The liver is a gland consisting of numerous cells named hepatocytes which regulate a wide spectrum of biochemical reactions including synthesis and break down of molecules, decomposition of red blood cells, hormone production and many others.
It is important for the liver to be healthy and functional because it is involved in many crucial biochemical processes. The liver is the only human organ that can regenerate itself. It shows symptoms of a disease only after extensive damage. However, in case of a nonfunctional liver, the only long-term solution for a patient is liver transplantation.
Symptoms of liver damage
Classic symptoms include swelling of abdomen, ankles and wrists, fatigue because of the lack of nutrients and vitamins, bruising as a result of the liver not producing substances that prevent bleeding, yellow skin and/or eye whites as a result of bilirubin deposition, dark urine because of mixing bilirubin and urine, and pale stool because of lack of the brown pigment in the feces.
Human liver; image source: huffingtonpost.com
Diagnosis of liver disease
A physical examination can give information about the size and tenderness only. For a complete diagnosis, liver tests are needed, liver enzymes (aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT)) are examined, and if an infection is suspected serological tests are carried out. If the cause is still unknown, liver biopsy can also be performed.
Liver function can be compromised by nutritional deficiency, taking medication and other drugs, frequent coffee and cigarettes consumption, enjoying processed food and goods rich in fats and cholesterol, regular use of artificial sweeteners, and not eating enough meat.
There are a number of known liver pathologies like hepatitis (A, B, C, D, E) which is inflammation of the liver. The disease is viral, but it can also be sexually transmitted or caused by a herpes infection. Hepatitis B and C infections are the main causes for liver cancer.
Budd-Chiari syndrome is a condition of blocked veins that drain the liver; alcoholic liver diseases are caused by extreme alcohol use. The illnesses also include alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis and fatty liver disease.
How to improve liver function
The liver stores iron and vitamins, it produces bile – a substance important for the digestion of fats, it provides glucose when sugar levels drop below normal, it breaks down old red blood cells and hemoglobin.
The liver cleans the body from externally consumed and internally produced toxins. Because of its involvement in many essential functions, it is very important for the liver to be healthy.
Many of the low-carb diets suggest eating more meat while lowering the intake of fruits and vegetables. In the case of eating a lot of protein, the stomach will be unable to digest them all which can result in slow digestion and accumulation of toxins.
In general, you should avoid eating deep fried foods, chips, candy, pizza, biscuits, bread containing refined flour (like bagels, muffins and donuts) and consume fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.
Fresh fruit and vegetables
Enjoying foods rich in gluthatione will help liver detoxification. Gluthatione is a substance that neutralizes free radicals, boosts the immune system and cleans the liver. The gluthatione-rich foods list includes carrots, tomatoes, grapefruit, avocado, spinach. Walnuts are also a good source of gluthatione, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
Other foods that help flush out toxins are garlic and onion because of the presence of sulfur, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower because they increase glucosinolate production, and leafy green vegetables because of the presence of chlorophyll. Consuming the good fats – coconut, olive, flax-seed and fish oils is also a good method for improving the liver function.
For better functioning, you should limit the intake of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. Substitute them with non-alcoholic drinks, water, lemon juice in combination with water or tea, and fresh smoothies containing berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries).
Workout regularly, at least 2 times per week. This will help maintain your weight and lower the chances of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease that leads to cirrhosis.
Overall, keep a balanced diet that consists of all kinds of healthy foods that contain nutrients needed for a fit body. Include beets, sweet potatoes, lentils, kale, citrus, nuts, seeds, yogurt in your diet, and add spices like ginger, cinnamon and curcumine.
Also, you should avoid eating outsized meals. Instead eat more frequently during the day, but small meals (salads, soups, smoothies) made of easy digestible foods.
Consume the last meal at least three hours before bed time. This way you will give your gastric system enough time to digest the food, so the liver will have the energy to do its job, and the body will not be focused on other processes, like food digestion.