Spring is that time of the year when life is rejuvenating, Chinese medicine recognizes this as the season of the liver, and the vibrant greens of Spring remind us of good health…seems like an excellent time to review the strength and well-being of our livers. Ever experienced constipation, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, intolerance to fatty foods, alcohol, or caffeine? These may all be signs of sub-optimal liver function. If you’ve never thought of your liver, well then today’s the day!
The liver is a large organ located on the right side of the abdominal cavity; it resides under the ribcage just below the lungs and diaphragm. It has an enormous assortment of functions. It detoxifies, meaning it clears out unwanted materials in the blood. These materials are either made in the body (hormones, metabolic waste products, dead cells, etc.) or environmental/exogenous chemicals (pharmaceutical drugs, cleaning products, smoke, pesticides, etc.). It helps manage metabolism by creating and storing energy sources, namely glycogen, which can then be converted to blood glucose. The liver makes and manages blood cholesterol which helps the body to repair damage within the vasculature. It assists in digestion by creating bile, which emulsifies fat for its absorption into the blood. And this is only the big picture, this organ is the home of over 200 chemical reactions, which help our bodies survive and thrive in this world.
So what things adversely affect liver function? There are some common diseases which contribute to liver disease namely hepatitis, alcoholism, and kidney disease. There are many chemicals including pesticides, herbicides, and pharmaceutical drugs, which can be toxic to the liver when exposed in large quantities. There are lifestyle choices including the obvious of drug and alcohol abuse as well as poor dietary choices which can overburden the liver making for some types of liver disease. Other assailants to liver function may include sluggish digestion, poor nutrition, food intolerances, and infections. Your health care provider should be useful in ruling out the obvious causes with a thorough history, physical exam and simple blood tests.
What are some of the symptoms to watch for which may indicate liver dysfunction? Digestive troubles including constipation, excessive burping, or nausea may be noticed. The gallbladder which holds the bile can become inflamed or gallstones may form. Gallbladder conditions are often exacerbated by fatty foods causing right sided pain or nausea. For those who have poor tolerance to alcohol or caffeine or chocolate this may be a sign of sluggish detoxification. When the liver is not working up to speed there can be a backup of blood in the venous system causing varicose veins or hemorrhoids. Finally the most concerning signs of a more advanced liver condition would be jaundiced (yellowing) skin, pale stools or brown urine, these folks should seek medical care as soon as possible!
All livers can benefit from improved nutrition. Increasing fresh foods in the diet is an excellent source of nutrients to assist the liver in its many functions. Be inspired by the rejuvenating springtime to try a mini-cleansing diet. This is a diet of only fresh fruit, vegetables and fish, try it for a week and see if you experience any changes. Others may gravitate to the idea of fresh juicing, there are a variety of fruits and vegetables which can make delicious juices giving the liver some much appreciated nutrition and the digestion a little break. Some stimulating liver foods include lemons, beets, beet greens, radishes, leafy greens, grapefruit, artichoke, asparagus, and of course liver itself especially if it is from a reputable clean living animal. Water! This liquid of life is essential to many important enzymatic reactions in the liver. Water can help to dilute chemicals and assist the liver to detoxify. Try consuming half your body weight in ounces daily for a week (math: if you weigh 150 lbs drink 75 oz water daily) and see what a well hydrated liver can do for you.
There are a plethora of supplements that can be useful to the liver. Vitamin C and Antioxidant blends are helpers in the fight against free radicals and promote quality detoxification assistance. Other helpful detoxifiers are Alpha Lipoic Acid and Glutathione. When these nutrients are rich in the body they are doing work that helps take the load off the liver. A fiber supplement will assist with proper elimination. When the body is not eliminating daily the liver is further stressed with recirculated toxins from the bowels. Therefore adequate fiber will assure proper binding of toxins as they are eliminated from the liver and help reduce potential reabsorption. A fiber supplement should always be consumed with a large (greater than 8 oz) glass of water, so as not to create constipation.
Almost all herbs work on the liver in some form or another, since the liver is the organ that metabolizes many of them. There are, however, some shinning stars. Milk Thistle is the first. This herb has been shown to protect the liver from hepatitis and cirrhosis, which inflame and destroy liver tissue. Dandelion and Burdock roots, both common edible herbs, promote proper liver function. They stimulate the production of bile, which is the end product of liver metabolism. Nettles, a common local plant, is a gentle liver stimulant which is quite useful in the area of food intolerances and seasonal allergies. Of course the golden glow of Turmeric cannot be overlooked as both a terrific antioxidant and amazing anti-inflammatory. And finally Green Tea can be added for its powerful antioxidant effect as well. All of these herbs are safe and gentle, but as always if you have questions or concerns seek the guidance of a trained professional.
The liver is an organ to embrace; care for it and it will care for you. So please take some time this spring to enliven your liver!
DO something you love, BE with someone you love, EAT your vegetables, DRINK clean water, BREATHE deeply and MOVE your body EVERYDAY!!