Do you know that fat is the biggest threat to your liver? When you grow older, your liver ages as it collects more fat.
On top of that, if you are overweight with increased body fat, have too much fructose in your diet, or overdose on alcohol, you can end up accumulating a dangerous amount of fat in the liver. When you have fatty liver, there are often no symptoms. However, the accumulation of fat in the liver leads to inflammation and scarring in the liver, puts you at a higher risk for liver damage, and may even promote liver cancer.
Your liver is an extremely important organ. It gives you the energy you need to get through the day, it turns nutrients into their usable forms, and it detoxifies your body. This is why you want to protect your liver and make sure it is working optimally. The following are some diet and lifestyle recommendations for maintaining a healthy liver.
Maintain a healthy body fat level
Obesity is the cause of most liver damage in the U.S. Studies show that alcohol contributes to only 6% of damage to the liver, but being a bit overweight contributes to 52% of liver disease. And if you are obese, you are 400% more likely to develop liver damage than a normal weight individual.
However, dropping a lot of pounds too quickly can also hurt your liver. Drastically cutting calories and starving yourself may dehydrate your liver and cause you to lose mass in your vital organs but not body fat. Hence, you want to lose fat gradually and in a healthy way.
Apart from making sensible dietary changes, exercise is incredibly effective in fighting fatty liver disease. People who do not exercise build dangerous visceral fat – the type that shows up in your abdomen and surrounds your vital organs including your liver and heart – which is far more dangerous than subcutaneous fat that lies right beneath the skin.
In fact, studies show that just exercising for more than 150 minutes per week for 3 months was enough for participants to show improvements in fatty liver disease. So no matter what, you want to make sure you get moving.
If you have been inactive, start with something mild such as walking or cycling on a stationary bike. Ultimately, you want to start to vary your workout while increasing intensity, because if you do the same exercise day-in and day-out, your body will adapt to it.
In addition, research has shown that high intensity interval training is the BEST way to burn fat. Short duration pulses of exertion can burn 9 times more fat than with long endurance exercise for every calorie burned. The idea here is to exercise for shorter periods, say 20 minutes instead of an hour, and to alternate short bursts of high intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods.
Avoid foods made with too much fructose/sugar
The human body handles glucose and fructose – the most abundant sugars in the diet – in different ways. Virtually every cell in the body can break down glucose for energy. However, about the only ones that can handle fructose are liver cells.
Refined sugar, called sucrose, is half fructose and half glucose. High fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose and 45% glucose.
Fructose, also called fruit sugar, was once a minor part of our diet. In the early 1900s, the average American took in about 15 grams (about half an ounce) of fructose a day, most of it from eating fruits and vegetables. Today, we average 4 or 5 times that amount, almost all of it from the refined sugars used to make breakfast cereals, pastries, sodas, fruit drinks, and other sweetened foods and beverages.
The entry of fructose into the liver kicks off a series of complex chemical transformations. One remarkable change is that the liver uses fructose to create fat. Give the liver enough fructose, tiny fat droplets begin to accumulate in liver cells. This buildup is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease because it looks just like the livers of people who drink too much alcohol.
Virtually unknown before 1980, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease now affects up to 30% of adults in the U.S., of which 70-90% are obese, have insulin resistance, or type 2 diabetes. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is also highly associated with heart disease.
Early on, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is reversible. At some point though, the liver becomes inflamed. When the inflammation becomes severe, it can lead to cirrhosis or an accumulation of scar tissue and subsequent loss of liver function.
Therefore, cut back on fructose. The biggest source of fructose for most people is refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup from sweetened foods and beverages. You do not need to give up fruit. One or two pieces of fruit a day is still good for you. Fruit juice, on the other hand, should be avoided as it contains a high concentration of sugar.
Avoid putting extra stress on your liver
- If you drink, do it in moderation to preserve your liver health – one drink per day for women and two for men. One drink is 12 fl oz of beer (5% alcohol), 5 fl oz of wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5 fl oz shot of hard liquor (40% alcohol).
- Reduce your exposure to environmental chemicals and the toxic load on your liver as much as possible. This means buying organic meats and produce to avoid the hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides. Use all natural and chemical-free personal care products and environmentally friendly household cleaners.
- Only take prescription or over-the-counter medications when absolutely necessary.
Detoxify your liver
To maintain optimal liver health, you may also want to consider using the following herbs and/ spice to help cleanse your liver. Please note that if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have any health conditions, or on certain medications, you should consult your doctor before using any herbs. Beware that herbs can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications.
Milk thistle (silymarin) is a flowering herb related to the daisy and ragweed family and is native to the Mediterranean countries. Milk thistle has been used as an herbal remedy for over 2,000 years for the treatment of liver and gallbladder disorders. Several scientific studies suggest that silymarin, a flavonoid in milk thistle, protects the liver from toxins, including certain drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) which can cause liver damage in high doses. Silymarin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may help the liver repair itself by growing new cells.
Dandelion root is a dreaded weed for gardeners that has amazing liver-cleansing properties. It stimulates bile flow from the liver and is traditionally used to detoxify the liver and gallbladder. Studies show that it can regenerate liver function in cases of jaundice, liver swelling, hepatitis, and indigestion.
Turmeric is a commonly-used spice in Indian curries that helps regenerate liver cells and cleanse it of toxins. Turmeric also increases the production of bile to help expel toxins and may help reduce liver inflammation. In studies, turmeric has been shown to increase levels of two liver-supporting enzymes that promote liver detoxification reactions.