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Separate The Truths From The Myths About Liver Detox

Written by Dr. Lynda Odoh - Anikwe on Wed, 16 November 2022

Key Highlights

  • The liver is responsible for the homeostasis and well-being of all bodily functions.
     
  • Lifestyle habits like binge-eating, drinking, and smoking can increase the load on it and lead to liver diseases.
  • Having a well-balanced diet and keeping yourself hydrated goes a long way in preserving hepatic health.
  • Losing the extra fat, getting in some exercise, and fixing your sleep cycle also help keep liver diseases at bay.
  • Additionally, being regular with medical check-ups and dealing with stress are also good habits to adopt when dealing with hepatic health.
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The liver is perhaps the greatest multi-tasker in the human body. It has a central role in digestion, immunity, blood filtration, blood sugar regulation, and waste excretion, besides hundreds of other functions. It's programmed to identify, capture, and eliminate any bacteria, virus, or other pathogens that you accidentally ingest. It also metabolizes any harmful chemicals and toxins that are absorbed into your bloodstream from your gut.

Processing so many toxins and pathogens damage liver tissue constantly, and this unique organ constantly repairs and regenerates itself. You can help things along by eating the right foods to detox the liver.

Liver detox foods aren't anything out of the ordinary, and they should be a permanent part of your diet. They're usually high in nutrients and antioxidants and the fats in them are mostly healthy unsaturated fats, which should replace harmful junk food and processed food loaded with saturated fats and bad chemicals.

Fruits and vegetables are the champions among liver cleansing foods, supported by nuts and seeds, fatty fish, and lean meats. 

What can cause a fatty liver?

Are you someone who frequently relishes juicy steaks or burgers? If so, then you're at a high risk of developing fatty liver disease.

As the name suggests, fatty liver disease is a condition where the liver gets a very unwelcome load of excessive fatty deposits from unhealthy foods and beverages.

1. Say no to the meat nuggets

Studies have shown that people who consume calorie-dense, fat-filled, oily, and sugary foods more often are at greater risk of developing a fatty liver. Excessive fat deposits, although it doesn't sound like much, actually puts you at risk of some life-threatening conditions.

Liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and cardiovascular ailments are just some of the many conditions you're at risk of unless that fatty liver is reversed.

2. Skip that chilled beer

Popping open a cold one now and then won't harm your liver. However, constantly dumping alcohol into your system will damage your liver. Constantly being forced to process alcohol reduces the liver's ability to regenerate, causing some permanent damage.

Liver disease due to alcohol progresses gradually and can be broken down into three stages:

  • Alcoholic fatty liver disease: Heavy consumption of alcohol, even for a few days, can cause a build-up of excess fats in the liver. This leads to alcoholic fatty liver disease and is the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease.
  • Hepatitis: Alcoholic fatty liver disease is usually asymptomatic. However, if left unchecked, it progresses to alcoholic hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis means inflammation of the liver and prolonged alcohol consumption will worsen this condition.
  • Liver cirrhosis: The last and final stage of liver damage is liver cirrhosis. During this condition, your liver gets permanently scarred and starts failing to function, which eventually leads to death. Progression to this stage is commonly seen in alcohol addicts.

3. Smoking is injurious to health

Apart from harming your respiratory health, heavy smoking is also shown to affect liver health. Pro-inflammatory chemicals like cytokines are released in the body when you smoke, which can lead to the damage of hepatic cells.

Studies have shown that cigarette smoke promotes the production of cell-killing chemicals in the body. These chemicals increase the oxidative stress in the body, which can further result in scarring and damage to hepatic tissue.

Liver cleansing foods

The best way to manage the fatty liver disease is not to let it develop in the first place.

And if it does develop - as might be evident in digestion problems, nausea, fatigue, yellow tinge in skin, eyes, and nails - immediately load up on liver cleanse foods.

Here are fruits, veggies, and grains that you can include in your diet to preserve your liver health.

  • Apples: Apples contain polyphenols, which are strong antioxidants. Studies have shown that apples have recognizable liver-protective properties. Polyphenols present in apples lower liver oxidative stress.
  • Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes with orange flesh are excellent foods to protect your liver. Research shows that sweet potatoes, being rich in beta carotene and fiber, can reduce liver injury. Apart from this, sweet potatoes with purple flesh are rich in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are also potent antioxidants that can safely guard against oxidative liver damage.
  • Figs: Small, sweet, and bite-sized treats that double as great hepatoprotective agents. Research has shown that figs contain fumaric acid and fucin, which help in combating fatty liver.
  • Whole grains like oats and barley: Including whole grains like these in your diet is always good due to their numerous health benefits. Research has shown that oats and barley protect your liver from oxidative stress and fatty liver disease, respectively.

Such foods are generally safe to consume regularly. Only if you have lifestyle disorders like diabetes, talk to your doctor about the safety of such foods.

Lose those inches: exercise and liver disease

Having a couple of kilos more than your ideal body weight is no big deal if it's evenly spread out. However, when more and more extra fat starts to accumulate around your visceral organs, it becomes a problem.

Research shows that being overweight or obese puts you at risk of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and other health trouble.

All that weight and fat skews your metabolism. Studies show that a 1% increase in body fat content increased fat content in the liver cells by 20%, suggesting a dramatic change in lipid metabolism. Additionally, this also affects glucose and lipoprotein metabolism.

A higher load on your liver is what you get, among other things, when you are obese. It's time that you lighten the load. You don't need to do much; the liver can heal itself.

The first step is to shop for fruits to cleanse the liver — apart from apples and figs, and also pick up avocados and oranges. The second step is to cut down on alcohol and fast food. And the third step is to set aside 30 minutes each day for exercise.

How to give your liver a detox

Here's your plan for weight loss and liver detox:

  • Get your eating sorted: Eating more calories than required can be the cause of that higher number on the weighing scale. Try using a 9-inch plate to control your portion size and having 4-5 small healthy meals a day.
  • Make exercise fun: It's common news that in addition to eating habits, you must include some form of activity in your daily routine. To stay motivated, spice up your workout routine by including fun activities like dance or swimming.
  • Don't cheat on cheat days: Rest is as important as exercise. It is during your rest days that your body recovers from strenuous exercise. Apart from this, you can also have some fast food once in a while; however, don't make a habit out of it.
  • The key is hydration

We can't emphasize enough the importance of having nutritious and balanced meals for good liver health. Water is one of the most important yet neglected parts of a balanced diet.

Studies have shown that having adequate water intake is essential for the optimum functioning of your liver. Water helps the liver filter out toxins and convert harmful substances into safe waste products. Hydration aids liver detox and encourages the secretion of bile, which aids in digestion.

  • Get a good night's sleep

Sleep plays a focal role in the maintenance of your biological functions. Studies have shown that a good night's sleep is essential for the proper functioning of the cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems. The same applies to your liver.

Research shows that people who have a shorter duration and poor quality of sleep are more likely to develop Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. A disrupted sleep cycle is thought to impair insulin sensitivity and promote inflammatory activity in the body. So try to get 7-8 hours of sleep daily to lighten the load on your liver.

  • Destress the liver

Research has shown that psychological stress can lead to liver injury and damage. The liver is an organ that filters out any foreign or waste material. Among these substances, many molecules can trigger an immune response.

Under normal circumstances, the liver ignores these prompts and provides a certain tolerance against this immune activity. However, under psychological stress, this tolerance is lost and inflammation is triggered, which causes damage to your liver.

Evidence shows that even a single episode of stress worsens symptoms in patients with hepatitis. So, manage that stress through therapy or relaxing activities that you enjoy.

  • Keep up with your medical check-ups

Apart from all the lifestyle tips, it's important to do regular medical check-ups. Discuss concerns with your doctor at length.

Here are a few things you can ask your doctor:

  • Vaccines: Diseases like hepatitis can be prevented by immunization.
  • Risk factors: If your family has a history of liver disease, then you're at risk of it, too. Discuss it at length with your doctor.
  • Screening: If you're at risk of liver disease (habits like binge-drinking and unprotected sex put you at risk), then ask about the various screenings that can be done.

Beware of liver detox myths

When it comes to health and wellness, there's a lot of misinformation that floats around. Separating the myths from the facts goes a long way in developing the right lifestyle for your health. Here are some potentially harmful myths to beware of.

  • Liver detox can treat liver diseases: The lifestyle tips mentioned here will help prevent liver ailments. But avoid the packaged liver cleansers that claim they can cure liver diseases. If you have existing liver disease, then visit your doctor.
  • Liver cleanses help lose weight: Beware of those products that claim to cleanse the liver and promote weight loss. There's little to no proof supporting such claims. A healthy lifestyle and a well-balanced diet are the only tools you need to maintain liver health and lose fat.
  • You need to do liver cleanses regularly: There's no need for you to constantly go on a special liver detox diet. A regular healthy diet and exercise in your daily routine will work wonders for your overall health.

Conclusion

The liver is one of the most important and valuable organs in the human body. Habits like binge-eating, heavy drinking, and smoking can increase the load on it and lead to liver diseases. Some easy lifestyle changes can protect your liver and promote overall health.

Remember, every day can be a liver detox day if you pick the right foods and spend the right amount of time staying active.

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Dr. Lynda Odoh - Anikwe

Dr. Lynda Odoh - Anikwe (M. B. B. S) is a MPH  candidate at the University of Manchester. Dr Odoh is also currently a member of the Society of Lifestyle Medicine Nigeria, and aiming to get certified by the International board of lifestyle medicine as a Lifestyle Medicine Physician by the last quarter of 2022.
 

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