The liver is a super important yet often under recognized organ in the body
Health involves the whole body, and we love helping people understand why each part of the body is important and how they all work together to determine our health. In this post we’re highlighting Liver health. We outline what the liver does and why it is so important. We also cover signs your liver function may be off and sharing how food can help support your liver’s health.
Why the liver is so important
The liver is one of the hardest working organs in the body, performing over 500 vital functions for life and good health. All of the blood from the stomach and intestines pass through the liver.
Some of the many important functions of the liver include:
- Produces bile. Bile is essential for digestion and helps break down and absorb fats to be used for energy.
- Natural detoxifier. The liver can be thought of as the garbage disposal of your body, since it helps remove waste by a variety of functions. It takes in toxic substances from the environment, diet, and other exposures and helps the body naturally detoxify from them. It is the organ that filters and removes alcohol from the blood, helps remove by products from the breakdown of medications, and also removes old or damaged blood cells from the body.
- Helps balance blood sugar. The liver stores excess carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. When blood sugar levels begin to drop, glycogen is released to help keep blood sugar stable in the body.
- Helps metabolize proteins. The liver converts amino acids from protein into energy. A toxic product called ammonia is produced during this process, and the liver converts ammonia into urea which is then filtered in the blood through the kidneys and removed from the body via urine.
- Produces cholesterol. All the cholesterol your body needs is produced in the liver. Cholesterol is essential for cell membranes, hormones, and vitamin D production.
- Regulates blood clotting. Along with vitamin K, the liver produces proteins that support normal blood clotting and prevent bleeding disorders.
- Stores nutrients. Iron, copper, vitamin B12, and all of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K are stored in the liver and can be released when needed in the body. This is why liver is considered to be one of the most nutrient dense foods to eat.
- Protects against jaundice. The liver removes a substance called bilirubin, which is a sometimes toxic substance created from the breakdown of red blood cells. If bilirubin isn’t properly cleared, jaundice occurs and resents as yellowing of the skin and eyes. It is most common in newborn infants.
Signs that liver function may be off
Given the many crucial functions of the liver, it makes sense that if the liver isn’t working properly, problems will occur and will be accompanied by a variety of symptoms.
Some disorders of the liver include:
- Hepatitis A, B, and C
- Fatty liver disease
- Liver cancer
- Wilson’s disease
There are many symptoms that might be associated with liver disorders.
- Bruising easily
- Swelling of the abdomen and/or legs
- Abnormal changes to the color of your bowel movements or urine
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Unexplained fatigue or loss of appetite
*Keep in mind that sometimes no symptoms are felt, but liver function may still be off. This is why it’s important to get liver function labs tested periodically, especially if you have or have a family history of liver disorders. Additionally these symptoms may be due to other issues in the body so pls keep this in mind- we are not diagnosing based off this post.
Using nutrition to support liver function
Along with most things in the body, food can be used as medicine for liver health as well. Plant foods in general have been linked to supporting liver health.
Specific foods to focus on for liver health include:
- Berries-these are high in antioxidants and plant compounds called polyphenols, which have liver protective effects.
- Coffee–studies have shown that coffee may help prevent the buildup of fat and connective tissue in the liver as well as promote antioxidant function through glutathione. Each of these things helps lower the risk of cirrhosis (end stage liver disease), liver cancer as well as improve outcomes in people who already have a liver disorder. Just be sure to drink pure, high quality coffee that isn’t loaded with cream or sugar.
- Cruciferous vegetables-examples include broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, which all support the liver’s ability to detoxify and protect the liver from damage.
- Grapes-both whole grapes and grape seed extract are rich in antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation in the liver and also protect it from damage.
- Nuts-nuts are rich in the antioxidant vitamin E as well as fiber and other plant compounds and have been shown to help improve liver function lab tests as well as reducing the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and the progression of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
- Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids– this includes salmon, tuna, mackerel, cod liver oil, walnuts, flax and chia seeds, which all help fight against or prevent excess inflammation in the body which in turn supports liver health.
- Olive Oil-one study showed an improvement in liver enzymes and triglyceride levels in people who consumed olive oil.
- Whole grains– these include things like oats, quinoa, barley, and whole wheat products which are all a good source of fiber. Fiber helps the liver work at an optimal level.
On the other hand, some foods to limit or avoid for best liver health include:
- Fried foods
- Salty foods
- Foods high in sugar
- Highly processed meats
- Excessive alcohol intake
Each of the above foods may harm the liver by causing additional inflammation and fat buildup.
The liver is a super important organ and is one of the major detoxifying agents for our bodies. It’s important to pay attention to any signs that liver function may be off and to get any symptoms addressed early on. Focusing on foods that support liver function while limiting or avoiding those that may cause harm is one of the best ways to keep this vital organ functioning at its best to keep you healthy.