Liver detoxes have become popular in recent years, propelled by a wave of publicity surrounding campaigns like Dry January and Sober October. But the truth is, we should care about our liver and kidneys every day of the year.
After all, our liver constantly filters hundreds of toxins from our bodies, nasty elements that we unwittingly ingest from breathing polluted air, drinking unfiltered water and eating foods which contain trace toxins such as mercury and inorganic arsenic.
In this article, we’ll look at the key vitamins you need to be eating to ensure healthy liver and kidney function. We’ll also take a look at the sorts of foods which contain these vitamins, and suggest non-dietary ways of protecting both your liver and kidney right into your senior years.
Which Vitamins are Best for the Liver?
Your liver is situated in the upper right portion of your abdominal cavity, just below your diaphragm. Part of the digestive system, this detoxifying organ assists with the metabolism of macronutrients and functions as a storage receptacle containing glycogen, vitamins and ions.
As the primary site of alcohol metabolism, the liver is especially vulnerable to alcohol-related damage.
There are several vitamins which help the liver specifically. The main one is choline, and its importance is underscored by what happens when the body is deprived of it: namely, liver cell death.
Those who fail to get enough choline in their diet develop fatty liver, liver damage and even skeletal muscle damage, although it should be noted that dietary requirements depend on a combination of factors, particularly a person’s genotype, estrogen status and gut health.
At this stage, you are probably wondering where you can source choline – and why you haven’t heard much about it before. The truth is, choline is pretty abundant: you can find it in egg yolks, animal protein, tofu, soy milk and cruciferous vegetables.
Deficiencies of glutathione or vitamins A or E are known to decrease the liver’s protection against free radicals, so these should also be considered valuable nutrients for general liver health.
Moreover, both vitamin D and vitamin C deficiency appear to be unusually high among individuals suffering from chronic liver disease: if you don’t get enough sun on your skin throughout the year, you probably need to take a vitamin D supplement. As for vitamin C, most people should be able to obtain it from a varied diet.
According to a 2018 paper published in the journal Nutrients, low levels of both folate (B9) and vitamin B12 can be used as “independent predictors of the histological severity of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).”
It seems reasonable, therefore, to add both to any liver-protective dietary protocol.
Following a varied diet containing plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and animal proteins should, in theory, supply you with most of the aforementioned nutrients.
That said, food processing has been known to reduce folate content by as much as 50%. Furthermore, substances such as alcohol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can increase your need for folate and other nutrients, and vegetarians and vegans will need to consider supplementation to achieve their daily B12 requirements.
Which Nutrients Help to Improve Kidney Function?
Like the liver, our kidneys are classed as abdominal organs and are chiefly concerned with filtering: specifically removing toxins from the blood and carrying them out of the body via urine. Kidneys also help to keep blood acidity at a stable level. They are part of the body’s excretory system.
As far as vitamins are concerned, concerns have been expressed over admittedly rare cases of individuals ‘mega-dosing’ certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, from supplements.
The truth is, taking excessive doses of supplements is almost always best avoided and, in the case of vitamin C, can actually lead to kidney failure.
That said, there are much more common causes of kidney failure: drugs and alcohol to name but two.
The National Kidney Foundation notes that omega-3 fatty acids are among the best nutrients for the kidneys, as they can help to reduce fat levels in the blood and moderately reduce blood pressure – a noted risk factor for kidney disease.
Vitamin D is also useful for regulating kidney function, while vitamin B6 has been found to help prevent kidney stones.
As with the liver, you should be able to get a good amount of kidney-protective nutrients from eating a wholesome, diverse diet.
Everyday Habits to Keep Your Liver and Kidneys Healthy
As for other body systems, taking care of your liver and kidneys is hardly rocket science.
You should strive to eat wholesome, nutritious, minimally-processed food; drink plenty of water; exercise regularly; avoid smoking, drinking alcohol to excess and taking drugs (this includes over-consumption of pharmaceuticals); and maintain a healthy body weight.
Get the basics right and your liver and kidneys will stay in good shape for years to become.
Protecting your liver and kidneys is not a case of meticulously ensuring you get all the nutrients that help it. It’s more about instilling healthy habits and eating a diverse range of healthy foods every day.
Of course, there have been some interesting studies published in recent years which have suggested novel ways to bio-hack your liver or kidneys.
For example, there was a 2013 study which appeared to show that drinking coffee could reduce the risk of chronic liver disease. Green tea, grapes and berries also appear to confer a substantial benefit, probably due to their antioxidant content and their ability to tamp down the inflammation driving liver damage.
Does this mean you should go out of your way to drink multiple cups of coffee and green tea daily, while substituting your usual snack foods for handfuls of berries and grapes? No. Remember, diversity is the magic word!
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The National Kidney Foundation notes that omega-3 fats are among the best nutrients for the kidneys, as they help to reduce fat levels in the blood.