Your Liver: What it's Function is and Natural Approaches to Keep it Healthy

Your liver is the workhorse of the body; a remarkable vital organ that provides a wide range of key functions, necessary for health. Imagine if you were not able to rid your body of the poisons it is bombarded with on a daily basis. Well, one of the many irreplaceable roles of the liver is to detoxify the body, cleansing poisons from the bloodstream for elimination and excretion. These poisons come from a surprising number of sources such as our lifestyle habits and surroundings, which are detrimental to individual organs as well as your overall health.

Knowledge about the functions of this amazing organ and its uncanny ability to bounce back from the brink of an unhealthy state when natural approaches are adopted, makes you want to do all you can to protect it.

Description and Function of the Liver

The liver is located below the diaphragm on the right side of the abdomen or in the right upper quadrant of the abdominal cavity. It is a large fleshy organ, reddish-brown in colour weighing between 3 and 7 pounds and protected by the rib cage. It feels rubbery to the touch and has four unequal sections, a pair on each side, called right and left lobes.

It is the largest internal organ and gland in the body with a dual blood supply system received from the hepatic artery and hepatic portal vein. The hepatic artery carries blood from the aorta, whereas the portal vein carries blood containing digested nutrients from the entire gastrointestinal tract. Blood supplied by these two vessels are received into the liver’s lobules, which are the functional units of the liver. These lobules are made up of millions of hepatic cells, essential for processing substances.

The liver performs its function in combination with the gallbladder that lies beneath it, including the pancreas and parts of the intestines. Together these organs work to digest, absorb, and process foods.

The liver’s main job is to filter the blood coming from the digestive tract before passing it to the rest of the body. It detoxifies chemicals and metabolises drugs, secreting bile from the gall bladder as it does so, which ends up back into the intestines. The liver also manufactures proteins essential for blood clotting and other vital functions.

Lifestyle Habits That Causes Liver Damage

Your liver serves as the gate keeper of good health, filtering the blood by removing wastes, storing glycogen for energy use as needed, producing bile to digest lipids and metabolise in usable ways for nutrient absorption and efficient functioning of cells.

It never stops working; minute by minute it detoxifies approximately 2 quarts of blood using special Kuppfer cells, which are germ-eating blood cells that destroy bacteria.

This extremely important organ packages fat and cholesterol into lipoproteins. High density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL) are needed in balanced amounts in the body. HDL, the “good” cholesterol protects us from heart disease and stroke.

When problems arise with the liver it is often due to a number of complexes, such as fatty accumulation, infection, obstruction, alcoholism, and hereditary factors. Except for genetic factors, we have full control over the health of this multifunctional organ and therefore the lifestyle choices we make directly facilitate its efficiency or hamper it.

Bad Lifestyle habits:

  • Consuming all-white processed and refined foods such as: white rice, flour, pasta, sweetened cereals, pancakes, breads, deli meats, sugar, fast foods and sodas. Chemicals and hydrogenated fats in these foods over-work the detox organ and add fatty deposits.
  • Overeating and obesity – this is also a common cause of malfunction of the organ, causing it to be overworked and to retain fat within its tissues. Also, excessive fat in the abdominal cavity damage the organ due to free radicals (toxins) generated. When this detoxification organ becomes overworked, it cannot efficiently detoxify harmful substances. Studies show that 20 per cent of the general population of the United States have fatty-liver disease from overeating and obesity.
  • Alcohol – this poisons and promotes inflammation of the liver. Eventually, poisons from heavy drinking lead to permanent scarring or cirrhosis of the liver. This resilient organ, however, will continue functioning even with 75 per cent of its lobules damaged, before adverse symptoms are noticed.

Other lifestyle risk factors to consider are: excessive use of over the counter pain medication and smoking.

Take precaution to protect against contracting diseases that lead to inflammation of the liver such as: hepatitis, unsafe sex, poor sanitation and hygiene.

Diseases of the Liver

This multidimensional organ supports almost every organ system in the body; its strategic location as a facilitator in the body also makes it vulnerable to infectious attacks or damage.

The most common assaults on the organ include:

  • Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E
  • Fatty liver
  • Cirrhosis
  • Cancer
  • Drug damage

Symptoms of Damage

There are classic symptoms of liver damage that when visible, indicates an advanced state of ill health.

  • Swelling of the abdomen, ankles and feet – this happens when the liver fails to manufacture albumin.
  • Jaundice which is yellowing of the skin and eyes (icteric) – this occurs when bilirubin, the yellow breakdown product of blood, deposits in the skin. It causes an intense itch, unrelieved by drugs.
  • Dark urine occurs when bilirubin mixes with urine.
  • Pale Stool - occurs when stercobalin, a brown pigment, is absent from the stool. Stercobalin is a breakdown substance from bilirubin.
  • Bruising and easy bleeding are other features of damage, this happens because the substances made by the liver, which help to prevent bleeding, are no longer present.

Natural Approaches to Liver Health

The best thing we can do for our liver is to consciously avoid exposing it to too many poisons in the first place. In other words, go easy on the alcohol and the painkillers and eat smartly. Combine a balanced mix of complex carbohydrates, fats and protein, together with regular exercise.

Start consuming some easy to digest cleansing juices. These can be fruits or vegetables, or a mix. The natural goodness of these raw foods will give the body plenty of nutrients, fibre and energy while cleansing the body of toxins at the same time. If you need a guide for different recipe ideas or more information a great download eBook is available called Amazing Natural Juices.

By eating wholesome foods and getting involved in sporting activities to work up a sweat will help the liver remove toxins and perform elimination processes through the bowels and pores of the skin.

Special foods and supplements that target liver health and are cleansing helpers to the organ are further outlined:

1: Garlic. Consuming small amounts several times per week will activate enzymes that help the body flush out toxins. Garlic contains high amounts of allicin producing substances, and selenium, both powerful compounds that aid in cleansing.

2: Fermented foods and Acidophilus: Studies show that treating the intestines with friendly bacteria reduce inflammatory activity associated with toxins and reduces any overload.

3. Green Leafy Vegetables. These are high in antioxidants that help to protect the liver from free radical damage. Chlorophyll contained in green vegetables especially, reduces toxin absorption from the gut, thereby reducing the toxin load.

4: Green Tea. Full of plant antioxidants known as catechins, a substance known to assist the detox organ’s function; green tea is a great way to cleanse the body.

5: Grapefruit. High in vitamin C and antioxidants, this is a marvellous fruit with natural cleansing properties. Partaking of the fruit regularly will boost production of detoxifying enzymes.

6: Legumes. These are phytic acid producers which help protect the liver from cancer. Soya beans in particular improve the liver’s antioxidant activity. Black beans and mung beans are also active in carcinogen fighting compounds. These are just a few of the varieties of legumes with cleansing abilities.

7: Tumeric. This spice is commonly used in Indian dishes; turmeric is a potent detox booster and cancer inhibitor. It is known as an Ayurvedic herb with antioxidant properties that boosts the creation and production of bile. It also contains curcumin, an ingredient said to treat gallstones, protects against infection, strengthens cells, balances the immune system and supports the immune response to any allergens.

8. Rosemary. This medicinal herb was used in ancient times for a wide range of ailments, including digestive disorders, headaches, and skin rejuvenation. Rosemary contains caffeic acid and rosemarinic acid; both are potent anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. Rosemary’s detoxifying action aids in the fight against poisonous substances circulating in the bloodstream.

9. Milk thistle. The first name usually associated with liver detox is the herb milk thistle. Silymarin, which is the active chemical component of milk thistle prohibits toxins from entering the detox organ and prevents cell damage. It also helps the regeneration of healthy liver cells. It is often used after alcohol consumption to speed its elimination from the body.

10: Avocado Pear. A powerful nutrient dense super-food, avocados help cleanse the body and contain gluthatione which is necessary for liver cleansing. This delicious food, when eaten regularly improves the body’s ability to rid itself of carcinogens.

11: Beets & Carrots. Potent sources of beta-carotene and flavonoids; eating both beets and carrots will protect the body from free radicals and help stimulate the liver.

12: Lemons & Limes. Citrus fruits contain high doses of vitamin C which helps protect the liver by enhancing immune system function. Vitamin C aids in synthesizing toxic materials into substances that can be absorbed by water. Adding freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice to a glass of water as a regular habit in the mornings or night-time is a good way of helping to remove toxins from the body.

13. Omega-3s. Walnuts, fish and fish oils, cold compressed plant oils, and seeds are options for consuming omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acid is known to provide immune system benefits. It nourishes and coats every cell in the body while minimising free radicals.

14: Cabbage. A cruciferous, much like broccoli and cauliflower, cabbage provides detoxing enzymes to bar carcinogens from circulating in the bloodstream. Cabbage will increase the amount of glucosinolate in the body, increasing detox action in cells. Try Chinese kimchi, cabbage soup, and sauerkraut as concentrates.

15: Licorice root. Herbal licorice has antiviral properties that helps block the actions of toxins and thereby boosts the liver’s cleansing ability.

16: Echinacea. One of the most researched herbs, echinacea is a natural blood purifier which cleanses the body and boosts immune function.

17: Dandelion. Widely known as a tonic and detox for the liver it helps to increase the production of bile and helps in the removal of poisonous substances.

18: Burdock Root. Known as a skin cleanser, burdock root enhances liver function. When skin problems occur it is often a result of an overloaded liver. Burdock root helps metabolise nutrients and encourages the removal of waste products.

Currently there is no artificial organ or device capable of mimicking all the functions of the liver. This detox organ is thought to be responsible for up to 500 separate functions, usually in combination with other organ systems.

The liver is a powerful cleanser and one of the few organs capable of regenerating and restoring its natural function after numerous assaults on its health. An obese, diabetic individual, for instance, with fatty liver disease can have almost full restoration of the organ just by losing weight and following natural approaches to good health. Liver cells regenerate every 7 weeks, so with a change of lifestyle and eating habits, your unhealthy liver could regain full health in less than 2 months.