Your liver is one of the most important organs in the body, but it can be damaged surprisingly easily and often doesn’t complain until problems are quite far advanced. Too much alcohol can cause liver disease (even if we only drink a little over recommended limits), as can other factors like a fatty diet and catching one of the hepatitis viruses. Since maintaining a healthy liver is essential, you’ll benefit from knowing how this organ functions and how you can give it a regular boost to keep it in tip-top condition.
What does the liver do?
Your liver does a host of jobs, but the most important are related to your blood and digestive system. The liver creates bile to help process our food, converting fats and sugars into energy in the form of glycogen. It also detoxifies the blood from impurities, including the likes of alcohol and medications, as well as promoting good clotting if we get injured. It converts the ammonia our body produces into urea, which then passes out through our urine.
What are the symptoms of liver disease?
There are few early symptoms of any form of liver disease, but later symptoms include reduced appetite, weight loss, lethargy and jaundice. Your liver can become irreparably scarred and damage—a condition known as “cirrhosis”—leaving a smaller amount of liver to cope with all its tasks.
Ways to boost your liver health
1. Enjoy alcohol responsibly
Always stay within the recommended limits for alcohol consumption. Persistent strain on your liver can lead to cirrhosis, and apart from the other serious health risks associated with binge drinking, over-indulging can literally poison the liver.
2. Control your weight
It stands to reason that the larger your body mass, the harder your liver has to work to manage all its many functions, so keep your weight at a healthy level and you won’t overtax your liver.
3. Limit your intake of saturated fats and sugar
Your liver works overtime to process fats and sugars, and if it’s given too much to manage then it simply stores it as fat. This can cause fatty liver disease, which in turn can develop into cirrhosis.
4. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise is a great way to help manage your weight, but studies have shown that it can have a direct impact on boosting your liver function as well. Aerobic exercise (e.g. running or cycling) increases the amount of oxygen your body takes in, which benefits all your organs—including your liver.
5. Stay hydrated
When you become dehydrated, your blood can literally become thicker. Because your liver processes the blood to remove impurities, it needs to work harder to filter thicker blood, which causes undue strain over time. Some people also believe that adding lemon juice to water can help the liver create bile more easily.
6. Eat a varied diet
It makes sense that eating a broad range of healthy foods means your liver isn’t overloaded with managing one kind of foodstuff. In particular, fatty foods should only be eaten occasionally.
7. Swap fatty meats for beans and pulses
Beans and pulses (e.g. soybeans and lentils) not only taste great but are a wonderful, low-fat source of protein. Broaden your diet to include more dishes created from beans and pulses, or use them to eke out meat dishes to make them healthier.
8. Eat more green vegetables
Your liver needs vitamin K to function properly, so eating foods that are high in this vitamin will help it do its job more effectively. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, chard and collard greens are all packed with vitamin K, as are favorites like broccoli, Brussel sprouts and even cauliflower.
9. Nibble on dried fruit
Dried fruits contain plenty of vitamin C which, amongst its other benefits, keeps your blood in good condition. Naturally, this helps your liver because of its role in filtering the blood. However, dried fruit is also high in sugar, so don’t overdo it!
10. Eat nuts regularly
Last of all, nuts are a very healthy alternative source of protein, and their unsaturated fats help keep cholesterol levels low. Healthier blood equals a healthier liver, but—again—eat them in moderation as they’re quite high in calories!