The liver is the body’s detoxification and metabolic superstar, with the foundation of liver care being a sound diet and lifestyle. Supporting the multi-talented liver cannot be underestimated – it’s one of the most multi-functional organs in the body, silently performing a myriad of tasks on a daily basis.
- Protein metabolism - produces a number of amino acids (the building blocks of protein).
- Fat metabolism – produces bile and bile salts, critical for digesting fat and for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
- Carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar balance - helps regulate blood sugar by converting excess glucose into glycogen - an energy form that can be saved for later use.
- Vitamin and nutrient storage - in addition to storing glycogen, the liver stores fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
- Blood storage – the liver holds 10-15% of the body’s blood at any given time.
But it’s probably best known as the master detoxification organ, converting drugs and other toxic substances into substances, including bacteria and viruses, that can be excreted through urine and other eliminatory channels.
An essential, natural process of the body to maintain a state of health is detoxification
Detoxication releases the body’s toxic burden, and each organ and system in the body works every second of every day to eliminate excess waste products and toxins that are produced from the body’s natural metabolic process.
But did you know that the body has six major organs involved in its natural detoxification process? We’re talking the bowel region (hind gut), liver and kidneys, lymph nodes, lungs and skin.
Alongside these organs are the two circulatory systems, blood and lymph, upon which the collection and dropping off of those toxins such as bacteria, virals and pathogens, also depends. Lymph relies on the blood, and blood relies entirely on the liver.
First and foremost we have to look at where this toxic waste accumulates. The colon is the primary exit route, as in the main exhaust pipe, for solid waste. Then we have the skin which sweats toxins out, the lungs which exhale them out, and the urinary system which wees them out.
However, waste doesn't head for the exit routes without some help - it's firstly got to be sorted out from what's good and beneficial and used to fuel the body. In order to do this, the body has three waste filtration systems that work in harmony with the exit routes to filter, then transport, the waste to the appropriate exit route.
Meet what I like to call the 3-Amigos, namely the liver, the kidneys, and the lymph nodes (see our Lymphatic System page for the full story on these superstars). And the liver is without doubt the Head Honcho of the 3-Amigos - if you think of the body's organs as a solar system, the liver is the sun - it’s the centre of the body’s natural purification system, intricately connected to all the other organs.
Problems occur if the exit routes aren't kept clear and open, and get clogged up or blocked, which slows down the elimination of the waste. This will simply back up into the filtration systems, so then we’re really in trouble – that pro-inflammatory, toxic waste will simply be recirculated around the body, which then triggers systemic inflammation which, if not dealt with, will lead to chronic disease (all covered in our Detoxification page).
Long and short, we need a healthily functioning body to make sure all the filters are filtering. Support the liver and the liver will support the body right back - clear skin, good energy, strong digestion, and a healthy immune system. Ignore it, and you’re looking at a compromised detox function, poor skin, sluggishness, trouble digesting fats, seasonal disturbances, irritability, inflammation and so on, as well as allergic responses due to a buildup of metabolic wastes and the fact that the liver is largely responsible for breaking down histamine.
When it comes to holistic liver care, it’s not just about the right foods and herbal supplementation. A supportive lifestyle is also one of the number one tools for achieving optimal liver health because stress hormones compete with the liver’s filtration system. Remember that the liver is the body’s master filter - in addition to shuffling and deactivating harmful substances that come in, the liver also filters and deactivates the body’s own chemicals, such as estrogen, histamine, and stress hormones such as cortisol.
Bitter is better
Bitter foods are especially supportive for the liver. Ayurvedic medicine considers the liver a pitta organ (fire and water), so foods and herbs with a cool energy and bitter taste help reduce and pacify pitta energy (dosha). Western herbalists also agree that bitter foods and herbs are beneficial for the liver, so fill that feedbowl up with fresh dandelion leaves, one of the best bitters out there!
Garlic is also really useful for liver detoxification as it helps where wastes are mixed up into water-soluble byproducts that can be excreted via urine and faeces.
Meanwhile, herbs are the icing on the cake when it comes to holistic liver care. While a supportive lifestyle and diet are the foundation of liver care, herbs give that extra boost of support in maintaining and regaining liver balance, the most prominent being:
- Burdock (Arctium lappa) root - a liver mover, meaning it helps ease a sluggish liver by encouraging bile excretion and production. It also contains inulin, a prebiotic fibre which nourishes the friendly gut biome.
- Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) - probably the most well-respected liver protectors, milk thistle defends the liver against even the most extreme toxins.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) root – a nutritive liver mover. The leaves are generally used for kidney support and have a diuretic action, whereas the root is a wonderful liver supporter.
- Aloe (Aloe vera) gel - both cleansing and rejuvenating and has a special affinity for the liver, being one of the best cooling options for balancing pitta dosha. It’s both purifying and revitalising for the blood and is indicated when there is evidence of waste build up in the blood, liver, and GI tract. Best taken as aloe juice, found in all good healthfood shops.
PS - just as an aside, and to quote Charlotte Gerson, founder of the Gerson Institute, "All drugs (conventional pharmaceuticals) are liver toxic, bar none."