In the human body, the liver is a workhorse that is often taken for granted. Tucked under the ribcage and weighing about three pounds, the liver, which is the body's second-largest organ after the skin, has a lengthy resume. It primarily filters blood coming from the digestive tract before it travels to the rest of the body, but the liver also produces proteins necessary for blood clotting. Plus, it detoxifies chemicals, metabolizes medications, catabolizes (breaks down) hormones and secretes the bile that aids in the digestion of lipids in the small intestine. In short, the liver is an incredibly vital organ.
While the liver is resilient in healthy individuals, there are lifestyle choices that can help maintain its normal, healthy functioning.
Limit or Eliminate Alcohol
The liver is usually able to regenerate itself; however, the organ does not tolerate consistent exposure to alcohol.1 Otherwise healthy men should consume no more than two alcoholic beverages a day; women should consume no more than one, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. One drink equals 1 (12-ounce) beer, 1 (5-ounce) glass of wine or 1.5 ounces 80-proof liquor.
Eat Organic Food Whenever Possible
Conventional agriculture uses pesticides and other chemicals that are not permitted on Certified Organic farms. To avoid exposure to unknown substances that the liver would have to filter from the body, choose Certified Organic foods or inquire with local farmers about their growing methods. When consuming conventional produce, scrub thoroughly or peel and discard skins and rinds.
Eliminate Trans Fats and Processed Foods, and Limit Sweeteners - Even Natural Ones
Avoiding trans fats, which are artificially created unsaturated fats that are solid at room temperature, and reducing sugar consumption can help support the liver's ability to metabolize dietary fats.2 Processed foods are the most common sources of sugar and trans fats.
Regular, moderate physical activity is directly linked to a healthy body weight, normal blood sugar within healthy levels and a healthy cardiovascular system. Regular exercise also promotes normal liver health. Aim for 150 minutes of activity weekly, or 30 minutes five times a week, which is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for otherwise healthy adults ages 18-64.
Consume Cruciferous Vegetables Often
Cruciferous vegetables, so named because their four flower petals resemble a cross, include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards and cabbage. These vegetables contain sulfur compounds called glucosinolates, which support the digestive system's natural detoxification process. They also lend the trademark bitter flavor and sulfurous aroma when cooked. In addition, studies have found a correlation between regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables and normal digestive function, which includes the liver. Current dietary guidelines recommend between 2 and 3 cups of vegetables daily for adult men and women; include cruciferous vegetables among those servings.3
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Excess body weight has been linked to deposits of fat in the liver. Shedding 10% of one's body weight can help maintain healthy blood glucose levels already within normal ranges, normal blood pressure ranges and normal liver and cardiovascular function.
Do your Best to Stay Regular
Regular bowel movements allow the liver to function normally, as they help naturally detoxify the body. The longer that waste is held in the body, the more time is has to be absorbed into the bloodstream and then be filtered out by the liver later. Aim to consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily, but slowly work your way up to that amount to keep the GI system from experiencing occasional distress such as bloating and gas.
Support Healthy Liver Function with Herbs
Many herbs have traditionally been used to promote normal processes of the liver and offer natural support for detoxification.* Milk Thistle Seed has a rich history of traditional use in supporting the liver.* Its active constituent, Silymarin, promotes normal cell regeneration in the liver and supports the detoxification process.*
Milk Thistle promotes liver and digestive health by helping support the organ's natural detoxification processes.* It also assists with healthy digestion and helps maintain cholesterol metabolism in individuals with already normal blood cholesterol levels.*
In studies, Silymarin has been found to support the activity of one of the body's primary antioxidants, glutathione.*4 It also has been shown to normalize the flow of bile from the liver, which helps digest fats.*5 Silymarin has been studied for its ability to promote the normal cell turnover process in the liver.*6
1Batch, Phyllis A., CNC. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Fifth edition. New York. Avery; 2010.
2Hoffmann, David, FNIMH, AHG. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont. Healing Arts Press; 2003
3Murillo G, Mehta RG. 2001;41(1-2):17-28.
4Valenzuela A, et al. Planta Med. 1989; 55 (5): 420-2
5Crocenzi FA, et al. Biochem Pharmacol. 2000; 59 (8): 1015-1022.
6Blumenthal M, et al. The Complete German Commission E Monograph, Austin, TX: American Botanical Council 1998: 11, 169-70, 278