By Amanda Whitford
Aside from the skin, the liver is the largest organ in your body and its proper functioning is vitally important to health and well-being for a number of reasons.
When we eat, most components of the meal that we absorb, including nutrients, drugs, and toxins, travel through the bloodstream directly to the liver for processing. The liver removes things we don’t want in our bloodstream, fights any harmful bacteria with special cells called Kupffer cells and converts nutrients to forms that are easily transported and used by the rest of the body.
The liver also plays an important role in regulating the circulating levels of many nutrients due to its function as a nutrient storage space. One of the most important things the liver stores is glucose which it links together in chains called glycogen, ready to release if our blood sugar gets too low. If blood sugar drops, hormones tell the liver to break down the glycogen and release it back into the blood to stabilise glucose levels.
It is also our main iron store as well as storing various vitamins including Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. Along with releasing glycogen, the liver can convert other things such as fatty acids (fat) and proteins into glucose when food or energy supplies are short.
The liver has several roles in relation to fat and cholesterol in the body. The liver produces a substance called bile which is released into the small intestine after a meal and this assists with the breakdown and absorption of dietary fats. Some of these fats go straight to the liver while larger molecules go through the lymphatic system. The liver packages the fats into special transporters to move into the blood, to be distributed where they are needed. It can also synthesise (make) cholesterol if dietary levels are too low. Although cholesterol is often painted as evil, we do actually need some to be healthy.
The liver is important for detoxification of our blood. It functions to break down drugs, alcohol, pesticides, poisonous substances and other chemical substances that are often added to food so that they aren’t circulating throughout our body, damaging our cells and affecting the functioning of our other organ systems. Without this function we would not be able to survive. With the growing amount of processed foods available full of ingredients that are described in numbers rather than words, our liver is really kept very busy.
Trying to eat more whole foods, minimising the amount of artificial, processed products we consume and reducing the use of alcohol and drugs are all ways that we can help to ease the stress on the liver.
Other essential functions of the liver include the processing and breaking down of hormones. This helps to regulate which hormones are circulating in our bodies. Hormones have a vast array of effects on our different organs so it’s important for the levels to be well regulated. The liver is also involved in the production of substances that assist with blood clotting, and the breakdown of old red blood cells, as these are replaced on a regular basis.
These are just some of the hundreds of vital functions the liver carries out, but as you can see they are all extremely important to processes in the body that are compatible with life. If the liver is functioning at suboptimal levels, this can have detrimental effects on our health.
Tips for keeping your liver healthy and happy:
- Eat a well-balanced diet of wholefoods, especially fruit and vegetables and keep processed, packaged food to a minimum
- Limit alcohol intake. The liver has to break alcohol down and in excess the by-products of this breakdown can damage the liver, as well as other body cells.
- Start the day with fresh lemon juice squeezed into warm water. This helps to stimulate the liver and flush out toxins.
- Drink plenty of water. We need to be well hydrated to optimise the liver’s job of flushing out toxins and other potentially harmful substances.
- Maintain body fat at a healthy level, especially around the middle. When fat accumulates around the abdominal area, this is referred to as visceral fat and it is much more dangerous in this location. The fat cells can produce hormones and molecules that go straight to the liver and cause inflammation
If your goal is weight loss then you also need your liver to be functioning optimally. Take the steps mentioned above; drink plenty of water and not much alcohol, eat clean, real food including lots of vegetables and eat moderate amounts of healthy fats, especially from sources such as nuts, seeds, avocado, cold pressed oils and deep water fish.
Love your liver, and your liver will love you!
To find out more or to request help with your weight loss, contact Lynda now