Naturopathic doctors recognize that one of the most important organs of the body, but likely least known by their patients for its function, is the super organ – the LIVER.
The liver has so many functions, many of which are not obvious to us physically, unlike other major organs (lung= breathing, or stomach = feeling full/hungry).
When one thinks of the liver, one should think of the term DETOXIFICATION.
What Does The Liver Do?
The liver is a super organ that pretty much cleans out our entire body. The liver is the largest reservoir (storing blood and iron) and filtering system for blood, ridding the blood of impurities, before it is pumped back in to the bloodstream.
It is a major secretory organ, producing and releasing bile, which is necessary for proper digestion and absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, as well as the excretion of waste products. As a metabolic organ, the liver metabolizes and stores our everyday basic macronutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
The liver also activates/deactivates medication, hormones (such as estrogen), and toxic environmental chemicals (such as pesticides, BPA, food additives), through three stages of detoxification.
The liver is essential for the production of antioxidants, molecules that protect the body from oxidative damage from the toxins listed above.
Many health conditions, such as mood disorders, cardiovascular disease, hormonal disorders, cancer, and inflammatory disorders are started by oxidation, highlighting the importance of liver function to our long term health.
How Does An Unhealthy Liver Impact Me?
There are a number of daily habits that can slow down liver function. The consumption of large amount of saturated and trans fats, excessive caffeine, sugar, and alcohol use, and foods high in preservatives can overwork the liver, draining the liver of its resources to function.
Also, these types of toxins do not provide anything useful to regenerate and rejuvenate the liver. Our daily exposure to environmental pollutants will do the same thing. Once the liver function is compromised, many people can experience a number of symptoms such as fatigue, skin eruptions, poor digestion, and headaches.
For example, a congested/sluggish liver can also be related to digestive problems due to the poor production and secretion of bile necessary for digestion and breaking down fat soluble substances; after many years of sluggish bile, that stagnant bile can form in to stones.
The skin is also an organ of elimination and when the liver is unable to process toxins, and metabolic by-products, they will find other routes to be excreted, such as through the skin, manifesting as conditions like eczema and acne.
Poor liver function can also increase cholesterol levels, as regulatory mechanisms to stop endogenous production become compromised.
What Can I Do To Improve My Liver’s Function?
As our exposure to toxic environmental chemicals increases, we will be relying on the strength and health of our liver to keep us healthy and energetic. Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) we get through our diet are ESSENTIAL for our livers to function optimally.
If we continue to feed our bodies foods that do not possess any use for our bodies other than quick sugars and sustenance, and turn away foods that offer a melange of vitamins, minerals, our livers will not be able to keep up with toxic burden and our health will decline.
Along with a healthy, vegetable-rich diet, here are 6 ways to make sure you liver is functioning at its best.
It enhances liver enzyme function, encourages bile production, and is a good source of the antioxidant, vitamin C. Antioxidants protect oxidative damage of the liver by the very toxins the liver is required to process.
They serve as cofactors for enzymatic/metabolic processes in the liver, allowing the liver to function optimally. Food high in B vitamins include whole grains, legumes and of course veggies.
Dark Leafy Greens
Kale, dandelion greens, rapini, collard greens, swisschard, broccoli, are the superfoods for the liver. These vegetables exhibit a number properties that make them essential for optimal liver function.
They tend to be bitter, a taste that stimulates the secretion of gastric/digestive juices. The general rule of thumb is the more BITTER the veggie is, the BETTER for your liver.
They are rich in folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, magnesium, calcium and potassium, micronutrients important for liver function. Lastly, leafy greens contain a rich amount of fibre, which takes some of the toxic burden off the liver’s back.
Castor oil packs
Applying castor oil over the liver with heat (instructions here) allows the oil to be absorbed through skin, and positively stimulates the liver function.
It also enhances immune function, and promotes lymphatic drainage, both important in detoxification.
Sometimes, the toxic burden on the liver may be larger than what you can handle from just a healthy diet. That’s when herbs come in to play.
Hepatic herbs such as Milk Thistle, Dandelion root, Artichoke, Schisandra, Chelidonium, and Goldenseal, all have properties to protect the liver from environmental damage, repair damaged liver cells, as well as optimize liver function by directly enhancing metabolic processes of Phase I and II detoxification.
It is important to consult with your healthcare practitioner before using these herbs.
Eat and Be Clean
At the very least, makes sure to check out the Dirty Dozen, a list of vegetables and fruits recommended to be consumed organic due to the heavy pesticide use in their non-organic farming practices.
Also, make an attempt to eat hormone and antibiotic-free meats, and reduce your saturated and trans-fat intake by cutting out deep fried and processed foods.
Try to avoid plastic use, heavy-chemical household cleaners and body products – there are a number of natural, organic and plant-based cleansers on the market these days that a fantastic job.
This will reduced the daily toxic burdens on your liver, reserving it’s energy for chemical compounds you can’t avoid.
You can encourage optimal liver function by adding these few things in to your daily life.
It’s most important that we consume clean, low-processed, fresh, vegetable-rich diets in order to keep our health in this increasingly toxic world.
The key to health is maintaining optimal liver function as liver function affects every other organ in the body.
If you want to know more about how to clean up your daily lifestyle, and to optimize your liver function, book an appointment with one of our naturopaths and we can guide your way to a longer, healthier and energetic life.
Yours in Health,
Yours in Health,
Dr. Marnie Luck, N.D
Annex Naturopathic Clinic is a clinic in Toronto that offers integrative healthcare solutions from Drs. Marnie Luck, ND, and Tanya Lee, ND