The liver is our largest and probably the hardest working internal organ.
Its many functions include producing cholesterol and bile, storing vitamins and carbohydrates and breaking down proteins for digestion.
In this post I’m going to concentrate on its role of waste disposal.
Put very simply the liver breaks down contaminants that come our way and gets them ready to be removed from the body. We are exposed to these everyday and from multiple sources.
According to the Environmental Working Group the average women puts 168 chemicals on their faces and bodies each day!
There are chemicals and toxins in the air we breathe, the food we eat, drinks we consume and medications we take.
Inside the liver cells, there are mechanisms that have evolved over centuries to break down and neutralise toxic substances that enter our bodies – both ‘exogenous’ toxins (i.e. from the outside) such as those mentioned above but also ‘endogenous’ substances, produced in the body such as hormones. Some people don’t realise that the liver is involved in filtering out ‘used’ hormones.
So, although the liver is designed to deal with these toxic substances the sheer volume of exposure nowadays can put too much pressure on this overworked organ. Christmas anyone?!
So where do they come from – here’s a short list.
· non-organic food (think: PCBs and over 130 pesticides)
· air pollution (a long list)
· tap water (think: fluoride, chlorine, PCBs, mercury, lead, parasites)
· skin care products (think: phthalates, BPA, triclosan, parabens)
· household cleaning products (think: triclosan, phthalates, parabens)
· medications; both recreational and prescription e.g. corticosteroids, tetracycline and aspirin
· plastics (think: BPA, PFOA)
· alcohol and caffeine
· processed foods (artificial sweeteners, benzoates, nitrates, MSG, HFCS)
· cookware like non-stick pans (think: PFOA)
Sometimes the body’s capacity to deal with toxins is exceeded and this results in toxins being stored away in fatty tissues in the body and can contribute to symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, bloating, poor skin and aches and pains.
A diet lacking in certain nutrients, particularly the antioxidants and clean water and lack of exercise/movement impairs our natural ability to detoxify chemicals even further.
So, what to do?
Make sure that you are having a (at least) daily bowel movement.
Once toxins have been 'neutralised’ by the liver they may enter the bile and then the bowel to be eliminated in the faeces. If you are constipated some of these toxins will be reabsorbed. If you suffer from chronic constipation then you will need to identify why and address at the root. (Hint: it’s not always to do with lack of fibre).
Eat more of the following foods.
Veg from the sulphur family –onions, garlic, leek, shallots and spring onion.
Cruciferous vegetables - cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts and broccoli sprouts.
Highly pigmented fruits and veg – beetroot, berries particularly blueberries, carrots, avocado, lemon,grapefruit and all of the leafy greens.
Herbs – green tea, curcumin/turmeric, rosemary, dandelion.
Water – obvious, but warrants repeating. Filtered water the best option. E.W.T. and Celtic Water Solutions offer very reasonable reverse osmosis systems.
Supplement appropriately when needed.
During the festive season I always take a course of milk thistle, often a blend with other liver supporting compounds such as artichoke and dandelion.
N Acetyl Cysteine, B vitamins, antioxidant blends and spirulina are other supplements I sometimes incorporate when I want to support liver function.
Other factors that can really help detoxification potential are exercise and saunas (anything that promotes sweating), dry body brushing to stimulate the lymphatic system, maintaining optimum hydration and of course looking to see where you could easily reduce chemical exposure (perhaps start with minimising plastic usage – never heat it or use to cover foods and opting for organic produce when and where you can).
It’s also a really good idea to take a good look at how you are eating, your stress levels and if you are moving your body regularly. Some things to consider depending on where you are at with your health and motivation levels.
A 21 day elimination diet – I’ve had such wonderful results with these.
If you are a regular drinker go alcohol free for 6 weeks.
Begin to incorporate more plant based foods into your diet, reduce heavily processed foods and work in more variety to your diet.
Begin a doable exercise regime – it must be something that you enjoy. Motivation levels tend to be quite high at this time of year but if you don’t enjoy it you are more likely to give it up.
I like this study from 2015 from Deanna Minich and Romilly Hodges if you would like to do some reading up on this topic