How to Love Your Liver

In March I start to gear up for my annual spring cleanse.  My article deals with our most critical organ of detoxification – the liver.

We may stand in awe of a beautiful waterfall, mountain range, waves crashing on the shore or a starry night sky, yet how often do we marvel at the human body? These bodies we inhabit are truly remarkable, with so much going on behind the scenes that we are not consciously aware of.

Think of the trillion cells functioning within organs and systems, that work non-stop to sustain us over the span of our lifetime.

Consider your liver. Located under the right rib cage, weighing in at about 5 lbs, the liver is the ultimate multi-tasker. Performing at least 500 different tasks, day and night, this busy organ deserves respect and support.
One of the primary functions of the liver is to process the biochemicals, ingested substances and wastes of the body. The liver isolates each one and alters it in some way to either make it useful, or to leave the body as waste via the kidneys or digestive tract. It does so through a series of steps that utilize the cytochrome P450 system of enzymes. The by-product of all this activity is more, potentially toxic wastes, which are dealt with in a separate phase of liver detoxification, so that the liver itself doesn’t make
us ill.

Another function of the liver is the production of bile, a yellow/green liquid that is excreted into the small intestine or the gall bladder, a storage tank for bile. Bile is the vehicle for the removal of wastes from the liver through the digestive tract. It also absorbs bowel wastes, including the die-off from the microbiome. Bile is needed for the proper break down and utilization of dietary fats and proteins, plus the conversion of certain digestive nutrients into usable forms. It also encourages bowel activity, preventing constipation.

Chronic constipation and slow transit time of food/stool through the intestinal tract can lead to the re-absorption of wastes back to the liver, making it work double time. Constipation can be prevented by consuming enough fibre in the diet (fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils), getting enough fluid and exercise, and with the help of bitter herbs. I recommend eating ground flax seeds, they add fibre and bulk to the stool, and their oils lubricate the bowel. Grind them fresh, bi-weekly and store it in the refrigerator. Add 1 tbsp to yogurt, porridge, smoothies, salads, or to a cup of water.

Other liver loving foods to include are garlic, broccoli, apples, lemons, dark green salads, beets, and fresh culinary herbs.

There are a number of herbs that support liver health, these are referred to as hepatics. You may have several in your spice cabinet or growing as weeds on your lawn.

Turmeric, the golden spice used in curries and other savory dishes, stimulates the detox pathways of the liver. Take 1 tsp. daily, added to milk or a fatty oil; golden milk and turmeric paste are two diet fads I fully support.

Rosemary contains antioxidants that protect the liver from damage, and other compounds, including rosmarinic acid, for the treatment of cirrhosis, hepatitis and toxicity. Rosemary wine or tincture is best.

The seeds from milk thistle contain compounds that fortify liver cells, protecting them from the multitude of toxic substances it comes in contact with, including food, water and air borne chemicals, drugs, and other poisons. It can be taken as part of a cleanse, seasonally as a liver tune up, or anytime there is excess exposure to toxins. Tincture form is best, ½ – 1 tsp, a few times daily, depending on the strength of the tincture.

Dandelion leaves and roots make a great addition to the diet, or as teas and tinctures. Dandelion, along with other bitter herbs such as yellow dock, burdock, wormwood, motherwort and horehound, activates bitter receptors in the mouth that in turn stimulate liver function and bile production and flow through the digestive tract. I look to bitters as a primary preventative approach to liver health. Our North American diet is sadly lacking in bitter flavour; a simple way to make up this deficiency is by regularly eating dark green leaf salads with the addition of endive and radicchio. Both can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores; they add yummy
complexity to salads.

If you have hyper acidity or stomach ulcers, avoid strong bitters.
Liver health is critical for general health; in my clinical practice I tend to chronic and degenerative diseases by supporting liver function, especially when there is hormone imbalance, diabetes, high cholesterol, skin disease, cancer and arthritis.

Love your liver by limiting your exposure to toxins such as alcohol, drugs, pesticides, food colourings, perfumes, gas fumes, paint and other noxious substances. Use liver supporting herbs and foods on a regular basis, and consider the occasional liver-tune up or cleanse.

Me and my liver look forward to the return of the dandelions in May!
Check out my upcoming spring cleanse workshop.