Most of the time when we hear about the liver, it’s in relation to alcohol – and usually in the form of a quip: “Your liver won’t thank you for last night!”
However, everything we eat or drink passes through the liver – whether good or bad. Like any organ, it must be looked after in order to be able to carry out its physiological functions, of which there are over 500.
In this blog, we will focus on liver health and outline ways you can keep yours tip-top. We'll also highlight foods which are particularly beneficial for liver regeneration.
Where Does the Liver, er, Live?
Who knows where their liver lives? And no, you’re not allowed to perform a quick Google search.
In fact, your liver sits below your ribcage on the right side. It’s approximately the size of a football and holds around 13% of your total blood supply.
As with the heart, liver health is largely determined by food we eat. That’s because nutrients from food travel through the bloodstream to the liver, where they are either stored or utilised.
It’s difficult to give a concise summary of the liver’s duties. Not only does it process digested food and convert it into energy, but it detoxifies harmful substances in the blood – neutralising toxins and fighting infection.
In common with the kidneys, the liver also helps get rid of waste products. It controls cholesterol levels, too.
Foods for Liver Health and Regeneration
So what are the best foods for liver health? Well, it should be noted firstly that maintaining the health of your liver is much more about avoiding what’s bad for it than obsessively eating and drinking things that are good for it.
According to the British Liver Trust, one in five of us is at risk of liver damage, with symptoms including itching, tiredness and nausea.
We can avoid this fate by limiting our intake of processed or fried foods, which can in a sense ‘overload’ the liver.
There are several foods which can help to cleanse the liver naturally by encouraging it to flush toxic waste from the body.
Garlic, for instance, activates liver enzymes to help your body jettison toxins, and its high levels of selenium and allicin are famed for their liver-cleansing properties.
Cold-pressed oil such as olive or flaxseed are also wonderful for the liver.
Leafy green vegetables deserve a mention, too. Whether raw, cooked, blended in a juice or concentrated into a fine powder (as in Green Vibrance), leafy greens boast a high plant chlorophyll content and can hoover up environmental toxins from the bloodstream.
They can also neutralise heavy metals and pesticides, while glutathione – a powerful antioxidant found in leafy greens – can destroy free radicals.
In her book The Immune System Recovery Plan, Dr. Susan Blum extols the merits of glutathione: “Glutathione is the most important antioxidant. It’s in every cell in your body, but it’s found in highest concentrations in the liver. Not only does glutathione clean up heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic, but it also aids in protecting the body from pesticides, solvents and plastic residues such as BPA.”
Ultimately, the best foods for liver health are the ones we’d normally class as healthy anyway: grapefruit, beets, avocados, berries, artichoke, olive oil, walnuts, cabbage, turmeric, salmon and green tea.
A report published in late 2017, meanwhile, showed that “coffee may reduce the risk of liver disease by 70%.” You can read more about the link between coffee consumption and liver health here.
Remember, looking after your liver means monitoring the amount of sugar (whether in soft drinks, tea, coffee or snacks), trans fats and alcohol you consume.
The Best Vitamins for Liver Health
Safeguarding your liver health is possible by eating well and staying active. This latter caveat is important, since you are more likely to develop a so-called fatty liver if you’re overweight or obese, leading to inflammation and even cirrhosis.
Oftentimes vitamins are mentioned when the discussion turns to liver health. But which vitamins?
For liver health to be maintained, one should be able to obtain all the vitamins they need from their diet. Nonetheless, certain vitamins have been shown to aid liver health.
One German study published a few years ago highlighted a link between vitamin D deficiency and the hepatitis B virus (HBV), a well-known infection of the liver.
Among its many benefits, vitamin D helps maintain the health of the immune system, and there’s also evidence of its role in metabolic liver disease.
A separate study by the University of Tennessee found that over 90% of individuals suffering from chronic liver disease have some degree of vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin C, meanwhile, helps prevent fatty build-up and cirrhosis, while B-complex vitamins aid the liver by assisting in the breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates and fat.
Supplementing with a good multivitamin might be the best choice. Incidentally, the aforementioned Green Vibrance contains several vitamins useful for liver health, including A, C, D3, E, K and B12.
Other Liver-Boosting Supplements
Both omega-3 fish oil and black seed oil are also beneficial according to a 2018 mice study, which found that this combination was “the most promising hepato-regenerative and reno-protective formula among the different groups.”
The combination worked by reducing liver and kidney injury, exerting “anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.”
WHC’s UnoCardio 1000 is a great option as it contains both a high concentration of omega-3s and 250% of your daily recommended Vitamin D. It has been ranked #1 by independent aggregator Labdoor since 2015.
There is some evidence to suggest that probiotics could also help with liver regeneration. In one randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled study, a combination of probiotics and fibres “were able to increase liver function capacity in patients after standard hepatectomy (surgical liver removal).”
Try a 'Dry Month' for Liver Regeneration
As detailed in our blog The Health Benefits of Having a Dry Month, swearing off alcohol for a comparatively short period can help to quickly repair the liver.
The results of a study by British magazine New Scientist showed that those who gave up alcohol for five weeks saw their liver fat reduce by between 15 and 20%. Blood glucose levels also fell by an average of 16%.
Although “taking a month off” alcohol is popular in January as well as during October (the latter during the so-called Sober October campaign), there is something to be said for committing to a month of abstinence more regularly – perhaps three or four months of the year.
Follow Simple Rules to Improve Liver Health
Many people would love to enjoy better liver health, but they don’t know how.
To improve liver health, it’s simply a case of eating right, exercising and, most crucially, limiting the load you place on the liver by drinking less alcohol and shunning processed food.
Stick to these principles and your liver will carry out its many jobs with pertinacious efficiency.
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Those who gave up alcohol for five weeks saw their liver fat reduce by between 15 and 20%.