leafy greens, beets, turmeric, citrus fruits, and cruciferous vegetables - all foods that support liver function
- Eating superfoods - spirulina and chlorella. I put chlorella in my smoothies every day. Dandelion, ginger, and burdock roots, along with, garlic, milk thistle are also liver-loving foods
I’m also further supporting my liver cleanse by doing things like castor oil packs, taking Epsom salt baths and even dry skin brushing - all of these things also support liver function.
Now because I have so many toxins in my body, clearly my liver is overburdened. And even though I don’t eat added or processed sugar, nor do I eat a lot of carbs - and I was already doing many of the things I listed above.
My doctor actually ended up presenting my case to his colleagues at a case review meeting and they concluded that the toxins that showed up on my lab work have probably been in my body for a very long time.
So they put me on a pretty aggressive supplement protocol, but it’s going to be a long process to figure out how to address what industrial toxins I’m being exposed to at home.
I live in a rental so I don’t have a lot of control over what I can do about the property or structure. A lot of people have told me just to move, but -
I live in the most expensive real estate market in the count so moving is not that simple or easy - and - how will I know if the place that I move to is safe?
Buying is out of the question, and if I did buy anything, in the Bay Area it would totally need a gut job, which means its probably not any safer than where I’m at now. But I do have big dreams of buying someday, but it’s not happening in the immediate future.
So figuring out that piece will be a longer work in progress.
But, as a result of all of this, we’ve determined that I’m clearly insulin resistant, despite doing much of the things I’ve outlined for you, which is where the liver cleanse came into play.
When I sat down and took a look at a complete list of foods that support the liver, I realized that I already eat a lot of these foods on a regular basis.
But I also realized that I eat a lot of foods that aren’t liver-supporting.
These are things like Paleo-friendly treats like Simple Mills cookies and crackers or gluten-free bread. While they are better options than their counterparts, don’t forget that if it’s not a protein or a fat, its a carb and all carbs turn to glucose - or sugar.
So at the moment, I’m choosing (or trying) to go low carb, which is something I haven’t done in a really long time and to be honest, when I did it before, it definitely wasn’t done healthily. So I’m trying to go low carb more mindfully this time, than I have in the past.
I’m also spending more time in the steam room at the gym, getting massages more often - because massages stimulate your lymphatic system which helps to move toxins out of the body, and I’m even trying infrared saunas.
All of these things will hopefully not only support my body’s ability to move the toxins out of my body, but will also help to reduce stress - which is the root cause of all root causes.
So if you’ve made this far, I applaud you because your liver is not the most exciting topic to talk about. I mean, I’m fascinated by it, but for most people, it’s not a general topic of conversation.
But, you know what is?
Weight loss, hormones, fatigue, gut health and yes, even how to get clear skin.
So the next time you think about these problems and what you can do about it, think functionally, and uncover what the root causes of your problems and more often than not, how your liver is functioning will be part of the equation.
So, that’s it for this week! As always, you can find me at www.livefablife.com, which by the way, if you haven’t checked it out lately, recently got an uplift, join my email list for insider exclusives, weekly updates and find out how we can work together too!
In fact, I have a new program coming out in early 2019 that you’ll definitely want to check out and get on the waitlist for!
Thanks for listening and I’ll see you next week!
Naomi Nakamura is a Functional Nutrition Health Coach. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, programs, coaching services and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with 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!
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