As one of the largest organs in our bodies, it is no wonder our liver plays such an important role in our overall health.
However, not many people can explain what their liver’s exact functions are or even how to maintain good liver health. In fact, unless you have personally experienced a liver related health complication, chances are you have rarely even thought about the existence of your liver.
Today we will change that by taking a look at the liver’s main function in the human body and some healthy steps you can take to help prevent the onset of some common liver diseases.
What is the Liver?
The liver is a large organ located on the right side of your belly. Flanked by the gallbladder, pancreas, and intestines, this meaty organ has many functions including the digestion of food, filtering of blood, and production of our body’s energy sources.
Anything you eat or drink (including all medications) will pass through your liver. You might think of it as a filtering system: the nutrients your body needs are gathered, processed, and delivered to your blood for later use, and all harmful substances that are present are released into the bowel for elimination.
Here is a breakdown of some of the liver’s main functions:
- Production of liquid bile to help break down fats in the foods you consume
- Elimination of harmful substances in your blood stream
- Nutrient storehouse for when your body needs energy
- Production of blood clotting proteins
- Destruction of old blood cells
- Maintain constant blood sugar levels in your body
Steps to Liver Disease Prevention
When you constantly barrage your liver with harmful chemicals, over-processed and unhealthy foods, and medications, your liver must work overtime to filter out the bad stuff leaving little to no energy to properly deliver the good nutrients to your body. It is for this reason your liver may become too taxed and susceptible to disease.
There are however, many things you can incorporate into your lifestyle that will aid in good liver health and make you a healthier person all around.
Everyone knows they should eat healthy to look and feel good. Yet, if you take into consideration the effects poor eating has on your liver, it’s possible you might become even more motivated to eat right.
It is often suggested that good liver health is more about avoiding the bad stuff than it is about nourishing it with good stuff. It you take control of your daily nutrition you can prevent, minimize, and even reverse liver damage by simply avoiding harmful foods, drinks, and medications.
Here are some things you can avoid to encourage a healthy liver:
- Saturated and trans fat
- Fried foods (especially from restaurants)
- Simple carbs and starches such as white breads, pastas, and rice
- Red meat
- Sodas, juices, and alcohol
- Any processed food
- Excess sugar
- Full fat dairy products
Of course, it is important to keep in mind that whole grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and proteins are important staples to any healthy diet and will only increase your liver’s overall health. There are also a number of great foods that can help cleanse your liver naturally, ridding it of some of the buildup from poor diet choices. Remembering that your liver must filter everything you ingest may steer you away from some of the more unhealthy food and drink items in the first place.
The American Liver Foundation makes it very clear that the consumption of alcohol can damage and even destroy liver cells. This liver damage can cause fat build up, inflammation or swelling, and/or scarring of the liver itself. These symptoms are all catalysts to liver disease and create many health problems for those experiencing them.
Moderation is the key to all things in life, alcohol included. However, if you have any type of liver disease it is best to avoid alcohol all together as even the smallest amount can make the disease much worse.
Medication is an essential and largely beneficial component to almost everyone’s life. At some point, it is safe to say you will need to be medicated for one reason or another. The problem is your liver must do the work every time you ingest medications and when taken incorrectly, your liver can be harmed.
Here are some tips to follow so that you do the least amount of damage to your liver, even while medicated regularly:
- Discuss with your physician the effects all prescribed medications will have on your liver.
- Always follow the proper dosing instructions; do not take too much, the wrong type, or improperly mix medications.
- Avoid taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol, among many other OTC medications).
- Avoid alcohol when on certain medications.
- Understand the safest way to take cholesterol drugs as they have serious potential to harm your liver.
- Be careful taking non-FDA approved herbs and supplements (i.e. cascara, chaparral, comfrey, kava, and ephedra). Understand that there is no evidence any of these herbs or supplements effectively improve or restore liver health and that they may in turn actually damage the liver with prolonged use.
Keeping your weight under control with regular exercise is another helpful lifestyle strategy for maintaining a healthy liver. Obesity is often linked to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and can lead to scarring (aka cirrhosis) of the liver. This damage may become permanent and cause liver cancer or even liver failure.
The closer you are to an ideal weight the less strain your liver will experience. Aerobic exercise will increase oxygen flow to all parts of your body, including your liver, making it stronger and more resistant to disease. Weight training will help decrease body fat and increase lean body mass keeping your weight at an appropriate number and allowing your liver to function at its best.
Another important thing everyone can do to take care of their liver and prevent diseases such as liver cancer is to avoid harmful toxins. Direct contact with things such as harsh cleaning supplies, aerosol products, insecticides, chemicals, and additives in cigarettes can injure liver cells making it vulnerable to disease and preventing it from performing its functions properly.
It is not enough that you take care of your exterior appearance in order to live a long and healthy life. Your internal health is just as important, is not more so, for remaining healthy and avoiding disease.
Taking care of your liver is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Since your liver comes into contact with everything you ingest, from foods, to drinks, to every medicine or vitamin pill you pop, take care not to strain or damage this vital organ. You will have more energy, nutrients, and a better functioning digestive system if you treat your body right.
If you or someone you know has questions regarding overall liver health, consider contacting Dr. Fraiman at the Liver and Pancreas Center in Maryland. Noted as one of the top physicians in the field of hepatology, Dr. Fraiman takes a patient-centered approach to every case he is assigned and will work with you to regain your optimal health. Specializing in liver disease and treatment, you can rest assured any liver ailment you are experiencing will be treated aggressively and have a positive outcome.