by Jordan Bruce
Did you know that the liver has over 500 functions and without it, we would die in 24 hours? Needless to say, our liver is a pretty important organ which we rely on heavily to function optimally.
Some of the liver’s main functions:
- Manufacture and secrete bile to aid digestion
- Breakdown and regulate hormones that send messages to support complex processes like growth, metabolism, and fertility
- Help maintain blood glucose levels and metabolizes carbohydrates, fats and proteins
- Make cholesterol so you can produce hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods
- Play an integral role in detoxifying the body
When it comes to detoxifying your body, our liver filters everything we ingest, breathe and absorb. To rid our body of toxins it turns them into harmless substances that are eliminated through our bowel movements, urine and sweat. If those pathways are blocked, toxins build up and the liver becomes congested and overburdened.
How Does Your Liver Become Congested and Overburdened?
For most North Americans, the SAD – Standard American Diet that is rich in processed, fatty foods like meat, dairy and eggs is a major factor. These types of foods are high in Omega-6 fatty acids which causes inflammation and congestion in the body. Ideally, you want a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which is anti-inflammatory and helps prevent disease. Omega-6 and Omega-3’s are essential fatty acids that must be obtained through your diet with an ideal ratio of 4:1. SADly, the Western diet typically has a ratio of 16:1 or 25:1. Eek!
Did you know? NAFLD – Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease is a condition where fat builds up in the liver which is quickly becoming a global epidemic? It has been linked with the intake of fast food, meat and pop1. That’s SAD and can be avoided by committing to a healthy diet. A type of NAFLD is NASH – Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and can be tested by a Medical Doctors and/or Naturopaths to measure the livers inflammation from the build-up of saturated fats, cholesterol and low polyunsaturated fats, fibre from vegetables and Vitamin C. Phew, that was a mouth full.
Other contributing factors that increase our toxic load are non-organic foods that have been grown with the use of chemicals like pesticides, herbicides and fungicides and/or foods that have hormones and antibiotic strains. As well as diets high in processed sugars, caffeine and alcohol, the use of chemical washing detergents, body lotions, perfumes and cleaning products that aren’t natural, and pollution is a global issue and factor many of us face. Depending on where you live in the world, your air quality may be contributing to a liver imbalance. Medication could quite possibly be a factor too.
Aside from toxic chemicals, heavy metals also impact the liver and can be passed down from our mothers, from fish or mercury fillings2.
All of these factors cause our livers to work in overdrive and lead to more free radicals in the body. What are free radicals? Simply put, they are unstable molecules that damage cells and contribute to aging and disease.
How do I know if my liver is congested or overburdened?
When the liver is congested or sluggish, poor absorption of essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) is present alongside cholesterol imbalances 3.
If you are interested in knowing your cholesterol level, ask your Doctor to test your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. HDL is often referred to as the good cholesterol and it is important to know both numbers and look at the ratio.
Other symptoms of a congested liver are bloating, gas, poor elimination, bad breath, body odour, headaches, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, irritable, hormone imbalances and any skin issues such as acne, eczema, rashes, psoriasis.
It is important to listen to your body and not ignore any signs.
Are there tests available to determine if my liver is congested or overburdened?
Besides testing for NAFLD – Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, Functional Blood Testing (FBT) is a great resource.
In 2014, I had my first FBT and found this testing fascinating. A small prick with a lancet, a drop of blood on a glass slide and within minutes I saw the health of my blood on a TV monitor. With a trained Functional Blood Analyst, you will learn about any imbalances in your body including liver congestion.
Shortly after my first FBT, I decided to travel back East in Canada to gain training and certification in FBT and currently work in Burnaby, BC at Aurora Integrative Medical since 2015 as a Functional Blood Analyst and Nutrition Consultant. During my appointments, I discuss the following with my clients: diet, sleep, exercise, energy levels, stress, digestion, elimination, food sensitivities and supplements. I also help them learn about all the imbalances present. With my suggestions alongside a Naturopath the client always sees improvements at their follow-up appointment.
If you have an extended health plan, this test might be covered if you are seeing a Naturopathic Doctor.
How can I support my liver’s health?
By eating more plants! Having a more plant-centric diet will assist us in detoxification and increasing bile production; bile helps remove waste products. When supporting the liver, a lot of my clients with liver congestion often notice weight loss because toxins store themselves in fat cells in your body.
Below is a list of some of my favourite foods and herbs that will support the health of your liver.
- Bitter Greens like arugula, dandelion and mustard greens will stimulate bile production and neutralize heavy metals. Great in salads, on sandwiches, as a pesto or in stir-fry’s. Try making Pranin Organic’s Roasted Beet & Baby Greens Salad with arugula!
- Water helps promote blood circulation, elimination and supports the assimilation of nutrients and secretion of bile. Drinking 3L a day of good quality filtered water or natural spring water is recommended. For infused water recipes click here.
- Alliums (i.e. Onions, Garlic, Scallions, Shallots, Leeks, and Chives) Alliums are high in antioxidants as well as a sulfur and allicin compound, which supports the liver by detoxifying estrogen, mercury and food additives. It may also play a role in reducing LDL and preventing fatty liver disease. When cooking, crush your garlic then let it sit for 15 minutes to activate the healthy compounds. Get your garlic dose by making some Sunflower Pesto.
- Beets are a root vegetable that contain betaine which protect liver cells and bile ducts. Include these in your diet as they also purify the blood. Get your beet intake by whipping up some Beet Hummus. Yes it’s nutritious and yes it’s beautiful.
- Cruciferous Vegetables like brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli contain sulforaphane, a glucosinolate that supports liver detoxification and hormone elimination (i.e. estrogen). Brussel sprouts lovers! You need this easy/tasty recipe in your life.
- Turmeric contains curcumin which is the most active constituent of turmeric that provides a lot of health benefits. It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Studies have shown that it can decrease the level of glucose (sugar) in blood 4. When consuming turmeric root, pair it with a good fat (i.e. coconut oil, avocado) and black pepper for improved absorption. Sip on some tasty turmeric by making Golden Mylk.
- Lemons are high in whole food Vitamin-C and are alkaline in nature which will help with detoxification and elimination. Starting the day with a room temperature glass of filtered water and freshly squeezed organic lemon will stimulate bile production and bowel movements. Sipping on this type of drink before meals will also help stimulate stomach acid to aid digestion. Sip on this lemon water drink after your sweat sesh to re charge.
- Other Veggies and Herbs like milk thistle, parsley, ginger, green tea, artichoke, burdock root, hemp seeds, avocados, and probiotic rich foods.
Smoothies are a great way to combine tons of medicinal plant foods in one glass. Blend up our Love Up Your Liver Smoothie which contains liver supporting ingredients like dandelion root, beets, burdock + more.
Additional helpful tips I give clients:
- Balancing your blood sugar levels will also assist the liver
- Food combining to reduce insulin spikes
- Avoiding processed foods
- Eliminating coffee
- Including berberine (Goldenseal herb), chromium (Broccoli, barley, oats) or true cinnamon in your diet is also helpful
- Buying organic; where possible (at least avoid Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of the top sprayed crops) read Organic on the cheap for more tips!
- Eating less meat (consider it as a condiment versus being the main focus of the meal)
- Choose quality cooking oils (i.e. organic coconut oil, avocado oil and cold pressed olive oil); avoid all vegetable oils.
Jordan Bruce is a Live Blood Analyst at Aurora Integrative Medical & Holistic Nutrition Student who lives in North Vancouver. She is the creator and curator of Bruce’s Roots on Instagram and Facebook.
- Zelber-Sagi, Shira, Dorit Nitzan-Kaluski, Rebecca Goldsmith, Muriel Webb, Laurie Blendis, Zamir Halpern, and Ran Oren. “Long term nutritional intake and the risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): A population based study.” Journal of Hepatology 47.5 (2007): 711-17. Web.
- Mead, M. Nathaniel. “Contaminants in Human Milk: Weighing the Risks against the Benefits of Breastfeeding.” Environmental Health Perspectives. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Oct. 2008. Web. 20 May 2017.
- Secretion of Bile and the Role of Bile Acids In Digestion. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2017.
- Curcumin and Diabetes: A Systematic Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3857752/