The liver is a workhorse often taken for granted in the human body. Tucked under the ribcage and weighing about three pounds, the liver, the body's second-largest organ after the skin, has a lengthy resume.
This vital organ helps with digestion, metabolism, nutrient absorption, and energy production. However, one of the most remarkable things about a liver is its ability to rid the body of toxins.
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. Here, we take a closer look at the liver and examine how you can help keep your liver healthy.
What Is Liver Health?
As mentioned, the liver is an essential and vital organ that plays a significant role in our health and wellness.
The main function of the liver is to cleanse the blood. It primarily filters blood from the digestive tract before it travels to the rest of the body, but the liver also produces proteins necessary for blood clotting.
It also has a significant role in filtering out toxins, producing proteins and enzymes, creating bile for digestion, storing vitamins and minerals, and breaking fats into fatty acids.REF#1392 Also, the liver helps regulate hormones, metabolize drugs and alcohol, and synthesize cholesterol.
This is why it is so important to keep the liver healthy. When the liver doesn't work effectively, it can cause various issues, from jaundice to fatty liver disease.
8 Ways to Keep Your Liver Healthy
Simply put, our bodies wouldn't be able to function properly without a healthy liver. While the liver is resilient in healthy individuals, there are lifestyle choices that can help maintain its normal, healthy functioning — for instance, eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight.
Here are a few ways you can help support your liver health and overall wellness.
Limit or Eliminate Alcohol
It's no secret that eliminating or limiting alcohol consumption can be beneficial for keeping your liver healthy. By cutting back on the amount of alcohol you consume each day, you can help protect your liver more than you think.
The liver can usually regenerate itself; however, the organ does not tolerate consistent exposure to alcohol.REF#1393 Daily, healthy men should consume no more than two alcoholic beverages and 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 of 80-proof liquor.
Eat Organic Food Whenever Possible
Conventional agriculture uses pesticides and other chemicals that are not permitted on Certified Organic farms, but can cause liver problems. In fact, exposure to certain pesticides over time can lead to decreased liver function and damage. Pesticides may also contribute to long-term health concerns in the liver.REF#1399
To avoid exposure to unknown substances 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
Eating a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do to keep your liver in top shape. You may want to limit foods high in saturated fat and focus on eating plenty of whole grains and carbohydrates for energy and fiber.
Whole grains and cereals can provide essential vitamins and minerals that can help support your body and liver, while carbohydrates provide fuel for proper digestion. Dietary fiber can also help to support healthy cholesterol levels.
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.REF#1394 Processed foods are the most common sources of sugar and trans fats.
These sources of fats can contribute to high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Some foods you may want to add to your diet include:
- Red meat (in moderation)
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 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.REF#1395
When it comes to liver health, eating a balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is a must for keeping your liver healthy. So, ensure you’re getting at least five servings of produce daily.
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
When you keep your waistline in check, you can help reduce fatty deposits in the liver that can lead to irritation and scarring. Excess body weight has been linked to deposits of fat in the liver.
When your BMI is lower, you may be at lower risk for developing long-term metabolic health concerns, which can further damage your liver health. Maintaining a healthy weight can also help protect you from other chronic diseases that could affect your 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. So get active, eat right, and stay at a healthy weight for your liver’s sake!
If you need help achieving your weight loss goals, you can work with a doctor or personal trainer to shed the pounds. While doing so, try to avoid excess fat in your diet and watch your calorie intake.
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 it 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 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 herbal supplements have traditionally been used to promote normal processes of the liver and offer natural support.* Milk Thistle has a rich history of traditional use in supporting the liver.* Its active constituent, Silymarin, promotes normal cell regeneration in the liver.*
Milk Thistle 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.*REF#1396 It also has been shown to normalize the flow of bile from the liver, which helps digest fats.*REF#1397 Silymarin has been studied for its ability to promote the normal cell turnover process in liver cells.*REF#1398
The Bottom Line
Looking after your liver health is a must when it comes to staying healthy and happy. Taking proactive steps like avoiding or limiting alcohol, eating a healthy, balanced diet, and exercising regularly can go a long way toward keeping your liver healthy.
Doing all of these things can also help promote overall health. Again, the importance of having a healthy liver cannot be overstated — it has many essential functions in the body that can have far-reaching health benefits.
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