Natural Ways to Improve Liver Function
Did you know that the liver is the second largest organ in your body, the largest intestinal organ, and the only organ to regenerate?
Many people must be aware of the importance of all the liver functions and processes in the body.
The liver is also a silent organ; we often neglect liver problems until it becomes severe.
The truth it life is impossible without a working liver. That is why we believe in the importance of taking care of it and preventing liver problems in the future. Keep reading this blog to understand how you can do this naturally.
What are the functions of the liver?
The liver is brown-colored and about the size of a football. It sits on the upper right side of your abdomen and weighs between 1200 to 1600 grams. To successfully maintain its functions, your liver processes around 1.5 liters of blood per minute, about ¼ of the blood ejected by the heart.
Hepatocytes are the primary building block of the liver. They are arranged in rows with channels between them containing bile.
The gallbladder is located on the lower surface of the liver and stores the bile made in the liver. Its primary function is the fat breakdown in the intestines.
Bile consists of water, cholesterol, electrolytes, bile acids, phospholipids, and decomposed components of the red blood cells.
The liver uses fats from food and metabolizes them into new forms, like phospholipids, triglycerides, and cholesterol.
Cholesterol made in the liver is essential for the functioning of each cell in the body; vitamin D, some hormones, and bile are made from that cholesterol.
Carbohydrates are essential energy sources for our bodies, and they are found in fruits, legumes, cereals, sugar, etc. Dietary carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, known as blood sugar. Glucose is then absorbed and, through blood, comes to the liver, where it is stored as glycogen or fatty acids.
The amount of glucose held that way is enough for 24 hours without eating; after that, the liver can synthesize glucose from substances formed by the breakdown of proteins and fats.
The liver is essential for maintaining proper glucose levels in the blood.
Vitamins, minerals, and hormones metabolism
The liver stores many vitamins and minerals, like vitamins A, D, E, B12, K, and iron. Some hormones inactivated in the liver are insulin, glucagon, glucocorticoids, growth hormone, estrogen, etc.
The liver uses protein from food broken down to amino acids as a building material for liver proteins and the synthesis of plasma proteins, which have many vital functions in the body. Some are immunoglobulins (necessary for the immune system), coagulation factors (important for blood clotting), and transport proteins (essential for transferring iron, copper, and other substances through the body).
The role of the liver is particularly significant in toxin metabolism. Medications and toxins are transformed into less toxic substances in the liver with special enzymes.
The enzymes can convert them into more water-soluble substances, which are more easily excreted from the body through the kidneys (urine) and intestines (stool).
The liver metabolizes about 90% alcohol intake (10% is excreted through the lungs and kidneys). The enzyme system triggered by alcohol intake leads to accelerated alcohol breakdown, which explains the development of increased alcohol tolerance. Simply put, people who drink alcohol over the years need more drinks to feel the alcohol effect.
However, the biotransformation process can lead to damage and death of the liver cells.
What are common liver problems?
The liver has a great capacity for regeneration. It can perform its functions even when only half of the liver tissue is preserved. However, liver diseases often have insidious courses without characteristic symptoms and progress gradually, causing severe damage to the point when transplanting a new liver is the only solution.
When the liver becomes badly scarred, and new cells can't grow back, it leads to liver failure.
According to the American Liver Foundation, one out of ten Americans suffer from liver disease.
Liver diseases have many causes: metabolic and vascular disorders, genetics, viral infections, substance abuse, medications and herbs overuse, autoimmune diseases, excessive fat accumulation, cancer, etc.
The most common signs of liver problems are:
- Dark urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pail stool
- Yellowish and itchy skin
- Abdominal pain
- Easy bruising
- Weight and appetite loss
- Constipation, gas, bloating
- Swelling ankles and legs
- Enlarged liver
- Weakness and confusion
- Tenderness over the liver
- Blood in the stool
- Vomiting blood
Some of the most common liver diseases are:
It can be acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis occurs suddenly and can last up to 6 months. It can be caused by viruses (hepatitis A, B, and C), toxins, fatty liver, parasites, or metabolic disorders.
Chronic hepatitis lasts longer than six months, and sometimes people are unaware they have problems until routine check-ups. The causes are viruses (hepatitis B, C, and D), autoimmune disorders, and medications. This disease is accompanied by liver fibrosis (forming scars on the liver and slow loss of function).
Toxic liver damage
The liver is a filter that cleans the blood from toxins.
Predictable toxins are the ones we expect to damage the liver. The damage depends on the medication dose, a consequence of some toxic metabolites created in a drug transformation process. Medications known to harm the liver are acetaminophen, some antibiotics, antidepressants, oral contraceptives, cytostatics, antifungal drugs, etc.
Unpredictable toxins are hereditarily determined abnormal reactions to a drug that are not related to the dose or the method of drug administration.
Patients with toxic liver damage should avoid medications that cause problems because each drug's subsequent use may lead to even more significant liver damage.
Alcoholic liver disease
Consuming a certain amount of alcohol for an extended period causes liver damage. For instance, a man that drinks 0.5l of wine for 20 years is likely to get cirrhosis. Alcoholic liver disease usually has three stages: fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
Fatty liver is a reversible condition, meaning that if you stop alcohol abuse at this stage, the liver can recover completely. This stage of liver disease is mostly without symptoms and is discovered during a regular physical exam.
If a patient does not stop alcohol abuse, the following stages are irreversible. Fibrosis, a condition where liver cells deteriorate and scar tissue formats, is a sign of alcoholic hepatitis. The symptoms are jaundice, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, and fever.
The next stage of alcoholic liver disease is forming of scar tissue and regenerative nodes, also known as cirrhosis. Alcohol cirrhosis has the same clinical picture, complications, course of treatment, and outcome as any other cirrhosis.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
It is the leading cause of liver diseases in the Western world, and it is also known as Metabolic syndrome disease. Metabolic syndrome is caused by high blood pressure, high blood sugar, being overweight, high blood fat, and insulin resistance. Two primary forms of the disease are hepatitis and fat build-up.
NAFL has no symptoms and is discovered chiefly on the regular physical exam.
Cirrhosis develops when scar tissue replaces healthy liver cells, permanently damaging the liver. The scars block the blood flow through the liver, slowing the liver's ability to process toxins, drugs, hormones, and nutrients. It also slows down the production of proteins and other liver-made substances.
The damage caused by cirrhosis can not be undone, but further damage may be limited if discovered early. Advanced cirrhosis may be life-threatening.
Symptoms of cirrhosis may be itchy skin, fatigue, nausea, jaundice, weight loss, leg edema, appetite loss, bruising easily, etc. The main risk factors for developing cirrhosis are alcohol abuse, viral hepatitis, and being overweight.
In advanced cirrhosis cases, a liver transplant is the only sustainable option.
Liver failure is caused by many different diseases: fatty liver, hepatitis, hemochromatosis, alcohol hepatitis, toxins overuse, etc. It occurs when scarring becomes so severe that the liver can not function.
Liver failure is often tough to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other diseases.
Chronic liver failure takes years to develop, and it may cause jaundice, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, fluid retention in the legs and abdomen, appetite loss, etc.
If the liver fails suddenly (acute liver failure), a person may have movement problems, bleeding, mental status changes, jaundice, etc.
Both acute and chronic failure, if not treated, may result in death.
Diagnosis and treatment of liver problems
It is crucial to find the extent of the liver damage and the exact cause of the disease to find the right treatment plan. When your doctor suspects you may have liver problems, they may run different tests to make a diagnosis: hepatitis virus screen, complete blood cell count, blood clotting test, blood tests to check the levels of liver enzymes, ammonia, bilirubin, and albumin; physical exam, CT, ultrasound, and liver biopsy could also be performed.
The treatment depends on the liver damage extent. It often includes lifestyle changes, medications, and in severe cases, liver transplants.
Natural ways to improve liver function
1. Avoid alcohol
As we already discussed, alcohol is primarily processed in the liver. So when you drink too much, the liver needs to "work overtime " to restore your body balance. To protect your liver, you should drink moderately; one daily for women and two daily for men.
The earliest stage of alcoholic liver disease could be reversed by abstaining from alcohol for at least six weeks. Sometimes the abstinence period may have to become permanent.
2. Keep a healthy body weight.
Obese people are in danger of developing fatty liver disease, a condition of excess fat build-up in the liver. Try to keep your body mass index between 18 and 25. You can try to do it alone or ask your doctor for help. The best way to lose weight and maintain health is to exercise regularly and eat a well-balanced diet.
3. Drink coffee
Coffee is the best drink you can have to help your liver. Coffee decreases inflammation, increases antioxidant levels, and prevents fat and collagen build-up. Drinking coffee prevents permanent liver damage, known as cirrhosis. The best part is that any coffee you have will do the trick.
4. Avoid toxins
Certain prescribed drugs and herbal remedies put much stress on your liver. For example, acetaminophen, certain antibiotics, statins, and herbs like borage, ephedra, and comfrey, may damage your liver.
Always take your medications in doses prescribed by your healthcare provider, and avoid taking them with alcohol. If you notice any liver damage symptoms after taking a new drug, speak to your doctor.
Some pesticides, insecticides, and other household products may harm your liver. Try to avoid the use of these products. If you use them, always read labels, wear a mask, and ensure the room is ventilated.
5. Avoid viral infections
The best way of avoiding Hepatitis A and B is to get vaccinated. Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood, so avoid sharing used needles. If you get in contact with someone's blood, seek medical attention. Practice safe sex, and use a condom or other barrier during sex. Please do not share personal items, like toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, or other products that may have blood or body fluids on them. Wash your hands regularly because hepatitis A is transmitted through touching food with contaminated hands.
6. Eat healthy food
Eat fruit and vegetables from all the rainbow colors to ensure you get the fibers and nutrients your liver needs. Avoid food that contains too much sugar, unhealthy fats, and salt. Drink at least six glasses of water daily to stay hydrated. Choose lean protein sources, such as legumes and seafood, and try to limit the amount of processed food you eat. Some of the best foods to keep your liver healthy are:
- Blueberries and cranberries
- Red grapes
- Green tea
- Olive oil
- Brussel sprouts
- Fatty fish
- Beetroot juice
- Prickly pear
- Healthy fat
- Leafy greens
- Sour food
- Green grasses
- Raw honey
- Coconut oil
Your liver breaks down sugar, proteins, and fats and can quickly become overloaded with work. So a good high-fiber, low-sugar, and low-toxin diet will benefit your liver. By adding antioxidants and fiber, liver damage might be reversed.
7. Herbal medicines
Some herbal medicines have been used for centuries for good liver health. They may help your liver remove toxins and boost nutrients: milk thistle, dandelion root, licorice root, holy basil, and bupleurum.
On the other hand, some might hurt your liver. We advise you to avoid using mistletoe, valerian, comfrey, kava, germander, skullcap, etc.
Before taking any herbal supplement, talk to your healthcare provider about potential risks.
The Bottom Line
The liver is a vital organ with many essential bodily functions. It would be best if you did everything you could to protect it.
Make sure you see your doctor regularly because many liver diseases do not have symptoms early on.
By eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and substance abuse, and managing stress, you can do wonders for your liver.
If you have been diagnosed with liver disease, please note that many people recover from liver disease with treatment and lifestyle changes.
Sources: AmericanLiver Foundation, JohnsHopkins Medicine, Healthline, WebMD, BestmadeNaturalProducts, Dr.Axe, MayoClinic, Cleveland Clinic