Importance of the Liver on Your Health and Wellbeing

After suffering poor health for many years, I embarked on some extensive personal research into potential causes of my condition. I tried all kinds of remedies but ended up confused and frustrated, not realizing that I was treating the symptom, rather than the cause. Further research lead to the conclusion that the root of the problem was a sluggish, congested liver, the result of several years of regular social drinking, smoking, and overeating. (Not to mention the bombardment of chemicals and pollutants that we all face in our daily lives.) As a result of this revelation, I have applied some basic dietary and lifestyle principles to rejuvenate the liver. Finally, I am regaining vitality and life. I hope this information will benefit you as much as it has me.

The Liver function:

The liver is the largest internal organ in the body, and as indicated by the very name, is vital to health and well-being. To fully understand the importance of the liver, it is necessary to consider liver function from both the Western and the Oriental perspectives.

The Western perspective:

  • Metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fat.
  • Removal of chemicals, toxins and pathogens from the body.
  • Storage of vitamins (A, B12, D, E, and K) and minerals (iron & copper) that are released when needed by the body.
  • Production of bile for the break down of fats.
  • Activation of vitamin D.
  • Support for the immune system.

The Oriental Perspective:

  • Regulation of the flow of Qi (life energy) through the body.
  • Regulation of digestive activity.
  • Harmonizing emotions.
  • Purification and storage of blood for times of need (for eg., physical activity.)
  • Ruling the tendons.

Causes of liver dysfunction

Liver dysfunction is yet another symptom of the excesses of the modern Western lifestyle. Dr Cabot (M.D.) concludes from her 20 years experience in clinical medicine that one in three people have some degree of liver dysfunction. This is not surprising when you consider the Western lifestyle, which overburdens the liver in so many ways:

  • Bombardment of chemicals. Sources include the environment (lead pollution, cleaning agents, paints etc), food (additives, chemical sprays), and prescription medications (steroids, hormones etc), to mention a few.
  • Toxic social habits. The socially acceptable pastimes of today involve regular use of stimulants and intoxicants, such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and others.
  • A diet high in fats, animal protein, sugars, and refined, denatured foods. Also consumption in excess of our needs.

Effects/symptoms of Poor Liver functioning
If you overwork your body, having little rest, you will become fatigued, sluggish and will not perform your responsibilities efficiently or effectively. Similarly, anything that overtaxes the liver will make it inefficient, disrupting the liver’s normal functions. Problems may be seen in any of the following areas:

Western Perspective:

  • Disruption of metabolism, resulting in weight gain and general lethargy.
  • Decreased removal of toxins and chemicals from the body. Lingering toxins will be stored in fat cells (as cellulite, fatty lumps & deposits) or in the liver itself, causing irreparable damage. These stored toxins may be released during fasting or exercise, resulting in fatigue, headaches and other detoxification symptoms.
  • Chemicals that would normally be broken down by the liver (such as hormones) continue to circulate in the body, resulting in PMS, mood swings, anger, frustration, depression and headaches.
  • Decreased release of necessary vitamins, which can lead to deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals – potentially causing other diseases.
  • Disruption in the liver’s breakdown of fats. If the production of bile is obstructed, fats will not be metabolized efficiently, resulting in weight gain or a fatty liver (deposits of fat around the liver).
  • An overburdened liver may contribute to a depressed immune system, opening the door to a host of infections, viruses etc. There may be a decreased removal of pathogenic organisms resulting in bacterial infections, candida, etc.

Oriental perspective:

Disruption of the regulation of flow of Qi (life force), resulting in fatigue, feeling cold, slow rising in the morning, etc.

Poor, sluggish digestion.

Decreased purification of the blood, resulting in acne, eczema, carbuncles, boils, and allergies. Toxic blood also contributes to all degenerative conditions, such arthritis and cancer*3.

Problems with blood storage, resulting in overabundant, irregular or scanty menses.

Disruption in the harmonizing of emotions, leading primarily to anger, frustration and depression.

The liver rules the tendons. Liver dysfunction may therefore lead to an inflexible, rigid body, swollen, inflamed eyes and blurred vision.

Remedies for liver:

Any effective remedy requires dietary and lifestyle changes, supplementation, and patience. Just as you don’t develop a clogged, dysfunctional liver overnight, it also takes a while for the liver to return to a state of health. It is also important to recognize that you are not all powerful and that you can only do your best. There are several liver cleansing programs available which will hasten the cleansing process (for e.g., Foundations of Health – The Liver and Digestive Herbal, Christopher Hobbs.) You can consult a naturopath, your local health food store, or other health professional as to which formula may work best for you. I’ll focus on some basic principles for liver health that you can apply on your own:

A Perfect Diet For a Healthy Life:

A diet centered around whole natural, unprocessed foods, is an effective long-term remedy for any disease. Once you are familiar with these kinds of delicious, healthy foods, you will relish them.

Incorporate plenty of:

  • Wholegrains (brown rice, millet etc).
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (preferably organic), with an emphasis on sprouts, greens and cruciferous
  • vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, bok choy, mustard greens).
  • Pungent herbs, spices and foods (such as watercress, members of the onion family, turmeric, basil, cumin, fennel, dill, ginger and black pepper). (But take caution not to overdo them.)
  • Legumes (especially mung beans, provided they are not too difficult for you to digest).
  • Kelp, seaweeds.
  • Kitchari – a traditional Ayurvedic healing preparation of grains, vegetables, beans (usually split mung) and spices, all cooked in the one pot making it very nourishing and easy to digest.
  • Filtered water – minimum two liters per day.
  • Herbal teas (see herbal supplements below).

Minimize:

  • Baked goods, such as bread, muffins, cakes.
  • Nuts and seeds.

Avoid:

  • Rancid and hydrogenated oils. Use only cold pressed oils and ghee (clarified butter).
  • Greasy, oily, high fat foods (meat, cream, cheese and eggs).
  • Denatured and refined foods, including white flour, white sugar, foods containing additives.
  • Concentrated sugars. (Try to substitute these with natural sweeteners such as fruit sugars, maple syrup, amazake, stevia, brown rice syrup, and barley malt syrup.)
  • Leftover food containing bacteria.
  • Difficult food combinations. Keep your meals simple for easy digestion.

Lifestyle/habits for a healthy liver:

Eating – eat moderate amounts at regular times each day. Do not overeat and make sure you take the last meal early in the evening, preferably before dark. This allows the liver to prepare for regeneration, which peaks between 11.00p.m. & 3.00a.m. (according to the Chinese clock.)

Intoxicants – eliminate intoxicants (alcohol, drugs, caffeine, cigarettes, etc.). Don’t despair! Substitute these with internal sources of pleasure such as yoga and meditation, giving you the inner satisfaction that you are trying to find in intoxicants. Replace tea and coffee with herbal teas.

Medication – avoid prescription medications if possible — try natural alternatives. (Please note: NEVER abruptly stop prescription medications. Seek the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional who will help you to transition to natural alternatives safely.)

Exercise – incorporate moderate exercise such as yoga and walking, every day if possible. Ease into your exercise program, as overdoing it initially will cause fatigue.

Environment – try to reduce your exposure to environmental (especially indoor) chemicals and toxins.

Fasting – fasting is a good way to release toxins that are stored in the body and to give the vital organs a rest. If you have a serious health condition or are planning to fast longer than 1 to 3 days, consult a health professional before fasting.

Supplementation for liver

Use herbs and supplements that support and strengthen the liver cells and promote detoxification. The following is to be taken as a basic guide only, as there are several books available that cover this topic in much greater detail. You may also wish to consult a health professional before beginning an herbal program. Beneficial herbs for the liver include:

Bitter herbs

  • (Bitter herbs are not recommended for a deficient, frail person.)
  • Milk Thistle (St Mary’s thistle, Siylmarin)
  • Dandelion root
  • Bupleurum
  • Chaparral
  • Oregon Grape root

Other herbs:

  • (Most of these herbs are available in supplements, as herbal blends, or in herbal teas.)
  • Chamomile flowers
  • Burdock root
  • Peppermint
  • Angelica root
  • Prickly ash bark
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek
  • Ginger root

Specific supplements:

  • Ayurvedic Concepts – Liver Care
  • Nature’s Answer – Liver Cleanse
  • Planetary Formulas -Bupleurum Liver Cleanse

Other supplements/suggestions for a healthy liver:

  • Honey mixed with apple cider vinegar (one tsp. of each with one cup of water)
  • Ground flax seed, or flax oil
  • Micro algae – spirulina, wild blue-green and chlorella
  • Green food products (wheat, barley grass powders)

It is important to note that not all supplements will suit your particular constitution, so try a few and see what works for you. Additionally, make sure that you are not incorrectly combining different herbs. For those who have grown up in the West and lived a typical Western lifestyle, it is likely that you are experiencing some degree of liver dysfunction and related symptoms. Since the liver is such a vital force in the health of the body, it is important to take some measures to look after it and remedy current problems. While embarking on these lifestyle changes may seem daunting for some, it is very easy to improve the functioning of the liver, making it possible to regain the vitality you once had. I can highly recommend taking the plunge, as you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Good luck in your endeavors!

Disclaimer: The content of this web site is not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional.

Endnotes

  • liver dysfunction is not the same as liver disease, while it may be a precursor, what is being referred to here is a congested, sluggish liver.

Bibliography

  1. Principles of Anatomy And Physiology, Eighth Edition, Totora & Grabowski
  2. Foundations of Health, The Liver & Digestive Herbal, Christopher Hobbs
  3. The Healthy Liver & Bowel Book, Dr. Sandra Cabot M.D.
  4. Healing With Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford
  5. Nutrition For Vegetarians, Agatha Moody Thrash, M.D. and Calvin L. Thrash, Jr., M.D.
  6. The Ayurvedic Cookbook, Amadea Morningstar with Urmila Desai
  7. The Healthy Bowel and Liver Book, Dr Sandra Cabot M.D., pg 17.
  8. Healing With Whole Foods, Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition, pg 280.

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