In this day and age, our bodies are constantly bombarded by a huge amount of toxins.
In the environment, we are exposed to –
- air pollution from cars, factories, and wood-burning fireplaces,
- secondhand cigarette smoke,
- indoor pollutants from cleaning products, paints, carpets, and furniture,
- parabens, phthalates, and other chemicals in personal care products.
From our diet, we take in –
- excess sugar,
- excess alcohol,
- over-the-counter drugs (such as acetaminophen) and prescription medications,
- pesticides and herbicides in non-organically grown foods,
- hormones and antibiotics in conventionally-raised animals,
- food additives, preservatives, and chemicals in processed and fast foods.
All these are harmful substances that the body needs to process and get rid of. To a large extent, that responsibility rests on the liver. That is why overtime, it is no surprise that the liver can become overburdened and sluggish.
A sluggish liver is not a diseased liver. Your doctor will likely tell you that your liver is “fine” based on the blood work. However, do know that liver abnormalities in the lab work generally only appear after years or decades of suffering from a sluggish liver. Fortunately, the liver is very good at regenerating itself. If you do the right things now, you can revitalize your liver before it gets into serious trouble.
Early Signs Of A Sluggish Liver
The liver is a large, meaty organ that sits on the right side of the belly, protected by the rib cage. It weights about 3 pounds and is reddish-brown in color. The gallbladder, along with parts of the pancreas and intestines, sit under the liver.
The liver is a very important organ and it performs about 500 different functions in the body. Hence, when the liver is overburdened and not in its tip-top shape, various symptoms may start to develop. The following are some telltale indicators of a tired liver –
Cholesterol and fat issues
The liver generates 80% of the cholesterol in the body. It is also the major organ for fat metabolism. Therefore, a sluggish liver may show up as –
- elevated LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol,
- reduced HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or “good” cholesterol,
- elevated triglycerides (fat in the bloodstream),
- weight gain, especially the accumulation of fat in the mid-section,
- heart disease.
The liver secretes bile, a yellowish-green liquid that is stored in the gallbladder and released when needed to facilitate the breakdown of fats in the small intestine during digestion. When the liver is overworked, the liver may produce insufficient bile or the bile becomes thick and does not flow properly through the bile ducts, causing symptoms such as –
- inability to tolerate fatty foods,
- bloating, burping, and flatulence,
- hypothyroidism (as bile is needed to activate thyroid hormones).
Blood sugar issues
When it comes to carbohydrate metabolism, the liver is mainly guided by the hormone insulin produced by the pancreas. After you eat, levels of glucose, and consequently insulin, are high in the blood, the liver responds by absorbing the glucose from the bloodstream and stores it as glycogen. Later, when blood glucose and insulin levels drop, the liver gets the signal to release glucose back into the blood, keeping blood sugar levels in balance in between meals and overnight.
When the liver does not process the glucose normally, blood glucose imbalances occur. The liver either cannot directly detect blood glucose levels or there is a shortage of insulin production or the liver does not notice the insulin that is there, the liver erroneously assumes the body needs more glucose even though blood glucose levels are already elevated. That is why people with diabetes have sky-high blood glucose even after fasting overnight.
Once the liver is full of glycogen, it starts turning the sugar into fat. Some will be delivered around the body via the bloodstream and stored as body fat. Some will stay in the liver, a condition known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (vs. alcoholic fatty liver disease which is caused by over drinking).
It is estimated that 20 percent of adults and majority of people with obesity and/or diabetes have some degree of fatty liver. The most common symptoms include –
- being overweight, especially in the abdominal area,
- difficulty losing weight,
- elevated cholesterol and triglycerides,
- insulin resistance,
- type 2 diabetes.
One of the liver’s major role is to detoxify and eliminate toxins from the body. If this process is compromised, it may show up as skin irritations –
- acne rosacea,
The liver is responsible for maintaining hormonal balance, especially breaking down excess estrogen. With a sluggish liver, a person may experience symptoms like –
- PMS (premenstrual symptoms),
- irregular periods,
- fibroids in breast or uterus,
- ovary cysts,
- hot flashes,
- sleep disturbances,
- mood swings.
How To Revitalize Your Overworked Liver
Unfortunately, there is no simple or quick-fix solution to revitalizing the liver. You cannot merely do an annual 2-week liver cleanse and go back to your old ways hoping that your liver will be in its best shape. In this day and age, one needs to take a multi-faceted approach on a daily basis to keep the liver in good health –
1. Do not overburden the liver
- The best way to revitalize your liver is avoidance. Do your best to steer clear of the environmental and dietary toxins mentioned earlier.
- Be selective when it comes to food packaging, cookware, household cleaners, and personal care products. Choose the non-toxic, chemical-free alternatives.
- Drink filtered water. Depending on your water source, it can be contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides. Also, make sure you drink half the number of ounces of your body weight (in pounds) everyday. Without proper hydration, your body’s ability to detoxify is hampered.
- Drink organic coffee as conventional coffee is one of the most chemically treated crops in the world. It is steeped in synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Here are some of the coffee certifications and what they mean –
- “Fair Trade” only refers to the way workers are treated, the beans may not be organic.
- “Shade-Grown” ensures that the beans are chemical-free but they are not certified organic.
- “Bird Friendly” means shade-grown and certified organic.
- Buy organic produce and pasture-raised animal products to avoid the chemicals.
- Make an effort to cut down on sugar, processed and junk foods. These substances compromise liver function on a daily basis.
- Cut down on alcohol consumption and see that you have some alcohol-free days.
2. Eat foods that support the liver
The liver has several ways to detoxify, including the filtering of the blood, the production of bile, and a two-phase system called the cytochrome P450 process, which requires the presence of certain amino acids (the building blocks of protein), enzymes, antioxidants, and nutrients to complete its job. That is why it is essential to eat the right foods on a daily basis to help the liver do its job. Detoxification is a daily event, not an annual or seasonal practice.
Daily consumption of protein is essential. Not only does it provide the necessary amino acid for detox, it also triggers the production of enzymes that help break down toxins for excretion.
- The best animal protein sources include hormone-free, grass-fed whey protein powder, grass-fed beef, lamb, organic poultry, wild-caught, low-mercury fish, and pastured eggs. (Caution: eggs may be allergenic for some people).
- The only complete plant protein is quinoa. Incomplete proteins like brown rice, oats, teff, amaranth, buckwheat, and millet have to be eaten with beans, lentils, or peas to form a complete protein.
- Sea vegetables like chlorella and spirulina are complete proteins. They are also potent sources of chlorophyll and trace minerals that are vital in the detox process.
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, pumpkin, hemp, sesame, and sunflower seeds offer protein along with a source of healthy fats.
Fruits and vegetables
Buy organic as many produce are heavily sprayed with chemicals. The following fruits and veggies are most helpful in the process of detoxification –
- Broccoli sprouts
- Green leafy veggies (all kinds), broccoli, cucumber, celery, and fennel.
- Green apples
Fats and oils
They help to bind fat-soluble toxins lodged in the liver and carry them out for excretion.
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil or MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil for those who cannot tolerate coconuts.
- Flaxseed oil
- Olive oil, extra virgin
- Omega-3 fats
Drink these on a regular basis. They help in detoxifying and supporting the liver.
- Unsweetened organic cranberry juice diluted with water (1:8 ratio)
- Lemon or lime water
- Roasted dandelion root tea
A number of supplements can be used as adjuncts to help restore the liver –
- Milk thistle is a powerful liver detoxifying agent that helps protect the liver by repairing damaged liver tissues and blocking the effects of some toxins.
- Oregon grape root stimulates the liver by helping to regulate bile production.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a precursor to the “master” antioxidant glutathione which is critical to cellular detoxification.
- Selenium is a trace mineral that plays a key role in detoxification.
3. Support your lymphatic system
The lymphatic system is the liver’s partner in removing toxins from the body. If the liver is the body’s filter, the lymphatic channels are its drainage system. It transports lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells and nutrients, throughout the body. The lymph also carries cellular waste to the bloodstream, which takes it to the kidneys, colon, and lungs for elimination.
Unlike blood, which is pumped by the heart, the lymphatic system has no pump. What moves the lymph through its many ducts and channels are muscle contractions. Therefore, regular exercise is very important in helping the lymph move. If you are sedentary, the lymph will not flow properly and the excess fluid will not drain well from the tissues. Thus, you are more likely to become bloated with extra water weight.
Best exercises for the lymphatic system –
- Bouncing on a mini trampoline
- Brisk walking or running
- Jumping rope
- Inversion table
- Yoga, especially inversions and twists poses