Chronic liver disease or cirrhosis is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States while liver disease is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States between the ages of 45 and 54 years. However, there is hope for us all! Our body has an incredible power to heal when provided with the right tools and a nutrition program. Of course, how long we take to heal depends on how long we have had the condition and how willing we are to change habits that are stopping our organs from being able to do their job.
The liver is the only internal human organ capable of natural regeneration. Even if 75% of the liver is lost, the remaining 25% can regenerate into a whole liver. The capability for the liver to regenerate itself has been known since at least the times of the ancient Greeks. One of their most famous stories involves the story of the immortal and champion for mankind, Prometheus, and how he was severely punished by Zeus for bringing the gift of fire to humankind. Prometheus was chained to a rock in the mountains and each day an eagle (symbol of Zeus) would tear out his liver. Each night his liver would grow back, only for the process to begin again. This story contains a seed of truth, pointing to the incredible regeneration powers that our livers have.
In last week’s article I covered the process of how the liver detoxifies chemicals, drugs, alcohol and toxins from intestinal microbes. This depends on the two Phase I and Phase II detoxification pathways being in balance and also able to do their jobs. If they become overloaded there will be a build up of toxins in the body. Many of these toxins are fat-soluble and will end up in fatty parts of the body such as the brain and the endocrine glands. This can result in impaired brain functions and hormonal imbalances such as infertility, breast pain, menstrual orders and adrenal gland exhaustion.
Eating for a Healthy Liver
In order for the liver to perform it’s functions well depends on several factors, the most important being, using organic products which can be found on buyorganicsonline.com.au, having nutrient dense whole-food while avoiding highly processed non-organic food. Most of what you eat will eventually find its way to your liver!
- Avoid foods and toxins that burden the liver
- Eat foods that are promote liver health
- Eat foods and supplements that enhance detoxification through the Type 1 and Type II detoxication pathways
- Lower chronic stress (stress decreases the liver’s ability to clear toxins or build good blood)
- Get 7-8 hours sleep – in Chinese medicine, the blood flows back to the liver and if we are chronically sleep deprived we suffer from poor blood.
Foods to Avoid for a Healthy liver
- Highly processed or non-organic foods (to avoid putting toxic chemicals in the body such as artificial flavorings or pesticides)
- Alcohol (too much alcohol can cause fatty liver disease, hepatitis and liver cirrocis. 80% of alcohol passes through the liver to be detoxified. Chronic consumption of alcohol results in the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines which cause inflammation, fibrosis and eventually death of liver cells. Make sure that you take plenty of zinc, if you consuming alcohol on a regular basis as zinc helps convert alcohol to aldehydes in Phase 1 detoxification)
- Hydrogenated fats and sucrose ( researchers have found that a diet high in fructose, sucrose, and trans fats contributes to significant fatty liver disease with scar tissue)
- Excess saturated animal fat such as meat or dairy
- Be careful with pharmaceutical drugs such as NSAIDs or aspirin slow down Phase II detoxification
It’s easy to remember what foods help your liver – just think green! In Chinese medicine, green is the color associated with the liver. Green vegetables, green juices and green superfood powders such as spirulina. Here’s a list of my top three foods for protecting the liver and helping it do it’s job:
Top Three Foods For Detoxifying the Liver
1. Spirulina (Spirulina Pacifica)
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that contains up to 70% protein. The green color comes from chlorophyll and the blue green color comes from phycocynanin. Spirulina was the main power food for the ancient Aztecs and gave them energy and stamina. It is a complete protein containing all eight essential amino acids. Protein is an important component of Phase II detoxification. A diet low in protein will inhibit phase 2 detox (watch out for going on those weight loss detox juice fasts for too long!)
It is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, E and K. There is some evidence to to suggest that the antioxidants such as selenium, chlorophyll, carotein and Vitmains E and C in spirulina can help protect against fatty liver damage. Spirulina appears to be effective in reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL-C (good cholesterol). In other words, spirulina serves to protect our liver from the consequences of a high fat, cholesterol and alchohol diet – though I am not recommending that you live the high life and hope that popping some pills will take care of the rest!
Spirulina also contains sulphur bearing amino acids such as cysteine and methionine which help the liver detoxify poisons such as carbon tetrachloride in the phase II detoxification pathway.
Recommended dosage: 6-10 gm a day. Either as a powder mixed into a smoothie or as tablets.
Gynostemma is one of the most top Asian tonic herbs. Traditionally Gynostemma was used by people in the mountainous regions of Southern China as an energizer. They would take it as a tea before work to increase endurance and strength, and after work to relieve fatigue. People in these villages of Guangxi, Shicuan and other southern provinces), routinely lived to 100 years of age.
Gynostemma is an adaptogenic antioxidant herb that not only protects the liver from fatty liver disease and reduces high cholesterol and triglyerides but is also anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-anxiety. Studies in Japan have shown that gynostemma is useful in treating depression and anxiety. Known by the Chinese as a “Miracle tea” this herb can bring homeostasis (balance) to the cardiovascular, digestive, immune, nervous and reproductive systems. Research appearing in the May-June 2006 issue of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine showed that the gypenosides in gynostemma could prevent liver fatty degeneration in fatty liver disease through modulating lipid metabolism, ameliorating liver dysfunction and reducing oxidative stress.
Gynostemma can help you lose weight if you are overweight or gain weight if you are too skinny or an athelete. It helps adjust blood sugar levels and hyperlipidemia. Gynostemma also acts as a cleanser in the stomach and intestines, eliminating the body of toxins and waste. So what does this mean for you? If I were you I would brew this herbs as a tea every day. It can help you with losing weight, protecting your liver, reducing fatty liver disease and high cholesterol, all the while helping you to keep a zen centered approach to life. Oh, and did I mention, those Chinese villagers in the mountains had very low rates of cancer!
Recommended Dosage: 1-2 cups a day.
3. Turmeric (curcumin)
Turmeric is a well known medicine in both the Chinese and Ayurvedic pharmacopeias. Turmeric cleanses and invigorates the blood and Qi. Chinese medicine uses turmeric as a blood cleanser and to move stagnant Qi. In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is used as a blood purifyer. It is often prescribed for treatment of skin ailments and for enhancing beauty. It is believed to balance the three doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha).
Turmeric was also used by the ancient Hawaiians. When they made their long voyage to discover Hawaii one of the plants that they took with them was turmeric. Known as Olena, it was used as a food, medicine, dye, and for ceremonial purification. In Hawaii today raw turmeric is sold at farmer’s markets and is often juiced for detoxification purposes, just as raw ginger can be added to a juice.
Curcumin, the compound that gives turmeric its yellow color, inhibits phase I while stimulating phase II detoxification pathways. This can help with preventing certain types of cancers by inhibiting carcinogens and also directly inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. If you are a smoker, adding curry or turmeric to your cooking will help protect your body from the cancer-inducing chemicals present in cigarette smoke. As a bonus, curcumin also blocks nuclear factor-kappaB (or NF-kB), lowering cancer-causing inflammation and reducing levels of inflammatory cytokines throughout the body. So if you suffer from chronic pain, Indian curry recipes will also be very helpful.
Curcumin also stimulates production of bile by the liver. The bile is stored in the gallbladder. When a fatty meal is eaten, the bile is released into the small intestine where it helps with the emulsification or breakdown of fats in the meal. If your liver is compromised such as in hepatitis, excessive amounts of fat and protein are difficult for the liver to break down. In that case it would be better to eat more complex carbohydrates such as quinoa or millet and vegetables. Chinese medicine recognized that when bile flow was stagnant, depression and irritation could result. They called this “liver qi stagnation” and had specific herbs to restore the flow of liver bile.
To Summarize: The Ideal Diet for a Healthy Liver
Keep it simple and keep it green. Cut down on your intake of foods known to contain toxins such as food additives, pesticides, alcohol and too much saturated fats. Eat organic foods with plenty of life force. Try to eat your evening meal before 7pm and get to bed by 10pm. During the evening the blood returns to the liver for cleansing and your liver will not be able to do it's job if it is busy having to clean up the remains of a heavy evening meal.
Keys to Living a Radiantly Healthy Life
In the next week I will be releasing my free course on what to eat for a radiantly healthy life. Keep an eye out for it. All you will have to do is tweet about the book, share on facebook or google+ to get free access.