Most of us know that our liver is important, but we sometimes underestimate its importance. The liver is the largest internal organ in the body and it’s as big as a football. Your liver is vital for digestion as the majority of things you eat or drink goes through the liver first before entering the bloodstream. It also helps detoxify your body by filtering out harmful toxins from the system.
Some of the most vital functions your liver does everyday includes filtering the blood, helping to digest fat, and metabolizing hormones. It also doubles as a storage for vitamins and minerals like B12 or iron.
If you are like most people who eat a poor diet, barely exercise and drink a lot of alcohol; you should take some time to cleanse your liver. And here’s why. Before any nutrients you absorb inside your intestines can make it into your bloodstream, they first need to be processed by the liver so that they can be used more efficiently by the body. This is also when your liver works to remove dangerous toxins and breaks down alcohol or any medication.
Excess Fat Compromises Liver Cells
Even though the liver works best when it is lean, it sometimes stores excess calories as fat. When the percentage of fat in your liver exceeds 5-10% of the organ’s weight, it can cause fatty liver disease (FLD). When that happens, the normal functioning of your liver cells is compromised. As a result, your liver becomes less efficient at burning off fat than it is at storing it; leading to an imbalance and excess accumulation (1).
1 In 10 American Is Diagnosed With Liver Disease
Our modern lifestyle and environment constantly expose us to many types of toxins. Our homes, place of work, and the food we eat are full of potentially harmful chemicals. The liver has to work tirelessly to keep us healthy.
In the United States, more than 35,000 people lose their lives to chronic liver disease every year; the majority of which is caused by fatty liver disease. Young people are especially at risk due to the rise of binge drinking culture and an unhealthy diet. Data shows that one in 10 American suffers from liver disease, making it one of the top ten causes of death in the country (2). There are over one hundred types of liver disorders including jaundice, alagille syndrome, hemochromatosis, and viral hepatitis A.
Many factors can cause fatty liver disease but the most common is diet and lifestyle choices. Not eating enough fruits and vegetables, lack of physical activity, and drinking too much alcohol are the major reasons for the rise of fatty liver disease. Increased obesity, higher stress levels and environmental pollution also contribute to this epidemic.
What are the Types of Fatty Liver Disease?
Alcoholic liver disease (AFLD) is a result of drinking too much alcohol. When a person consumes excessive amounts of alcohol, the liver cannot properly digest the sugar which is then stored as fat. This leads to fat accumulation in the liver. Alcoholic fatty liver disease can also be caused by your genetic history; this determines how much alcohol you can handle and how your liver processes fat.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) on the other hand, is caused by obesity and aging. This is the most common type of liver disorder in western countries and the major cause of chronic liver disease worldwide. The recent rise of childhood obesity in the united states has led to an increase of NAFLD among children. Most experts blame this negative trend on the standard American diet. While there are many risk factors that can cause NAFLD; this condition has been mostly associated with malnutrition, diabetes, high cholesterol, gut bacteria imbalance, and medication (3).
Non-alcoholic Fatty liver disease is a progressive condition. It’s diagnosed in three stages and they are:
Nonalcoholic fatty liver: this happens when a person’s liver accumulates fat but there’s no pain. People diagnosed with this condition experience little to no symptoms. One study from Westmead Hospital at the University of Sydney, Australia found that 17% to 33% of Americans have fatty liver disease (4). This is not surprising as the levels of obesity, insulin resistance, type-2-diabetes, and other metabolic syndrome is also on the rise (5).
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis: only a few people with NAFLD reaches this stage. At this point, the fat in the liver causes inflammation which can lead to scarring of the tissue and prevent the liver from functioning properly.
Cirrhosis linked non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: it occurs after the liver has been damaged for a long time. It’s the late-stage form of scarring before the liver fails. People with this condition have heavy livers that weigh more than any other solid organ in their bodies. It is irreversible and can only be fixed by a liver transplant.
General Symptoms of Liver Disease
Many people who have liver disease continue their normal lives without noticing any symptoms for years or even decades. However, once the disease progresses past a certain point, some signs and symptoms may begin to appear:
- Sudden and unexplained weight loss
- No appetite
- Feeling nauseated
- Lack of focus
- Severe stomach pain particularly in the center or upper right side
- Abdominal swelling
- Urine becomes dark
- Sweating excessively
- Bloating and gas
- Bruising easily
- Stool color becomes pal or tar-like black
- Legs and ankles swell
- Dark dry patches on the neck and underarms
Someone experiencing any of the above symptoms should seek medical attention before their condition deteriorates (6). Cirrhosis is the most severe form of liver disease and it’s fatal. Healthy liver cells are replaced by scarred worn-out tissues that limit the proper functioning of the liver. Blood flow is disrupted by the damaged liver tissue; depriving healthy cells of the necessary nutrients they need to thrive. In addition, the metabolizing of vitamins, minerals, hormones, natural body toxins, and medicine in the liver also slows down.
People with cirrhosis have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Fluid retention in the body
- Weakened muscles
- Bleeding internally
- Jaundice (skin and eyes become yellow)
- Complete failure of the liver that ultimately leads to death
Do not wait to experience these symptoms before consulting with a medical professional. Your doctor will request for a variety of tests to determine whether your liver is healthy or not. They might carry out a physical exam or request for a blood analysis to confirm the presence of certain enzymes. Another test the doctor may use is ultrasound; to get a closer look at your liver. Finally, your doctor could also decide to conduct a biopsy instead. During a biopsy, a needle is used to cut a tiny piece of the liver to test for possible inflammation, fat composition, and cell damage (7).
If you think you are at risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, you should ask your doctor for any of these tests.
The most common causes of fatty liver disease are:
- Viral hepatitis
- Inherited liver disease
- Rapid weight loss
Some conditions that increase your risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease include:
- Being obese
- Undergoing gastric bypass surgery
- High cholesterol
- Being type 2 diabetic
- Excess triglyceride in the blood
- Metabolic syndrome
- Experiencing sleep apnea
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
A study from the Washington State University School of Medicine at St. Louis (8) says that obesity is the number one risk factor for NAFLD. This is because obesity causes steatosis which is a prominent feature of the disease. In addition, one study published by the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology shows bariatric surgery as another major cause of NAFLD. Over 80% of people who have had bariatric surgery are likely to develop the disease. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is more common among men who have had bariatric surgery than women. Menopause and aging also determine the onset of NAFLD in female bariatric surgery patients (9).
Foods to Avoid if You Have Fatty Liver Disease
Do you want to damage your liver cells? Binge drinking alcohol is the fastest way to do it. When you combine alcohol with over the counter medication, smoking tobacco, poor diet, and inactivity; you create the perfect environment for fatty liver disease. People diagnosed with alcoholic fatty liver disease have to quit drinking in order to stop the progression of the disease. One study by researchers from Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York says malnutrition, toxicity, and inflammation are the reason fatty liver disease is so common among alcoholics (10).
Foods high in carbohydrates
If you want a healthy liver you should reduce the amount of high carbohydrate foods such as rice, bread, corn, and grits in your diet. You should avoid highly refined carb-loaded foods because it can cause insulin to spike and this can speed up the progression of fatty liver disease (11). If you must eat carbohydrates, make sure you read the packaging to know the amount of carbs per serving. Avoid all wholegrain products with the words “enriched” or “fortified” on its label. For those of you who cannot live without bread, buying it from the local bakery or a health store is your best choice. You could also try baking your own bread and other baked goods with gluten-free flours or other substitutes.
Americans are consuming too much sugar and most of it is coming from their drinks. The average 12 ounces can of sweetened drink contains more sugar than your daily recommended amount. According to researchers at Emory University School of Medicine Atlanta sugar especially fructose makes fatty liver disease worse (12). Consuming a lot of fructose has also been linked to obesity, dyslipidemia, and insulin resistance.
Many junk food products contain hydrogenated oils and have high amounts of sugar. Over 90% of food products in the average American grocery store contain high fructose corn syrup; one of the major causes of fatty liver disease.
The Case for Organic Food
Chemicals used in modern farms are transferred to the food. Even if you wash it, some of the compounds remain. Your liver has to do the heavy work of processing all those chemicals. So, eating organic food will reduce the amount of toxins your liver metabolizes. If you need help to figure out which foods are organic and which ones aren’t, the Environmental Working Group publishes a report called the “Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce” (13).
Foods That Boost Liver Health
Maintaining a healthy diet is the best way to prevent fatty liver disease as the majority of sufferers are overweight and malnourished (14). One study found that losing weight and eating a healthy diet to be the most effective treatment for NAFLD. This is why you should focus on eating a nutrient-dense diet. Exercising for at least 30 mins daily will also help boost your overall health while reducing your risk of fatty liver disease. Try to limit your exposure to alcohol and prescription pills when possible. Avoiding herbicides and any hormone disruptors is also beneficial for your liver.
According to a report published by the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, the nutrients found in vegetables, fruits, herbs, and plant extract, have been traditionally used to treat liver disease (15). Eating vegetables daily is very important but if you find it difficult, try juicing or using a blender.
Other good vegetables for liver detoxification are cabbage, kale, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, asparagus, celery, and fresh herbs like parsley. These vegetables are high in fiber which is known to support a healthy digestive system. For example, you can try ginger tea by adding slices of ginger to a cup of boiling water. Ginger can also be added as a spice to your stir fry dishes, salads, and smoothie drinks.
This root can help improve your body’s ability to produce bile. Dandelion is also a type of natural diuretics that speeds up the release of liver toxins. You can make tea with either the root or the stem. Dandelion root is naturally high in vitamin C, which can help absorb minerals better and lower inflammation, which reduces your risk of fatty liver disease.
One powerful food for detoxifying the liver is milk thistle. It can help repair damaged liver cells. In fact, one study published by Digestive Disease and Sciences says that patients with damaged liver experienced improved health after consuming milk thistle as an herbal tea (16). This is because milk thistle can rebuild liver tissues injured by alcohol or other toxins. This evidence is supported by another 2010 study (17) that found milk thistle to be very helpful in reversing various types of liver disorders including alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Liver from high-quality grass-fed cows or chicken is one of the most nutrient-packed foods you will ever eat. This organ meat is rich with folic acid, choline, iron, copper, zinc, chromium, C0Q10, vitamin A, and C.
Natural Remedies and Supplements for Liver Disease
According to researchers from the University of Florida, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can be reversed by combining vitamin E supplement with a healthy diet and daily physical activity. Vitamin E also reduces inflammation and improves the immune system which helps fight off diseases (18).
You can choose to add turmeric to your diet or take it as a daily supplement. Turmeric improves digestion and reduces inflammation. If you choose to take supplements, it’s recommended to take 450 milligrams of curcumin capsules.
Black seed oil
Damaged liver cells can be healed using black seed oil. One study published by the European Review for Medical and Pharmaceutical Sciences tested black seed as a means of blocking oxidative stress markers in the liver. They found that black seed oil is beneficial for patients with fatty liver disease as it limits the damage (19).
Only Take Medication When Necessary
All chemicals you ingest including prescriptions are metabolized by the liver. We have an opioids crisis in America. It’s so bad that many people are confused about their medication dosage. If you are ill and need to take meds regularly, make sure you’re always taking the right dosage.
Limit Your Toxin Exposure
From the air we breathe to the food we eat, and the products we use daily; we are constantly exposed to harmful chemicals. Avoid as much toxic and chemical-laden products as you can by limiting the amount of beauty, and household chemicals you use. The liver is susceptible to chemicals found in insecticides, synthetic beauty products, and other chemical aerosols. Smoking tobacco can also injure the liver because of its toxic chemical components. If possible, choose natural products for all your cleaning and beauty needs.