Love Your Liver!
Author: Vanessa Gagliardi Date Posted:2 March 2020
The liver is our largest internal organ weighing approximately 1.5 kilograms. Known as the ‘metabolic powerhouse’ of the body, it undergoes many body processes, from synthesising amino acids to converting nutrients into their active form and of course, detoxifying the body from toxins.
Did you know that the liver requires its own vascular and arterial blood supply? Filtering blood is the liver’s main job - approximately 1.5 litres of blood circulates through the liver every minute. The portal vein brings deoxygenated blood rich in nutrients from the spleen, stomach, pancreas and intestines. The hepatic artery supplies the liver with oxygenated blood from the aorta.
The liver sits just on top of the gallbladder and next to parts of the pancreas and the intestines. It works in a team with these neighbouring organs to help with the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, making it a crucial part of the digestive system. In fact, the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals we obtain from our diet all require help from the liver:
- Carbohydrates: the liver helps to convert dietary fructose (fruit sugar) and galactose (sugar found mainly in dairy products) into glucose, which is then stored in the liver as glycogen, our stored form of energy
- Fats: the liver produces triglycerides (fatty acids used for energy) and lipoproteins (these assist the transport of fatty acids in the blood). It also helps to form cholesterol, which is important for hormone production and the synthesis of vitamin D from sunlight exposure
- Proteins: non-essential amino acids are manufactured by the liver, as are helpful blood clotting proteins such as fibrinogen and albumin
- Vitamins and minerals: the liver stores vitamins A, D and B12, as well as the minerals zinc, copper, iron and magnesium. It plays a role in the conversion of vitamin D into its active form and also helps to convert carotene (found in orange and red foods) into vitamin A for the body to use
To keep track of the health of your liver, your doctor will typically request a Liver Function Test (LFT) as part of your routine blood test. LFTs usually measure protein levels, liver enzymes and bilirubin to assess the function and health of your liver. If you take certain medications or have a medical condition, your doctor may request a LFT more frequently.
Would you like to know more about the liver? Here, we have answered some Frequently Asked Questions about the liver and its role in the body:
How does the liver detox the body?
The liver undergoes two phases of detoxification, simply called phase I and phase II. Phase I is the first line of defence against toxins. A group of enzymes known as the cytochrome P450 family help to neutralise substances like alcohol and pollutants and offer protection by converting these toxins into less harmful ones, called metabolites.
These metabolites, the by-products of phase I liver detoxification can still pose a toxic threat to the body. If the toxins build up and remain in the liver they can cause damage to the body. It is the role of phase II liver detoxification to ensure these toxins don’t build up by further neutralising them to make them water-soluble. By being water-soluble, they can easily be excreted from the body through urine, faeces and sweat.
Should I do a liver detox?
The human body is exposed to toxins every day, such as household cleaning products, air pollution, pesticides, plastics, alcohol and more.
The liver naturally detoxifies itself from these toxins every day, which is what it is designed to do. Sometimes these toxins can in fact become a burden on the liver causing sluggishness of its natural processes. Doing a liver detox can help to support the liver, however should be performed under the care and guidance of a health professional.
Nevertheless, you can include liver-loving foods into your diet to support your liver and its detoxification processes. These include:
- Vitamin C rich foods – think berries, kiwifruit and citrus fruits. Vitamin C is antioxidant that helps to protect liver detoxification enzymes
- Sulfur containing foods – such as garlic, onion, broccoli and cauliflower. Sulphur is a compound needed for the second phase of liver detoxification
- Zinc rich foods – these include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and red meat. Like sulfur, zinc is needed for proper liver detoxification and much like vitamin C, zinc offers protective antioxidant properties to liver cells and enzymes
Don’t forget about staying hydrated! We know drinking enough water is important for our overall health and wellbeing. For liver health, keeping hydrated helps with the removal of those water-soluble toxins the liver creates during phase II detoxification.
How can I reduce my exposure to toxins?
While it isn’t possible to completely eliminate toxin exposure from all sources, there are ways to minimise external exposures.
Firstly, take a look at your household cleaning products and see if you can switch them up for products containing mostly (or all) natural ingredients. We love using the Abode and Koala Eco ranges of cleaning products to keep a clean and healthy home without coming into contact with potentially harmful chemicals that can put a burden on the liver.
Now that you’ve checked what you’re cleaning your home with, what about what’s going on your skin? Do you apply skin care products and make up daily? If so, check the ingredients list to see if there’s any added chemicals (unfortunately most of the time, there are). We recommend our Ageless Skin Range for naturally beautiful and youthful skin.
If possible, buy organic fruit and veggies. Otherwise, give your fresh produce a good wash in filtered water and a splash of apple cider vinegar to help remove any pesticide residue.
Finally, consider buying a water filter. We are lucky enough in Australia to be able to safely drink tap water that isn’t contaminated with bugs that cause an upset tummy, however there are chemicals used for this process. You can simply buy a refillable water filter jug or if you’re into DIY, try installing a water filter to your kitchen sink.
What supplements can I take to support my liver?
Australian NaturalCare’s Liver Care Milk Thistle 13000mg and Herbal Fat Metaboliser are two supplements designed to support liver health and liver detoxification.
Liver Care Milk Thistle 13000mg contains milk thistle, a herb traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to support healthy liver function, protect the liver and maintain its natural detoxification processes. Milk thistle supports healthy digestion of fats and reduces symptoms of indigestion.
Herbal Fat Metaboliser combines herbs and nutrients that help the body metabolise dietary fats more easily and efficiently. Milk thistle and schisandra are two herbs used in Western herbal medicine to enhance liver detoxification. They are paired with dandelion and gentian, two herbs also traditionally used in Western herbal medicine that relieve symptoms of sluggish liver function such as fatigue, nausea and feeling overly full after eating fatty foods.
- Ask The Scientists. (2019), Liver Detoxification Pathways, cited 11/11/19, accessed <https://askthescientists.com/qa/liver-detoxification-pathways/>
- Hechtman, L. (2012), Clinical Naturopathic Medicine, Chapter: The Hepatobiliary System, pp. 210-279, Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier
- Marcin, J. (2018), Liver Function Tests, Healthline, cited on 8/11/19, accessed <https://www.healthline.com/health/liver-function-tests>
- Rosenfeld, J. (2017), 12 Facts About the Liver, Mental Floss, cited on 11/11/19, accessed <https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/500783/12-bilious-facts-about-liver>
|Written by Vanessa Gagliardi|
Vanessa (BHSc Naturopathy) is a qualified naturopath with a passion for good food. She uses nutrition and herbal medicine to help people feel their best, from the inside out.
Vanessa enjoys nature walks and Pilates, and loves a good almond mocha.