Sunday, August 09, 2009

Liver Health and Detoxification

Think of your liver as the waste treatment plant for your body. It breaks down toxins from environmental pollution as well as much of the toxins that your own body produces. Doesn't it make sense to give it a good cleanse?

The liver is the largest gland in the body and one of the most important organs. It has many functions. It produces bile, the digestive juice that breaks down fats and helps to absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Bile also stimulates intestinal contractions, to promotes regularity, and converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. The liver acts as filter for all of the blood in the body.
Blood from the intestines, carrying nutrients, goes to the liver where some vitamins and minerals are stored. The liver also metabolizes fat into cholesterol, phospholipids (for cell membranes) and lipoproteins (for carrying other molecules). The liver plays a role in blood sugar regulation by making glucose tolerance factor. Sugar can be stored in the liver for later use and extra food is converted to fat by the liver and then transported to the fatty tissue.

The liver also filters ammonia, a natural by-product of protein breakdown, environmental toxins, medications and alcohol. It changes these harmful products into less harmful metabolites that can then be put back into circulation and excreted by the kidneys and intestines.

The last function of the liver is in hormone metabolism. It converts thyroid hormone into its most active form and breaks down hormones like sex hormones, adrenaline and insulin when they are not needed.

The liver can become damaged from infection, excessive alcohol consumption, medications and recreational drugs, environmental toxins and stress. Fortunately it is also the only internal organ that has the capacity to regenerate itself.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The hepatitis virus, medications or toxins cause it. There are 5 types of hepatitis viruses, A-E. Hepatitis A is an infection that comes from contaminated food and water. It is usually only seen in North Americans who return from visiting tropical destinations. It usually resolves itself in one to two months and does not become chronic. Hepatitis B-E is spread through contaminated blood, blood products or sexual contact. The first signs of these infections often occur several months after the infection. These viral types usually result in a chronic liver inflammation that leads to liver damage and can be life threatening. Over use of alcohol, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can also cause hepatitis. Chlorinated hydrocarbons and arsenic are environmental toxins that are known to damage the liver.

Cirrhosis of the liver occurs when inflammation causes as hardening and scarring of the liver tissue. Eventually this scarring compromises blood flow to the liver. The most common cause is excessive alcohol consumption. Other causes are hepatitis C and toxicity.

How can we naturally support the many functions of this important organ?

· Liver supportive diet

· Healthy lifestyle and exercise

· Regular liver cleansing

· Liver supportive nutrients and herbs

Liver supportive foods include artichokes, black radish, beets, carrots, spinach, sauerkraut, tomatoes and watercress. Make sure that you are getting enough water-soluble fibre in your diet, as found in apples, oats and supplemental inulin.

They help to eliminate bile and toxins from the intestines. Avoid sugar, alcohol, red meat, trans-fatty acids and processed foods. They are difficult for the liver to process. Avoid high doses of niacin and vitamin A because they can raise liver enzymes.

Avoid excessive use of alcohol, medications and recreational drugs. Exercise promotes liver health by increasing circulation. It also stimulates the bowels to release processed toxins. Slow bowel transit time allows toxins to re-circulate in the body and forces the liver to repeat its detoxifying activity.

Traditional Asian medicine identifies emotions as a contributing agent in many disease processes. The liver is affected by anger. Anger reduction techniques, like biofeedback, or activities, such as yoga, can improve liver functioning.

Sometimes the liver’s pathways are not working up to speed or become blocked. The back up of waste material makes it harder for the rest of the body to function normally and ultimately leads to disease. Since the environment in which we live makes it impossible for us to maintain a pristine lifestyle, regular liver cleansing is essential. Liver detoxification involves dietary, supplemental and physical interventions. For more information see the article on detoxification. The most effective nutritional supplement for liver detoxification is the herb milk thistle, containing sylmarin.

There are many vitamins, minerals and nutraceuticals that can be used to support the liver. Always consult a health professional before using liver supporting nutrients because speeding up the liver’s processing can affect medication levels in your body.

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