Your liver is your second largest organ (I wrote about the first last week). It processes around 1.4 liters of blood every minute. But what does your liver do for you? Most people know that the liver plays a role in detoxification. And that is correct; the liver plays a huge role. The process of detoxification is very complicated, and the liver has a ton of other jobs. Therefor, supporting the liver is important for many diseases and symptoms. In this article, I’ll cover the most common ailments requiring liver support, foods, herbs and nutrients that support and improve liver function as well as the best tests to assess liver health.
The most common ailments requiring liver support:
The role of the liver:
Detoxification: The liver carries out Phase 1 and 2 detoxification which is a series of biochemical reactions that make compounds less toxic and water soluble so that they can be excreted in the bile or through the kidneys.
Metabolism: All of the blood leaving your digestive tract travels to the liver where carbohydrates, proteins and fats are metabolized to be used by the rest of the body.
Nutrient storage: the liver stores blood sugar (glucose) in the form of glycogen, so your body has fuel when you haven’t eaten. It also stores B12, iron, copper, vitamins A, D, E and K.
Production and excretion: of bile which aids the breakdown and absorption of fat in the digestive tract. It also produces coagulation factors and proteins like albumin.
Immunity: Plays an active role in the immune system function
As you can see your liver is working hard for you, show it some love with these foods, herbs and nutrients.
Liver loving foods:
The cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, broccoli sprouts, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards and watercress, contain a molecule called sulforaphane which promotes this process. Eat at least 1 cup of any these foods daily.
Bitter foods: including radicchio, endive, dandelion greens, arugula, lemon and raw apple cider vinegar increase bile secretion. Bile is how your liver dumps toxins into the bowels. Eat at least 1 cup of any these foods daily and start your morning with warm lemon water.
Amino acids from protein in the diet: Phase 1 & Phase 2 detoxification require amino acids. A simple way to determine how much protein you need is to use this equation. Daily protein intake = body weight in kg x 0.8. You probably need more or less than you expect.
Artichoke, burdock root, cilantro and parsley: are a few other of my favorite liver loving foods.
Green tea: contain the amino acid l-theanine and antioxidants that support liver health.
Omega-3’s: these essential fats are anti-inflammatory and support healthy lipids and liver. Omega-3 is abundant in fatty fish. Most notably salmon. However wild seafood, in general, is a healthy addition to the diet for omega-3’s. The best plant based source is chai seeds with walnut, flax and hemp seeds also being a good source. Aim to have a palm size piece of fish at least 3 x per week and one of the following daily: chia, flax or hemp (1 tbsp), walnuts (1/4 cup)
Liver herbs and nutrients:
NAC or n-acetyl cysteine is a version of the amino acids cysteine. It increases glutathione production. Glutathione is a potent antioxidant and aids detoxification. NAC commonly comes in 600-900mg capsules and can be taken 1-2 x per day.
Milk thistle is a liver antioxidants, protects the liver from damage, stimulates phase 1 detoxification and stimulates liver regeneration when damaged.
Turmeric stimulates liver detox and bile excretion and has potent antioxidant activity. Read my article on turmeric to find out more.
Dandelion root tea, tincture of capsules.
A note on testing liver function:
As part of routine blood work, a complete metabolic panel (CMP) is often included. Within the CMP there is a group of tests that assess liver health. These include liver enzymes (AST, ALT, GGT), bilirubin, protein, albumin and globulin. Abnormalities in these tests indicate liver disease. For example, if the liver is actively being damaged by hepatitis, alcohol or NSAIDS liver enzymes will increase. If the liver has decreased capacity for filtering and manufacturing bilirubin will increase and protein, albumin and globulin with decrease.
These tests are great for assessing and diagnosing overt liver disease, however, are often normal even when there is a suboptimal detoxification capacity and/or the liver isn’t functioning optimally. I often have patients ask why are you concerned about my liver when my tests have always been normal? As I’m sure you know by now, I don’t want your results just to be “normal” I want them to be optimal. That’s why I use another test that is much more helpful in determining this; it’s called organic acid testing.
Organic acid testing looks at phase 1 & phase 2 detoxification capacity, amino acid deficiencies (remember these are essential for detox) including NAC (which is require for glutathione production), oxidative damage and a need for antioxidants, markers for bacterial and yeast dysbiosis (which stresses the liver) and other nutrient deficiencies.
An ultrasound of the liver can assess for fatty liver disease. This problem is incredibly common and estimated to affect 10-20% of Americans. The issue is, many people don’t even know that they have it because their CMP values are normal. Fatty liver is a huge problem and can lead to diabetes (1), heart disease (2) and abdominal weight gain.