When we are feeling tired or sluggish, headachy or wake up feeling unrefreshed, there aren’t many
people who immediately identify their liver as the culprit of these symptoms.
Our liver packs a mighty punch when it comes to all aspects of how we look and feel, and while it’s not always at the source of our symptoms, it is often an organ under immense pressure to cope with our lifestyle choices. For many people, investing in the health of the liver can make an incredible difference to their overall sense of wellbeing and improve various inter-related body systems as a result.
Symptoms of an unhappy liver
Anyone who has experienced a hangover will understand the effects of a liver that is having trouble processing harmful substances. While a severe hangover can be debilitating, a milder form of these symptoms may be plaguing our everyday living. From niggling gut problems such as bloating and constipation, fatigue, congested skin, irritability, headaches and PMT through to unexplained weight gain, an overloaded liver takes its toll on your health and energy.
What creates this problem
Our liver is one of the key organs in our body for elimination and detoxification. Any substance we eat, breathe, drink or put on our skin that might be harmful or ‘toxic’ to our body gets sent to our liver to be processed. Often without even realising it, we can expose ourselves to many harmful ‘liver loaders’ throughout each and every day. Alcohol, substances in processed foods, refined sugars, pesticides used on the foods we eat and synthetic ingredients used in the products that we put on our skin all contain potentially problematic substances that our liver must convert and eliminate.
An overwhelmed liver
If, due to lifestyle choices, hormonal or bowel problems, our liver is being asked to process more substances than it can handle, the second stage of the detoxification processes can become congested.
However, because the liver acts as a traffic controller and needs to keep things moving, these substances (such as estrogen and cholesterol) are released back out into the blood supply and recycled. If the liver still can’t deal with them, they are moved out of circulation – where they can harm you – and instead, they are stored in the body fat, away from your vital organs.
It is the recycling and storage of these partially converted substances that affects our energy, health and creates a myriad of problems including increasing our risk of developing degenerative diseases.
Less efficient detoxification processes can lead to poor thyroid function, sex hormone imbalances, congested skin, poor cholesterol metabolism, and impaired blood glucose management that often shows up as sugar cravings. Additionally, because our body wants to protect us from these less harmful but still not harmless substances that are moving through our body, it starts to store them in our fat. This can have an incredible impact on whether our body chooses to use fat as an energy source or retain it and can be the reason why some people struggle to lose weight no matter how much exercise they do.
The importance of liver support
In this day and age, we are exposed to millions more harmful substances every day than even our parents were, many of which are unavoidable. Any substance that would be harmful to you if it accumulated in your body must be changed into a less harmful form so that it can then be excreted from the body. To look and feel your best, you want this to be a highly efficient process.
There are two stages to the detoxification process, appropriately named phase 1 and phase2 liver detoxification. Both phases require certain nutrients to function, and dietary choices can influence how efficiently each phase is able to work. Phase 1 requires B vitamins, glutathione, carotenoids and antioxidants such as milk thistle, vitamin C and vitamin E. Phase 2 requires sulphur, selenium, glutamine and amino acids such as taurine, glycine and cysteine. Without these essential vitamins and minerals our liver function will be compromised.
If we are ingesting harmful substances, whether through choice or incidentally from our environment, we need to ensure our liver is getting an abundance of nutrients. This is particularly important if we are leading stressful or busy lives that may be utilising a certain portion of our nutrient intake for other purposes.
How to support your liver
You’re most likely already aware of the importance of consistently maintaining a nutrient dense way of eating. Nothing can replace a nutritious way of eating, and ensuring we get a wide range of colourful plants is an integral part of good liver health. Of course, cutting down on those substances that put pressure on the liver is also incredibly helpful—reducing alcohol, trans fats, refined sugars and exposure to synthetic substances such as pesticides, medications and skincare products.
A good liver supplement, particularly a food (plant)-based one with nutrients that are readily available to the body, can also help be a wonderful support for an overwhelmed liver and help to boost our overall nutrient intake.
Dr Libby (PhD) is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. She has recently released her ninth book Women’s Wellness Wisdom and has also launched her new range of plant based nutritional supplements Bio Blends. Visit www.drlibby.com or www.bioblends.co.nz