Foods to Support Optimal Liver Function
The liver is the second largest organ in the body, after the skin being the largest. Our livers work incredibly hard performing over 500 (known) separate duties to help ensure the proper functioning of the overall system. Among that long list of responsibilities, is the liver’s role as one of the primary modes of detoxification in our bodies (The five major elimination organs of the body: Liver, Skin, Colon, Kidneys and Lungs.) The liver is like a highly intelligent and sophisticated filter – filtering the blood to remove toxins, harmful substances and excess hormones. The liver metabolizes everything you eat or are exposed to. We might not be able to always control what we are exposed to in the environment but we can control what we eat.
Thankfully the liver is amazingly regenerative. So no matter what you may have consumed in the past, it’s possible to start improving the health of our liver by making conscious choices about what we put in our bodies. The cellular turnover of our liver is quite fast with every single cell being replaced approximately every forty days.
Symptoms of a Sluggish Liver
A variety of factors including excessive alcohol and drug consumption, overuse of pharmaceutical drugs and medications, food and environmental toxins, can all contributes to liver damage.
Signs of a poorly functioning liver:
- Tiredness, fatigue
- bad breath,
- allergies and food intolerance,
- problem skin and
- weight gain.
- anxiety/ depression
- impaired libido
- Abdominal pain
- Darkened urine
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it may be an indication that your liver can benefit from a little extra support. As I will discuss in the next section, you may also be experiencing these symptoms while actively detoxifying your body. In that case, no need to be alarmed by these symptoms unless the progress for longer than 1-2 weeks.
Detoxification & Energy Levels
One of the primary physical symptoms of a sluggish liver is a sluggish body. So much of our energy is allocated towards detoxifying the body. If your liver is overloaded with toxins, so much of the body’s energy will be focusing on detoxification, leaving less energy for other body processes resulting in low energy levels.
Living Foods & Liver Function
Luckily, we can choose foods that help support the liver. The good news is that if you’re following a raw, living food lifestyle, you’re already doing wonders for your liver as this way of eating is super high in phytonutrients, enzymes, anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats – all essential to the proper functioning of the liver.
Eating raw, living foods can help improve and support liver function and will result in improved energy levels. Lightly steamed or lightly cooked are viable options too. That’s one of the reasons that people eating this way feel so great and experience dramatic increases in energy – because there’s been a lightening of toxic load on the liver. This is also one of the reasons why you may experience lower energy levels the first 1-2 weeks of transitioning to the raw food lifestyle, because as you lose weight, your liver is detoxifying a massive extra load of toxins that got stored in the fat cells. Now, as the weight is coming off, all these excess toxins are flooding your bloodstream and the liver has to deal with them, and a lot of energy has to go towards this, sucking energy away from other vital functions. Don’t worry though, this is a very important and necessary phase to go through and ‘this too shall pass’.
Eating in Alignment with a Healthier Liver
Foods that help maintain the liver provide support because of two main reasons. Either the there’s a substance in the particular food that promotes the detoxification of the liver. Or, if the food is very high in it’s anti-oxidant content, then it will protect the liver while it’s carrying our it’s functions.
Foods To Support Liver Function
Eat High-Antioxidant Fruits + Apples
Antioxidants help to protect the liver from the high levels of free radicals that are naturally produced during the process of detoxification. All the berries are extremely high in anti-oxidants, so are oranges, prunes, grapefruit, cantaloupe and pears. Apples are also high in anti-oxidants and also contain pectin, known to bind with heavy metals and help their excretion reducing the load on the liver.
Leafy Greens – Especially Bitter Greens
Greens are super cleansing foods that offer a powerful support to the liver. All greens are extremely high in plant chlorophylls and help cleanse environmental toxins in the blood stream. Greens have an ability to neutralize heavy metals.
In this category of leafy greens, it’s especially important to focus on bitter leafy greens, including dandelion, chicory, endive, and rocket.
The bitterness of these foods helps to stimulate bile flow within the liver, (bile helps remove waste from the organs and blood.) Dandelion greens are abundant everywhere. You can grow them quite easily in a garden, but make sure if your wild foraging for dandelion greens that you’re not picking off of someone’s chemically sprayed lawn.
Similarly to dandelion, artichoke had the ability to help the liver regenerate. It stimulates and increases bile production, helping remove toxins and unfriendly bacteria through the bowels. Some research suggests that 30 minutes after eating globe artichoke, bile flow is increased by over 100%[i]
Sulfur Containing Foods
The liver uses sulfur containing compounds to help in detoxification from environmental toxins, prescription medications, poor dietary choices, and alcohol. Sulfur containing foods include two main categories: garlic and onions, and the cruciferous vegetables.
Garlic and Onions
Garlic is a very strong herb and should not be over-used. It is highly medicinal and should be used in moderation for specific purposes. Garlic helps the liver with detoxification because of a sulfur-based compound called allicin. It is also thought that garlic can help the liver detoxify mercury from the body, as well as excess estrogen.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts and kale are also good sources of sulfur and help the liver detoxify. They can help neutralize nitrosamines and aflotoxin, the primary toxin found in peanuts (which I highly avoid consuming). Cruciferous vegetables help the liver to produce enzymes it needs for its detoxification processes.
Beets are rich in a particular phytonutrient called betaine, that supports the liver in is function to convert fat to energy. Beets also help purify the blood and are capable of absorbing heavy metals, reducing the toxic load on the liver.
Herbs & Spices to Support Liver Function
Milk thistle is a very common ingredient in most herbal liver support blends and is widely recommended for anyone dealing with liver problems and useful in restoring liver function. Most studies show milk thistle improves liver function because of a flavanoid called silymarin – the active ingredient that helps to protect the liver. Silymarin, a strong anti-oxidant, providing protection from the damaging effects of free radicals, is extracted from the seeds of the milk thistle plant. Silymarin helps repair damaged liver cells, keeps new cells from being destroyed, and helps reduce inflammation of the liver. You can find milk thistle at your local health food store and talk with the in-house herbalist for specifics about dosage.
(Note that pregnant or breastfeeding women should not consume milk thistle.)
Not only is turmeric an amazing spice that adds wonderful flavors to any traditional Middle-Eastern meal, it’s and also highly regarded for it’s medicinal properties. This spice has a huge range of health benefits, including its ability to help detoxify the liver. Turmeric contains a high concentration of curcumin, a potent anti-oxidant that protects the liver from damage. Turmeric stimulates bile production in the liver and encourages excretion of bile via the gallbladder. This improves the body’s ability to digest fats. Turmeric is also a powerful anti-inflammatory as well as contributes enzymes that help flush out dietary and environmental carcinogens.
Astragalus has immune strengthening properties and has been shown to protect against chemical related liver damage, due to one of its key active ingredients called saponin.
Other herbs to incorporate into your diet to help support the healthy functioning of the liver include parsley, cinnamon and licorice.
Fluid to Support Liver Function
One of the easiest and cost efficient ways to help support your liver immediately is to start your day with a tall glass of lemon or lime (or combination) water at room temperature. This will help stimulate your liver first thing in the morning, helping to cleanse it and promote detoxification. It also stimulates bowel movement, which is essential for the body’s aid in detoxification. It also helps stimulate bile production and the vitamin C content helps the liver synthesize toxins into a water-soluble substance for easy removal by the body.
It’s also important to drink lots of water throughout the day as well to keep hydrated and to help flush the liver of toxins.
Maintain a Healthy liver – What to Avoid
Make sure the food you’re consuming is organically grown, otherwise you’re just adding extra toxins (pesticides and chemical strays) along with the food you’re eating.
It’s also especially important to give your liver this extra support if you are taking any pharmaceutical medications, as this all gets processed through your liver. Also avoid fast food, deep-fried foods, processed foods, high sugar foods and high (unhealthy) fat foods. Also minimize your consumption of smoked, cured and salted foods.
This pretty much points you in the direction of real, whole, organic foods! Increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet will do wonder for your health and dramatically improve the health of your liver.
Gallbladder support foods too! Yes, there will be crossover. Remember to eat seasonal, local and enjoy! This is not the gallbladder post, but important to think of the two as dance partners ;)!
Beets, Cucumbers, Green beans , Okra, Sweet potatoes, Avocados, Vinegars – all types, Garlic and onions, Shallots, Tomatoes – ripe, Cold water fish – salmon, trout, etc, Lemon/lime, Grapes and fresh organic grape juice, Apples, berries, papaya, pears
*Data obtained from other source, can't find link for credit!