The word “liver” comes from the old English word for “life.” Basically, the length and quality of life depends on how well the liver functions. Located in the upper right-hand side of the abdomen, the liver is the largest glandular organ in the body and contains one-third of the body’s blood supply at any given time. It performs over 500 functions, including manufacturing bile to help digest fats, synthesizing proteins, fatty acids and glucose, regulating blood clotting, and breaking down toxic substances. The liver manufactures over 13,000 different chemicals, maintains 2,000 internal enzyme systems and filters 100 gallons of blood daily. The liver is the chief regulator of protein chemistry, is responsible for the conversion of most nutrients into active form and regulates vitamin and mineral storage reserves–especially of vitamins A, D, B12 and iron.
The Liver and Detoxification
The liver provides basic body detoxification from airborne and diet chemicals, pollution, drugs and stress toxins so that they can be excreted through the kidneys and bowels. It is also responsible for the detoxification of the ammonia by-product of protein digestion and bacterial fermentation in the intestines. Vitamin C plays an important role in the body’s defense against toxic chemicals, and is therefore an important nutrient for healthy liver function.
The Liver and Hormones
The liver also plays important roles in hormone regulation. It is responsible for regulating thyroid function by converting thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) into its more active T3 form. Inadequate conversion of T4 to T3 can lead to hypothyroidism. The liver is also responsible for breaking down other hormones, including adrenaline, aldosterone and insulin, after they have performed their needed functions. By recycling hormones, such as insulin and estrogen, the liver helps prevent low blood sugar, PMS, irritability and temper outbursts.
The Liver and Digestion
A healthy liver converts dietary cholesterol into bile and temporarily slows its own production. Bile absorption rate is directly linked to digestive transit time. When there is a slow transit time through the digestive tract (as with constipation), there is excessive re-absorption of bile, as well as the toxins in the bile, which decreases the liver’s ability to function properly.
There are many types of liver disease. Viruses are responsible for some types, including hepatitis (A, B, and C). According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.25 million Americans have chronic hepatitis. Cirrhosis is a liver disease marked by hardening (scarring) or degeneration of the liver cells. One-third of cirrhosis cases are related to chronic alcohol abuse. Other forms of cirrhosis can be caused by drugs, hepatitis, heart failure, biliary duct blockage, malnourishment and chronic inflammation. Cirrhosis and hepatitis B are the two leading risk factors for primary liver cancer (cancer that starts in the liver.)
The liver has the remarkable ability to regenerate or repair up to two-thirds of damaged tissue. Several different factors may contribute to liver damage, including dietary factors like hydrogenated fats, fried foods, trans-fatty acids, excessive fat intake, toxins in commercial coffee, sausage, pork, smoked meats, tinned or smoked fish, acidic foods, vinegar, wine and chocolate. Liver damage can also be caused by prolonged alcohol use, smoking, birth control pills (especially in the presence of a B-complex or protein deficiency), chronic yeast infections, prolonged high doses of aspirin, acetaminophen (or other anti-inflammatory drugs), pesticides, exposure to heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury, radioactive chemicals), solvents, paint sprays, beauty salon hair chemicals, gasoline, diesel, oil, degreasers, and several different drugs (both pharmaceutical and illegal.)
Signs of Liver Problems
Liver insufficiency can produce a variety of symptoms, including sugar metabolism problems, chronic infections, stress, anemia, chronic fatigue, tiredness after meals, depression, mood instability, temper outbursts, hemorrhoids, alcoholism, PMS symptoms, indigestion, nausea, fat intolerance, gas, bloating, appetite loss, constipation, diarrhea, aching joints and muscles, right shoulder and arm pain, sore feet, psoriasis, slow wound healing, headaches (especially behind the eyes), trouble waking in the morning, poor memory or concentration, and jaundice. Deficient liver HCl (hydrochloric) acid impairs protein digestion for urea buildup, tension, insomnia, fatigue, irritability, and heart attack.
Liver failure occurs once the liver is losing or has lost all of its function. It is a life-threatening condition that requires urgent medical attention. The first signs of liver failure are usually nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and diarrhea. When liver failure occurs as a result of cirrhosis, it is called chronic liver failure and is usually an indication that the liver function has been decreasing gradually for some time, possibly years.
Tips for Liver Health
To promote a healthy liver, eat more whole foods and less processed foods, more high-fiber foods and whole grains, less meat and more fresh fruits and vegetables (organic, whenever possible), and eat only moderate portions rather than overeating. Eliminate margarine from the diet and use butter or olive oil instead. Do not cook with refined oils; use coconut or olive oils. If you must consume dairy or meat, avoid commercial products and choose products from animals that are raised naturally. Also, take plant enzyme supplements (with meals) and essential fatty acid supplements (after meals), vitamin mineral and antioxidant supplements (after meals), green foods (to alkalize the body), acidophilus (during digestive upset), and extra flax fiber with borage (before bed). Liver cleansing programs using herbs, such as milk thistle, dandelion, green tea and turmeric, along with green drinks, vitamins C and E, and plenty of water intake are important both as preventative maintenance, as well as in the presence of liver problems. Always be kind to your liver–it does a lot for you! And without a healthy liver, life is shortened, energy is scarce, healthy problems become more common, and life isn’t so much fun anymore! Love your liver & love life!
Anti-aging Manual: The Encyclopedia of Natural Health, 3rd ed.; Joseph B. Marion; 2005.
Prescription for Nutritional Healing; Phyllis A. Balch, CNC and James F. Balch, M.D.; 2000.
Renew Your Life; Brenda Watson, N.D., C.T.; 2002.