January is love your liver month, an initiative organised by the British Liver Trust.
The liver is the biggest organ in our body, using up to 27% of our resting metabolism and filtering 1.4 litres of blood per minute.
The liver is involved in hundreds of essential body functions the most important being:
- Fighting infection and disease
- Destroying poisons and drugs (including alcohol)
- Cleaning the blood from microbes and pathogens
- Controlling the amount of cholesterol
- Processing food once it has been digested
- Producing bile, which is needed for fats digestions and waste excretion
- Heat production
- Synthesis of plasma proteins
- Storage of vitamins (A, D, E, K, B12), iron, glycogen and copper.
It’s easy to understand that keeping our liver healthy and functioning to its full potential is vital for overall health. The liver can get damaged by excessive fat accumulation, leading to no-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the most common liver disease worldwide which, if left untreated, can eventually lead to liver inflammation and finally to cirrhosis. Excessive alcohol intake can also damage the liver, as well as viral infections such as hepatitis.
A compromised liver won’t be efficient in dealing with its many functions, having detrimental effects on overall health from immunity, to cholesterol levels, blood glucose levels, digestion and micronutrient status.
How can nutrition support the liver?
Nutrition is vital when considering liver health, and various interventions and factors should be considered.
- Keeping a healthy weight is important when it comes to liver health, as obesity has been associated with NAFLD. A 5% reduction in BMI is accompanied by a 25% reduction in liver fat, making weight management a powerful tool to preserve liver health.
- The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest diets, and its benefits are particularly important for liver health because of its rich in polyunsaturated fats, polyphenols, vitamins and carotenoids content, which exert an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects protective for the liver.
- Alcohol is considered a toxin by the body, and the liver is the organ in charge of metabolizing this toxin to make it harmless. Excessive alcohol consumption or binge drinking can damage the liver, with studies assessing that binge drinking in youth precedes the development of cirrhosis in adulthood. A moderate alcohol consumption and avoiding binging is essential when discussing liver health.
- Reducing processed foods in favour of antioxidant rich vegetables and whole grains can be protective for liver health, as a very processed diet rich in fructose based syrups (used in many processed foods) can damage the liver increasing fat accumulation in this organ.
Best liver foods
Studies have assessed that certain foods can be beneficial for liver health, and consequently should be part of everybody’s diet:
- Carotenoids (compounds that give fruit and vegetables a distinctive orange colour) accumulate in the liver, where they exert an antioxidant action. Studies show that they can be protective towards NAFLD and other forms of liver inflammation.
- Studies found that coffee can be protective towards NAFLD and liver fibrosis as it can raise hepatic enzymes. Coffee can also be protective against further liver damage in patients with chronic hepatitis B and C.
- Studies have found that omega 3 polyunsaturated fats can reduce fat accumulation in the liver, possibly preventing NAFLD. Oily fish, nuts and seeds are good sources of this healthy fats.
Supporting liver health is key to reaching optimal health, and diet is essential in doing so. A registered nutritionist can help you understand if your current diet is not supporting enough and if there are signs of liver malfunction. A taylor made diet rich in liver supporting nutrients can help support liver and overall health.
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