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How Can I Keep My Liver Healthy?

Learn how to keep your liver function healthy with the right diet and lifestyle in our complete guide. Measure your baseline and monitor changes using liver function tests.

A Healthy Liver In Terms Of Liver Function

When we talk about liver health, it's important to understand what role the liver plays in the body, and how it can affect your health. The liver is a vital organ with as many as 500 different functions affecting the whole body.

One of the main liver functions is its metabolic activity. Everything you consume, for example, food, liquids, alcohol, drugs, and toxins, is processed by the liver.

Food passes from the stomach to the small intestine as you eat, where it is absorbed into the circulation system and is afterwards processed through the liver.

The liver plays a critical role in removing harmful substances and toxins from the body, converting them so they can be excreted in urine or faeces.

Some of the significant liver functions include:

  • Production of bile: Bile helps break down and digest carbohydrates, cholesterol, and certain vitamins in the small intestine. Bile is made up of bile salts, cholesterol, electrolytes, bilirubin, and water.
  • Bilirubin absorption and metabolisation: Bilirubin is formed by haemoglobin breakdown. In the liver or bone marrow, the iron released from haemoglobin is processed and used to produce the next generation of blood cells.
  • Supporting blood clots: For the formation of certain coagulants that help clot the blood, vitamin K is required. Bile is necessary for the absorption of vitamin K and is produced in the liver. If adequate bile is not produced by the liver, clotting factors cannot be produced.
  • Metabolise fats: Bile breaks fats down and makes it easier to digest them.
  • Metabolise carbohydrates: To retain regular glucose levels, carbohydrates are processed in the liver where they are broken down into glucose and siphoned into the bloodstream. Whenever a short burst of power is needed, they are stored as glycogen and released.
  • Vitamin and mineral storage: Vitamins A, D, E, K, and B12 are contained in the liver. In several cases, vitamins of many years' worth are kept as a buffer. In the form of ferritin, the liver retains iron from haemoglobin, ready to make new red blood cells. There is also copper stored and released by the liver.
  • Helps to metabolise proteins: Bile helps to break down digestion proteins.
  • Blood filters: The liver filters and extracts from the body drugs, including hormones such as estrogen and aldosterone, and compounds, including alcohol and other medications, from outside the body.
  • Immune function: The liver is part of the phagocyte system. It comprises significant numbers of cells of Kupffer which are involved in the immune response. Any disease-causing agents that may enter the liver through the gut are killed by these cells.

Overall liver function can be checked using a liver function (LFT) blood test. You can learn more about liver function testing here.

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Six Top Things To Avoid For A Healthy Liver

Although there is huge potential to regenerate, the liver is dependent on being kept healthy to do so. Through lifestyle decisions and the correct nutrition, the liver will be mostly preserved. Below are some recommendations to help keep your liver healthy:

1. Moderate alcohol intake 

We are always advised that too much alcohol is harmful to us, and you may have questioned how alcohol influences your liver while sipping a glass of wine or beer. Your body can deal with a limited amount of alcohol being consumed. The liver, though, can only tolerate a small amount of alcohol at any given time, so the liver cells (hepatocytes) fail to regenerate if you drink more than the liver can cope with by drinking too fast or drinking too much over a brief period.

When alcohol approaches the liver, in addition to other tissues, such as the stomach lining that causes gastritis or peptic ulcer disease, it releases a toxic enzyme called acetaldehyde that can kill liver cells and cause permanent scarring known as cirrhosis.

If you choose to drink excessively, either by binge drinking or by having several drinks regularly, the implications include liver cell destruction, fat deposits in the liver (fatty liver), or inflammation of the liver (alcoholic hepatitis), permanent scarring (cirrhosis) or even liver cancer.

2. Maintain a healthy weight:

Eating too much fat will overwork the liver and disrupt it from other activities. Fatty liver disease is attributed to obesity.

It can cause insulin resistance if you bear some extra weight around the middle, which also contributes to fatty liver disease. Measure and keep your waist at a healthy circumference, less than 102cm (40 inches) for men and less than 88cm (35 inches) for women. You can sustain a good weight and liver function by exercising and consuming a diet that is low in calories and rich in fibre, vitamins, enzymes and minerals. See below for some tips here!

3. Caution when combining medications

When combined, some prescription drugs and natural remedies may interfere adversely. A significant strain is exerted on the liver when mixing medications with alcohol. Combining alcohol and paracetamol, for instance, can lead to acute liver failure. Be careful to follow all prescription directions.

4. Protection against airborne contaminants

The room should be well ventilated when painting or using heavy cleaning or planting chemicals, or a mask should be worn. Since the liver needs to process all toxins that penetrate the body, airborne chemicals can cause liver damage.

5. Travel and vaccination

If you're travelling to a region where hepatitis A or B might be a problem, vaccination is important. In the liver, malaria develops and multiplies, and yellow fever can lead to failure of the liver. Oral medicine and vaccine will eliminate all diseases.

6. Safer sex

There is no hepatitis C vaccine, but caution is highly recommended concerning safe sex, tattoos and piercings. If you are concerned you have an STI you can check our range of STI tests here.

Ability Of The Liver To Regenerate

Evolution has ensured that the liver can regenerate rapidly after damage, so long as it is kept healthy. Such is the significance of maintaining normal liver function. 

Even after 75% of liver tissue has been removed or damaged (e.g. after a donation or overdose) it will regenerate completely. One of the most amazing features of this accomplishment is that there is no reduction in normal liver function as it regenerates to its previous size. This can occur very quickly in as little as 30 days.

A variety of compounds, including growth factors and cytokines, aid this regeneration. Some of the most significant compounds in the process are:

  • norepinephrine
  • epidermal growth factor
  • insulin
  • transforming growth factor-alpha
  • hepatocyte growth factor
  • interleukin-6

Don't worry if you don't recognise the names of the compounds needed for regeneration! Your body manufacturers them, from the food you eat. And that is something you can control!

Eleven Foods To Help Improve Liver Function

You will help preserve your liver and encourage it to do what it does best, using a combination of nourishing, liver-healthy foods and liver-supporting ingredients.

Diets also play an important function in the health of the liver. Avoid processed foods, extra salt, refined sugar (soft drinks, biscuits, etc.), red meat and fried foods for maximum liver function. To keep the liver satisfied and healthy, it's best to adhere to a diet high in fruits and vegetables, beans and whole grains.

Private Online Testing - How Can I Keep My Liver Healthy?

Show your liver some love and consume the following foods to help boost liver function and health of your liver:

Nuts

Studies show that in cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, consuming nuts increases levels of liver enzymes. A moderate amount of daily nuts can help improve liver function, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans and brazil nuts. You should add nuts to your meals or simply snack on a handful.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are made up of cabbage, radish, arugula, sprouts of Brussels, turnips, etc. These vegetables are low in calories and are high in folate as well as vitamins C and E. There are glucosinolates in broccoli and cauliflower, which help the liver produce detoxifying enzymes. Leafy vegetables can get rid of toxins from the bloodstream, such as broccoli, bok choy, and arugula, and neutralize heavy metals, helping to protect the liver.

Spices

Spices have been found to have a beneficial effect on the liver especially those such as coriander, cumin, fennel and turmeric. Turmeric helps to detoxify metals in the liver, amplifies the production of bile and repairs liver cells. Coriander helps improve liver function and includes anti-inflammatory properties. It is believed that cumin may also improve the production of bile from the liver.

Beans

A perfect source of protein and fibre is beans. Some research indicates that by stopping fat from growing in the liver, beans maintain liver function, reducing the risk of fatty liver. Kidney beans and navy beans allow the body to easily get rid of waste. Ditch baked beans filled with extra salt and go sodium-free where possible. Best of all, beans, including soups, tacos, wraps, and chilli, are not only inexpensive but easy to add to several meals.

Berries

Berries such as raspberries and blueberries are high in antioxidants, which can prevent heart disease, cancer and protect the liver from injury. As well as defective cells in the liver known as liver lesions, berries are also believed to resist excess fibrous connective tissue in the liver. For a daily boost, incorporate berries into your morning smoothie, cereal, or salad.

Oatmeal

Stick to whole oatmeal or steel-cut oats that are free from refined sugar when going for your nutritious breakfast. Oatmeal is fibre-rich and assists digestion. It is assumed that compounds present in oatmeal also decrease the amount of fat in the liver. To start your morning, oatmeal topped with berries and nuts is the best in cultivating liver health.

Beets and Beet juice

Beets can shield the liver from inflammation and oxidative damage, which can lead to cirrhosis, fibrosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, and more, many liver diseases. Beet juice, which is responsible for the liver being able to detox, can activate liver enzymes and improve bile content.

Grapes

Reports say that the antioxidants used in grapes and grape juice will help reduce damage to the liver. By minimising inflammation, it may also be helpful for the liver. Grapes can help keep fat from collecting within the liver. Ellagic acid is an antioxidant present in grapes that has a protective effect on the liver's production of fat.

Olive Oil

Instead of water, cold-pressed organic oils, such as olive oil, coconut oil, or hemp oil, can help eliminate contaminants that dissolve in fat. However, these detoxification ingredients should be used in moderation. They are rich in calories which makes them more difficult for the liver to process.

Avocados

Additives in avocados could likely be accountable for slowing liver damage. In avocados, monounsaturated fat can reduce liver triglyceride levels, which can cause fatty liver disease. Avocados are a perfect source of folate, with a single one providing for more than 40 per cent of your daily requirements. Lowering the risk of liver cancer is linked with folate.

Green Tea

Green tea has a long-range of health benefits: enhancing brain function, increasing fat burning, increasing metabolism, and also lowering the risk of Alzheimer's disease and some cancers. Fortunately, beneficial effects on the liver are also involved. Drinking green tea (as a meal, not a supplement) is associated with reducing liver cancer, raising the levels of liver enzymes, reducing oxidative stress and reducing the liver's fat deposits.

CONCLUSION

A healthy liver functions very effectively. But there are many potential complications for an organ as complex as the liver. The results can be harmful or even lethal in a diseased or malfunctioning liver.

Liver function testing can help you establish your healthy liver function baseline, identify any concerns, and monitor improvements through diet and lifestyle changes. 

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Article Reviewed By

Doctors, Scientists & Experts Delivering Private Blood Testing Online

Dr. Kate Bishop |Chief Scientific Officer

Kate qualified with a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry from the University of Birmingham in 1999. She then went on to study for a PhD in Biochemistry, before progressing as College Research Business Development Manager. In addition to her role within Vitall she is currently the director of operations at the College of Medical and Dental Sciences.

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How Can I Keep My Liver Healthy?: References & Citations

  1. 6.14 Alcohol use disorders and alcoholic liver. (n.d.)http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/priority_medicines/Ch6_14Alcohol.pdf
  2. 13 ways to a healthy liver. (2013, October 4)https://www.liverfoundation.org/13-ways-to-a-healthy-liver/
  3. Bilzer, M., Roggel, F., & Gerbes, A. L. (2006, December). Role of Kupfer cells in host defence and liver disease [Abstract]. Liver International, 26(10), 1175-1186 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17105582
  4. Cancer patterns, trends, and burden. (n.d.)http://www.iarc.fr/en/publications/books/iarc50/IARC_Ch4.2.1_web.pdf
  5. Gilbert's syndrome. (2015, November 17) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gilberts-syndrome/
  6. Liver disease: Frequently asked questions. (n.d.) https://uihc.org/health-library/liver-disease-frequently-asked-questions
  7. Primary sclerosing cholangitis. (n.d.) https://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/liver-information/liver-conditions/primary-sclerosing-cholangitis/
  8. Secretion of bile and the role of bile acids in digestion. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/liver/bile.html
  9. The Liver: Anatomy and functions. (n.d.) https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=85&ContentID=P00676
  10. Vitamin K. (n.d.) http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-K
  11. What does the liver do? (2018, March 2) https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/305075

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