Your liver is the largest organ in your body, and it plays a vital role in your overall health. Many people assume liver problems only develop in people with alcohol dependencies, but the incidence of liver problems like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is rising rapidly, particularly among younger people. Alarmingly, up to 30% of the population in North America and Europe are affected by a fatty liver. It's important not to neglect your liver health, because it performs many important functions in your body - over 500 bodily processes involve your liver!
On the surface, the liver’s job sounds straightforward. The digestive system delivers blood to the liver through the portal vein. Once that blood arrives, cells in your liver called hepatocytes act as a filtration system to remove toxins and create energy. The detoxification process helps your body rid itself of harmful substances like excess hormones, harmful food additives, and environmental pollutants. Behind that simple explanation, however, lies a complex network of processes that include:
With so many functions in its wheelhouse, it’s not surprising that liver problems can have a deep impact on your health. One of the most common is NAFLD, in which fatty tissues build up in your liver. Left untreated, this can develop into cirrhosis and even liver cancer.
The liver also has an important function in hormonal balance. It is not responsible for the production of hormones but it plays an important part in the maintenance of it by acting as a processor, during the manufacturing, regulation, and carrying out of the functions of the hormones in the body. Specifically, the liver helps in:
In order to keep a balance with the hormone systems of the body, the liver plays an important role to help to clean up and remove excess or old hormones in the body. Health problems can occur if the liver is not maintained with essential nutrients to perform the functions in the body.
One of the most common and debilitating symptoms of liver problems is overwhelming, unexplained fatigue. One study found that patients with a fatty liver frequently experience extreme fatigue during the day no matter how much they slept the previous night. Pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen is another symptom. Other possible indicators of liver problems include:
The good news is that your liver is amazingly resilient. It’s one of the few organs that can regenerate under the right conditions, so healthy lifestyle changes can go a long way to restoring liver health. Below are some strategies to support your liver.
Because of the tight interconnection between your liver and your digestive system, maintaining healthy gut health is important. High-fiber complex carbohydrates like beans and oatmeal have been proven effective in fighting NAFLD, as have leafy green vegetables like spinach.
At the same time, reduce or eliminate processed sugar and white flour intake. These foods not only lead to weight gain, but they can also raise your blood sugar, which taxes your liver. Similarly, choose unsaturated fats like olive oil over saturated fats like butter, as saturated fats increase the amount of fat in your liver.
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