The liver is one of our most important organs and is responsible for over 500 functions in the body. No wonder then that many health issues can be traced back to a sluggish and underperforming liver. Anything from healthy blood, proper digestion, hormone regulation and detoxification is affected by the liver. So, it might actually be your liver that is responsible for your bloated belly, acne, fatigue, weight gain or PMS. All the parts in your body are interconnected. So, when one part is out of whack, the rest of your body will likely suffer too. This is especially the case for an organ with so many responsibilities (a.k.a, the liver). Giving your liver some love is thus not a superfluous luxury.
All the tasks of the liver
A major task of the liver is to turn fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble toxins so that they can leave the body through urine, sweat and bowel movements. The liver uses certain nutrients (for example B vitamins, vitamin C and E and antioxidants) to break down the toxins into free radicals. The free radicals are even more toxic than before, so it is important that they are turned into water-soluble toxins as soon as possible. With the help of selenium, sulfur and amino acids, they become harmless and enter the large intestine to enter the bowel movements. If your body doesn’t receive enough nutrients, the toxins will not be broken down correctly and can either enter the bloodstream (not good!) or be stored in your fat cells (also not good and one reason why losing weight is so hard!).
Besides the important task of keeping the body free of toxins, the liver also produces bile, which is important for the transportation of waste and the digestion of fat. It furthermore produces proteins for blood plasma and processes haemoglobin to use its iron content. The liver not only breaks down external toxins, but also breaks down excess hormones that are no longer needed. Any hormonal issues may thus be related to the liver. When estrogen is not broken down correctly, it can lead to heavy PMS and weight gain. When testosterone is not broken down completely, it can lead to acne, excessive facial hair and fat retention in the abdomen. And when cortisol is not broken down, it can make you anxious, tired and restless. Supporting your liver through proper nutrition is thus very important!
Some signs your liver is sluggish:
- Blotchy Skin
- Dry skin
- Eye problems
- Weight gain (or inability to loose weight)
- Difficulty digesting fatty foods, such as nuts
- Inability to tolerate alcohol
- Brain fog
- Tinnitus (ringing in the head)
- High cholesterol
- Tight tendons
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and that these symptoms can result from many other causes. If you are unsure about your symptoms or the symptoms are causing you discomfort in any way, please seek professional help.
Diet for a sluggish liver
A sluggish liver (and its resulting symptoms) are caused by diet and lifestyle factors. The good news is that diet and lifestyle will also be able to aid your liver in performing its functions. It should almost go without saying, but avoiding alcohol, recreational drugs, and tobacco is essential to a healthy liver. Also avoid fatty foods, especially the unhealthy type (deep-fried foods, smoked meats, fatty dairy, and junk food). Small amounts of healthy fats, such as nuts, olive oil, and avocado are fine, but should not be consumed in large quantities either. In general, large portions or complex meals are to be avoided to avoid overloading the liver (and other organs). To aid the removal of waste and toxins, drink loads of water and consume fresh fruits and vegetables for fiber and liver-boasting nutrients. Raw foods can cool of the liver, but if you struggle with digestion issues, lightly steam your veggies.
Movement is important is for healthy digestion and should thus be incorporated into your daily lifestyle. Daily walks, swims, yoga sessions or biking are all gentle ways of moving your body. Taking regular breaks from a desk job to move your body is also recommended to keep your energy flowing. Overworking your body (either with physical work, exercise or mental work) should be avoided, however, as well as stress. Incorporating meditation or other mindful activities into your routine can be very helpful for liver stagnation. Frustration or negative emotions should also be released rather than cropped up (ie. stored in the liver). Share your feelings with a friend, journal or see professional help if needed.
Certain herbs and supplements are particularly good for helping a tired liver. Incorporating a few of these into your daily diet can lead to significant improvements in liver-related symptoms.
- Chlorella and spirulina
- Flaxseed (the omega 3 counteracts the omega 6 of other fats)
- Bitter herbs, such as milk thistle, dandelion root, and burdock root
- Sour foods, such as apple cider vinegar and lemon water
- Liver or liver oil
- Royal jelly
Liver renewal can take a long time, so it is recommended to incorporate diet and lifestyle changes, alongside herbs and supplements, for at least a year to see significant improvements. I have been taking a tablespoon of spirulina and 4 tablespoons of flaxseed daily for the last six months. I can already see significant improvements in my energy levels and skin. Please note that I do eat healthy most of the time but have certainly not followed all the diet and lifestyle recommendations strictly for the last six months. Consistency is key, so I stick with a healthy lifestyle for the most part without worrying about reaching perfection.
*Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor or nutritionist, so please consult an appropriate professional before making any changes to your diet or supplement routine.