Overlooked Aspects Of Liver Health
By Mark J Kaylor
Think your life is busy? Do you think you have a lot to do? Consider, for a moment, what your liver has to do and how essential it is to our health and survival; for without our liver none of us would be alive, we would die from autointoxication – poisoning from our own body. Our liver is responsible for detoxifying and removing toxins from our body; these include medications, pesticides and herbicides, hormones, food additives, typical household cleaners, pollution, bacterial and viral endotoxins, cellular waste, synthetic chemical laced cosmetics, and alcohol.
This ability seems to be the primary focus in the natural health community yet the liver does so much more; it is responsible for over 500 vital functions essential to our health. It is also tightly integrated into several key systems within the body, making an excellent case for why we need to look at our body holistically. You could say the liver is part of the circulatory system – it actually contains more blood than the heart, removing wastes and toxins from the blood, produces clotting factors so we don’t bleed to death, and releases nutrients into circulation to be distributed throughout the body. It would also be accurate to say it is part of the digestive system where it is involved in the breakdown and assimilation of foods and nutrients, converting them to forms that our body can utilize. The liver also produces bile, essential to the body’s processing of fats and fat-soluble compounds like vitamins A, D, E, and K as well as supporting toxin removal. In its role in helping to remove bacterial and viral invaders it is also a key component of our immune system and is rich in immune cells, especially Kupffer cells that rid us of the bad stuff. Helping to maintain blood sugar levels and converting thyroid hormones are just two more valuable actions that our liver takes to keep us healthy.
There Is Hope
I hope you are beginning to see how important your liver is to your health and wellness beyond its role in detoxification. In fact liver disease is more deadly than high blood pressure and atherosclerosis and liver cancer has more than tripled since 1980 and has an overall five-year survival rate of 17%. So considering all the different hats your liver has to wear, the deadly toxins it must neutralize and remove, and the severity of liver diseases it truly makes sense for us to be proactive in the preventive sense when it comes to our liver. Thankfully our liver is able to regenerate itself even when much of it has “died”, has many built-in protective mechanisms, and can be supported and maybe even enhanced through a proper diet (see chart) and a number of supplements.
The Liver Glutathione Connection
There are three key substances to highlight when it comes to liver health, all of which assist in maintaining optimal levels of glutathione, an amino acid that is your body’s most powerful antioxidant. Without sufficient glutathione levels your liver would be overwhelmed by the toxins. Glutathione is not only liver protective, it also binds to fat-soluble toxins making them water-soluble so they can be flushed out through the kidneys. Alpha lipoic acid turns up production of this essential hepato-protective antioxidant. Whey protein will also help raise these levels. Another amino acid, NAC, n-acetylcysteine, has a direct and indirect role in the detoxification processes in the liver. This sulfur bearing amino supports an important detoxification pathway, cytochrome P450 enzyme expression, and intracellular glutathione levels.
Herbal allies to the rescue
It is almost as if Mother Nature knows of the difficult tasks before our liver by offering us numerous supportive herbal allies. (Note – I am going to skip over Milk Thistle, not because of any ineffectiveness, only because it has been extensively written about in virtually every liver article) First up is actually a class of herbs appropriately named bitters. Simply these are herbs and foods that have a bitter taste. Bitters stimulate the liver and digestive secretions, particularly bile. They are particularly called for when the liver is sluggish or when extra help is needed digestively, especially for heavy or fatty foods and meals. There are any number of bitters that you can use, including Angelica, Calamus, Artichoke, Barberry, Gentian, Yellow Dock, and my personal favorite Burdock; but when it comes to liver help Dandelion is your go to bitter. Dandelion, eat it, brew it, extracted, get it anyway you can. It promotes liver detoxification, reduces liver congestion, stimulates bile production, reduces inflammation, and works holistically by stimulating kidney function and acting as a blood purifier.
In virtually every situation the remedy that jumps to mind when it comes to prevention, be it liver-wise or whole body-wise, is Reishi. This long used and highly regarded medicinal mushroom supports the liver at several levels. Reishi is hepato-protective – increasing antioxidant levels, regenerating (similar to Milk thistle), detoxifying, liver function enhancing, and, as in all bitters, stimulating to the liver. Working holistically Reishi supports and balances the immune system while also reducing excess inflammation. In one study utilizing Reishi for chronic hepatitis, the overall effectiveness rate was from ~70% to ~90% while two small studies demonstrated effectiveness for cirrhosis associated with hepatitis. Research with mice has shown that Reishi significantly prevented liver damage associated with induced hepatitis and confirmed its liver regenerative actions.
Schizandra – a liver protective tonic that increases liver detoxifying enzymes.
Turmeric – modulates phase I and phase II intoxication enzymes, prevents alcohol -induced liver disease, and inhibits chemical carcinogenesis and liver.
Cordyceps – another mushroom tonic favorite, it inhibits and reverses fibrosis, raises glutathione, SOD, and catalase antioxidant levels, protects against liver disease and injury, improves liver function, while holistically strengthening the kidneys.
Coriolus – a promising ally in the fight against liver cancer, widely used in Asia as a remedy for hepatitis, it reduces inflammatory reactions, increases antioxidant activity, reduces toxin levels, and protects the liver from injury.
Calcium d-glucarate – supports the livers natural detoxification processes, especially important in the breakdown of hormones.
Dong Quai – improves oxygen utilization by the liver and increases liver enzyme activity.
Blue Flag – useful for liver congestion with lymphatic swelling, clay-colored stools, obstructed bile ducts along with liver stimulation.
Lastly, a brief mention of the liver being the seat of anger in the body energetically is needed. Agrimony, a bitter herb used in folk medicine for hepatitis, jaundice, cirrhosis from alcoholism or food poisoning, and sluggish liver conditions, it is the remedy of choice for that deep-seated mental state associated with anger and frustration.
It is not by accident that this article comes out when it does. Springtime is “liver time”. Spring is a time of renewal and there is no more fundamentally essential organ to our own health and body renewal than our liver. So please, don’t overlook your liver’s health. Eat the right foods, take your bitters, and supplement with some liver loving herbal allies.
Mark J. Kaylor has been exploring holistic health and healing for close to four decades. He is the founder and director of the not-for-profit Radiant Health Project. Mark welcomes you comments and questions and can be contacted at his website: www.RadiantHealthProject.com or on facebook at www.facebook.com/RadiantHealthProject
Disclaimer: All information and results stated here is for educational and entertainment purposes only. The information mentioned here is not specific medical advice for any individual and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. This content should not substitute medical advice from a health professional. Always consult your health practitioner regarding any health or medical conditions.