The liver, one of the largest and hardest-working organs in the body, is believed to be of the “wood element” and is crucial for the transformation of food into energy,
Referred to as the ultimate multitasking organ, ancient practitioners believed that the liver was one of the primary organs that needed to be treated in sick patients. When the liver doesn’t perform properly, distention and discomfort within the digestive system result, which can then spread harm to other parts of the body.
Without the liver, it’s impossible to have a properly working metabolism, healthy circulation, balanced hormones, clean blood and strong digestion. Experiencing symptoms like bloating, constipation, fatigue and hormonal imbalances? Then it might be time for a liver cleanse.
Boosting liver health to remove toxins from the body is an integral part of Ayurvedic, yogic and naturopathic medicine. It’s the liver’s job to help dissect the nutrients available in foods once they reach the digestive system, spread them throughout the body via the bloodstream and eliminate toxic waste that’s left behind.
What can improved liver function do for your health? Let’s look at how a well-taken-care of liver can help bring you:
- Increased energy levels
- Clearer skin
- More regular menstrual cycle with reduced PMS
- Freedom from sinus pain
- Fewer infections and stronger immunity
- Less digestive complaints and more regularity
- Fresher breath and oral health
- A positive mood and sharper mind
What Does the Liver Do?
It’s the liver that recognizes toxic substances and converts them into harmless material that can be released. For our blood to flow smoothly and cleanly, we need to create a warming and nourishing environment in the body that helps the liver do its job best.
An adult human liver weighs in just over three pounds and sits in the upper right side of the abdomen, underneath the rib cage where it’s connected to the gallbladder. The gallbladder is where bile is stored, which is also important for digestion. Within the liver, there’s a specific type of tissue that is made of lobules, which transport blood and cells. The liver is always communicating with other digestive organs, receiving information about the level of available nutrients or the presence of threats like prescription medications, heavy metals or toxic substances.
One of the most important roles any of our organs could have, the liver is primarily in charge of regulating our blood supply. It’s involved in storing blood, making blood clotting possible and breaking down damaged blood cells so they can be eliminated.
How to Improve Liver Function Naturally
1. Eat an Anti-inflammatory Diet
A low-sugar, low-toxin diet that’s filled with high-fiber foods is crucial for supporting your liver. High amounts of antioxidants and fiber can even reverse liver damage and disease. The liver is the main organ for detoxification, since it removes toxins created both inside and outside of your body. When the liver can’t remove harmful substances, the immune system can perceive the rising level of toxins as a threat, which causes inflammation and autoimmune reactions. Food allergies and sensitives or leaky gut syndrome can also become more likely.
An influx of sugar — from foods like refined grains, sugary snacks and sweetened drinks — puts a lot on pressure on your liver to convert and store glucose. When blood sugar levels rise, the hormone insulin causes your liver to store glycogen. At the same time, your liver tries to respond to not enough carbohydrates entering the body by releasing stored glycogen back into the blood when you need it for energy. Nitrates in processed meats, hydrogenated oils, refined vegetable oils and artificial sweeteners/ingredients are also taxing.
The solution? Keep things balanced by eating real, whole foods (preferably organic), including unrefined sources of carbohydrates, veggies, fruits and healthy fats. When it comes to fats and proteins in your diet, focus on quality sources (cage-free eggs, grass-fed meat or wild-caught seafood, for example) so the liver can properly break down fats and remove excess cholesterol and toxins.
While many mainstream”detox diets” sold commercially might not offer the benefits they promise, choosing organic foods is one of the few proven ways to lower pesticide levels in the body. Organic, high-antioxidant foods fight the negative effects of stress, pollution and a poor diet on the health of your liver, while increasing natural liver detoxification and the ability to flush toxins out through urine.
Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods for liver function include:
- Sour foods — Bitterness is usually a sign that beneficial enzymes are present, which nourish the liver and also other digestive organs like the spleen and gallbladder. Sour foods are high in essential minerals that balance fluids and reduce heavy metals within the blood. Probiotic foods (like kombucha, kefir, cultured vegetables) plus bitter green vegetables (mustard greens, chicory, arugula, dandelion, etc.) are loaded with nutrients and probiotics. Bitter-tasting leafy greens, like collards or Swiss chard, raise levels of glutathione.
- Leafy greens — Green vegetables of all kinds come loaded with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which help nourish the liver, along with potassium, which is tied to liver health. Many also increase levels of glutathione, a vital component in the destruction of free radicals within the body. As people age or experience illnesses, this becomes even more important since antioxidant and glutathione levels in the blood naturally decrease with age.
- Cruciferous veggies and grasses — Green grasses (like chlorella, barley or wheat grass) hold a form of chlorophyll, a structure that’s built into plant cells that helps escort damaging substances like dioxin out of the liver, while increasing antioxidants like superoxide dismutase. And cruciferous veggies (broccoli, kale, cage, etc.) imrpove low potassium levels and contain indole compounds, a byproduct that’s known to be a cancer killer and eliminate carcinogens from the body. Cruciferous vegetables can increase production of digestive enzymes called glucosinolates, protein that helps detoxify the liver and increase the liver’s ability to usher out carcinogens and heavy metals from the blood.
- Fresh herbs — Herbs including turmeric, coriander, parsley, cilantro and oregano are great to boost glutathione production and also lower inflammation. Highly potent flavors and aromatic smells of herbs are a sign of beneficial essential oils in certain herbs. Turmeric contains curcumin, a compound helpful in restoring healthy blood pressure, improving circulation and fighting toxin buildup. Other herbs balance the body’s pH level and increases digestive enzymes. Raw garlic is another great option since allicin compounds found in garlic have long been regarded as powerful antimicrobial agents that lower inflammation (including in the liver) while increasing circulation and healthy blood flow.
- High-antioxidant fruits — Fruits like berries and melons provide and balance electrolyte minerals needed by the liver, including magnesium, calcium and potassium. In addition, they’re beneficial for improving healthy circulation by acting similar to hemoglobin.
- Local raw honey — Raw honey is the kind that’s not heated or refined. It’s a natural antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal product. It helps lower liver inflammation and eliminate bacteria, parasites and viral infections, especially when you source it locally. It also nourishes the digestive tract and improves liver and gut health.
- Green tea — Green tea, especially concentrated, powdered matcha green tea, is known to contain powerful compounds known as catechins that act as antioxidants in the body, combatting free radicals within the blood, reducing liver inflammation and lowering the effects of oxidative stress on the digestive organs.
- Coconut oil — Considered one of the best sources of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), coconut oil contains beneficial healthy fats, including lauric acid. Acids found in MCFA have antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral properties that help the liver detox, reduce cravings for unhealthy foods and support energy levels.
- Apple cider vinegar — A fermented product made by combining apple juice with live bacteria in the form of yeast, apple cider vinegar contains beneficial enzymes and antioxidants, such as acetic acid and malic acid. These balance the pH level within the body — establishing a healthy ratio of acid to alkalinity — which nourishes the liver and other organs within the digestive tract, helping cleanse the body.
The worst foods for your liver include:
- too much alcohol or caffeine
- packaged goods that contain refined vegetable oils, artificial ingredients, sweeteners and colors
- fruits and vegetables heavily sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides (non-organic crops)
- factory-farmed animal products, farm-raised fish or conventional dairy (that has been pasteurized and homogenized)
- sugary drinks and snacks
- refined grains
2. Properly Prepare Your Food
Also important is properly preparing the foods you eat in order to reduce the presence of toxins, antinutrients and carcinogens that damage the liver. Antinutrients are types of natural toxins found in foods like grains, beans, nuts and seeds. While they help the actual plants protect themselves from rodents or bugs, the human body has a hard time digesting them so they can interfere with the liver’s ability to absorb nutrients and metabolize proteins.
The liver is under increased pressure when you consume a high amount of antinutrients from foods like unsoaked/unsprouted grains and refined carbohydrates. Soak and sprout your grains, nuts, beans/legumes and seeds before eating them to make their toxin levels lower and nutrient availability higher.
3. Choose Organic Crops and Grass-Fed, Cage-Free and Wild Animal Foods
The quality of your diet is very important, because crops sprayed with chemicals, farm-raised fish or factory-farm-produced meat/poultry are more likely to carry toxins,
4. Use Liver-Boosting Supplements
Natural herbs have been used for centuries to help the liver metabolize chemicals found in prescriptions, antibiotics, hormones, and nutrients like proteins and fats. For example, your liver cells need to change amino acids from protein foods so they can actually be used for energy. Unfortunately, in the process a type of toxic substance called ammonia is produced as a byproduct.
Several powerful herbs known to give the liver a boost in converting nutrients and removing toxins are:
- Milk thistle
- Holy basil
- Dandelion root
5. Reduce Stress and Practice Forgiveness
What does forgiveness have to do with your liver? Most of it comes down to your hormones. Historically, holistic practitioners tied emotional troubles to liver damage and therefore overall poor health. As you probably know, high amounts of chronic stress — which can be caused by emotional issues, relationship problems, and holding on to guilt, anger or shame — all have an impact on your endocrine, reproductive, digestive and immune systems.
6. Move Your Body More
Because the liver stores and processes your blood, circulation is important for allowing its cleansing effects to unfold. The body can become stagnant and more susceptible to disease when blood isn’t flowing, but during physical activities, the heart pumps more blood. The liver is then better able to release blood to your brain, organs, tendons, joints and muscles.
The Causes of Liver Damage
Because it has such widespread roles in the body, just about any form of metabolic, digestive, immune or hormonal disorder can impact liver health. In addition, your lifestyle can make or break the health of your liver. Things that damage your liver include:
- chemically sprayed crops
- eating many packaged foods that contain refined oils and high amounts of sugar
- too much alcohol and caffeine
- prescription medication or antibiotic use
- drug use and unprotected sex
- low-quality animal products
- high stress levels and hormonal imbalances
- air pollution and environmental toxin exposure
- using chemical household and beauty products
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