The liver is one of the most important organs in the human body. It helps in the purification of blood and maintaining a good internal environment.
The best thing about the human liver is that it has regeneration power. No other organ in the human body (except the skin) has this power which is the reason why it can heal easily in case of puncture or injury. In fact, you can donate a piece of your liver and it will grow back. However, that doesn’t mean that the liver is invincible and can take whatever you throw at it. Maintaining the good health of your liver is very important. The food you eat and your lifestyle choices play a very important role in the health of your liver.
In this article, we will explore in detail the functioning of the liver. We will also explore some of the best food items that will help you improve your liver health and highlight some tips and tricks to prolong your life by improving liver function. So let’s begin!
Functions of the Liver
Here are some of the most important functions that your liver performs:
- Helps in cleaning toxins from the body especially drugs, medications, alcohol, and byproducts of metabolism. As a purifier for the body, in case the liver doesn’t function properly, you will see the toxins accumulating in your body.
- Produces proteins that are essential for the body to function properly. Albumin, the main protein found in your blood plasma, is almost exclusively produced by the liver.
- Produces bile, which facilitates the digestion process of fats. It also produces cholesterol, which is needed for the production of hormones and maintaining the structural integrity of body cells.
- Stores nutrients including vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates (as glycogen)
- Helps in maintaining the health of the skin by purifying the blood.
- Produces important clotting factors, which are needed for blood coagulation.
Food Items which are Good for Your Liver
Here are a few important food items that can keep your liver healthy and functioning normally:
Coffee is a great beverage for the liver. It has antioxidants that help in soothing the inflammation and in reducing the risk of fatty liver. According to this large study by researchers at the Universities of Southampton and Edinburgh in the UK, drinking at least 3-4 cups of any type of coffee daily can significantly reduce the risk of developing any chronic liver disease by 21%. The study also finds that coffee drinkers are 49% less likely to die from liver disease.
2. Green Tea
Green tea is great for liver health because it helps with digestion and also improves the enzyme level in the body. It is also rich in a group of compounds called polyphenolic antioxidants, which have been shown to provide preventive and therapeutic effects against liver diseases. According to this study by researchers in Asia, green tea drinkers have a significantly reduced risk of any kind of liver disease.
Grapefruit is another important fruit that helps with liver function, as its juice helps in breaking down fat and soothing liver inflammation. However, please note that grapefruit juice can interfere with the function of certain drugs so take with caution if you’re under medication.
Berries like blueberries and cranberries have antioxidants called anthocyanins, which help protect the liver from injury and boost immunity.
Grape juice, grapes, and grape seeds are very good for the liver as they help in improving liver function. Red grapes in particular are rich in resveratrol, a compound which is said to treat hyperlipidemia and prevent fatty liver, diabetes and atherosclerosis.
6. Prickly Pear
People who drink a lot must use prickly pear fruit (Opuntia spp.), which will help the liver in cleansing the body and repairing alcohol damage. Prickly pear, a type of edible cactus, is well known for reducing the effects of hangover, the latter being the side effect of the toxic compounds produced during the breakdown of excess alcohol by the liver.
Prickly pear has also been shown to be protective against liver damage caused by the drug paracetamol (acetaminophen). It also reduces inflammation and helps to remove toxins from the liver.
7. Beets (Beetroot Juice)
Consuming beetroot juice has been shown in several studies (like this one) to be beneficial to liver health, especially when it comes to detoxification. This is because beets contain nitrates and antioxidants called betalains, which can reduce oxidative damage and inflammation to the liver and heart. Beetroot juice is also rich in enzymes that have detox abilities.
Nuts such as groundnuts, cashew nuts and almonds are linked with improved liver function as well. Nuts are high in unsaturated fat and antioxidants such as Vitamin E, which are beneficial for the healthy functioning of your heart and liver.
9. Fish and Omega-3-Rich Oils
Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish and olive oil help with liver function, as it has been shown in several studies to reduce inflammation and lower the amount of ‘bad’ fat in the liver, heart and blood vessels.
Drinking a lot of clean water daily not only hydrates your body cells, but it helps your liver in getting rid of toxins from itself and from your body. Drinking water is also very good for your kidneys which, together with the liver, are responsible for detoxification.
The general recommendation is to drink at least 4 liters of water daily. The timing is also important. Drinking a glass of water first thing after waking up can make a huge difference in keeping your liver healthy and strong.
What to Avoid?
If you want to maintain a healthy liver, here are the things you must avoid:
Excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages is one of the leading causes of liver damage requiring a liver transplant. Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to several liver diseases, including alcoholic fatty liver disease, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. To avoid these serious issues, drink responsibly or quit drinking alcohol altogether.
Smoking causes a myriad of damaging disruptions of normal body metabolism, which ultimately affects liver function and leads to liver failure. Specifically, smoking triggers the production of pro-inflammatory substances called cytokines, whose activity can damage liver cells. If you want your liver to be healthy, then quit smoking today.
3. Drug Abuse/Overdose
As we have discussed earlier, the liver processes most of the drugs you take before they go into your bloodstream to other organs. So it is no shocker that abuse of drugs can overwhelm or even permanently damage liver cells, leading to liver failure and death if treatment is not commenced immediately. As a rule of thumb, never abuse any drug, be it prescription, over-the-counter or illicit.
FYI: Acetaminophen (paracetamol) overdose is by far the most common cause of acute liver failure in many countries, including the United States.
4. Being Obese
According to the American Liver Foundation, obesity is the leading cause of liver disease requiring a liver transplant in the United States. Obesity wreaks havoc on the liver by depositing excess fat in it, leading to a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. If left untreated, this can lead to chronic liver failure and death. So if you are obese or overweight, I highly recommend losing the excess fat. You can begin your weight loss journey by practicing intermittent fasting, which is one of the easiest, most sustainable ways of losing weight.
5. Supplement Abuse
It is estimated that supplements cause about a quarter of all cases of liver damage (WebMD). Certain supplements contain substances which interfere with the structure of liver cells, which eventually lead to irreversible liver damage. So be careful while using supplements. Treat supplements the same way you treat conventional drugs.
6. Herbal Liver Remedies/Cleanses
Now while it is true that some of the ingredients used in herbal liver cleanses (like milk thistle, turmeric) are actually good for the liver, I do not recommend using herbal liver cleanses because there is no official record of their safety. On top of that, most of them are marketed with the claim that they can detoxify the liver, which is simply not true. As we have learnt already, drinking water is enough to detoxify the liver.
So if I were you, I’d stay away from herbal liver cleanses and follow the directions of a licensed medical doctor.
Exercises for Better Liver Function
There are no specific exercises that will help you focus only on liver health. However, people who have liver-related issues must walk for at least15 minutes daily. This will help them digest food better which will eventually help in stabilizing the metabolism rate.
Another important thing is water intake because you need to ensure that you have enough electrolytes in your body that it can throw out and eliminate toxins from the body. Overall cardio and yoga are also important because they are good for burning extra cholesterol that will eventually help with the fatty liver situation. People with fatty liver need to cut high-calorie food, especially using too much oil, cheese, or fatty meat.
For the liver, there are no hard and fast rules. If you want to rely on exercises only, you might not see any improvement. However, exercises will help you boost your immunity which will eventually help you improve your overall health including liver health.
The liver is an important organ which performs some of the most essential functions in your body. The liver is involved in digestion, energy production, blood regulation, body detoxification and a host of others. So it is extremely important to keep it healthy at all times to ensure optimal functioning of the body.
Your diet plays the most important role in keeping your liver functioning properly. Exercise also helps, especially when it comes to reducing risks of liver disease like obesity. Taking care of your liver is not hard to do. Just avoid bad lifestyle choices, eat a healthy, balanced diet and be physically active – and your liver will thank you for it!
Ann Edwards is the fully qualified personal trainer from Elite sports. She has been helping people in the field of bodybuilding and fitness from more than a decade. Her career in nutrition and physical therapy has made her a fine addition for our team.