The liver is the largest organ inside the human body, and one of the most important. It is responsible for filtering harmful toxins out of your blood. It also helps you digest your food and store energy. The liver is also one of the easiest organs to damage. That’s why it is important to maintain optimal liver health by living a healthy, liver-friendly lifestyle, and avoiding exposure to harmful substances that can damage your liver.
How to Protect Your Liver
1. Eat Organic Foods
Organic foods are produced using minimal pesticides in the case of produce, and minimal or no added hormones or antibiotics, in the case of animal products. This translates to less chemicals and additives that your liver has to filter out.
It is important to note that organic foods still may contain some residual pesticides. However, if you can afford to go organic, it certainly won’t harm your liver, and you will be helping the environment, as well.
2. Eat Antioxidant Foods
To help protect your liver, make sure that your daily diet includes at least some of the foods with the highest antioxidant levels — especially if you have liver disease or are at risk for it.
- Red, kidney or pinto beans
- Blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries
- Russet potatoes (with the skin)
- Artichoke hearts
For a concentrated source of liver-shielding antioxidants, you can also drink fresh raw juices made from dandelion leaf, beetroot, and wheatgrass. Antioxidant-rich green tea also promotes liver function.
3. Avoid Processed Foods
One of the best ways to protect your liver is to eat a balanced diet that is low in trans fats and fructose (high fructose corn syrup). These substances are found in many processed foods, including soda, chips, fried foods, etc., and have both been shown to contribute negatively to liver health. Try to minimize your consumption of prepackaged and processed foods, and prepare food from scratch using fresh ingredients whenever possible.
Processed foods also include a host of other chemicals to maintain freshness and appearance, which can also harm your liver.
4. Limit Alcohol Consumption
When your liver processes alcohol, a number of toxic chemicals are released that can damage your liver. Alcoholic liver disease is the result of the overconsumption of alcohol, and is responsible for up to 37% of all liver disease deaths. The routine consumption of alcohol can also lead to a condition called fatty liver disease. However, the good news is that the liver is able to regenerate itself better than any other organ in the body, and alcohol-induced liver problems can often be stopped, or even reversed.
- If you have been drinking a lot, take a break from alcohol altogether. Your liver needs 2 weeks alcohol-free to begin the healing process.
5. Avoid Constipation
Lack of adequate bowel elimination allows intestinal toxins to accumulate, whereupon they directly circulate to the liver. In order to keep your liver healthy, regulate your bowel movements and avoid constipation.
6. Lose Weight
Being overweight increases the risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which affects up to 23% of the population. Although it usually causes no symptoms, this buildup of fat deposits in the liver can, over time, lead to inflammation, a condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) that may ultimately cause the same kind of lasting liver damage as alcohol.
7. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise not only helps you maintain a healthy body weight, it does good things for your liver, as well. Studies have shown that just 150 minutes of activity per week (that’s just 1/2 an hour, five days per week) is enough to improve liver enzyme levels, and overall liver function. It can also reduce your chances of developing fatty liver disease.
8. Avoid Harmful Drugs
Many drugs can be harmful to the liver, as it must work overtime to metabolize the medication and filter out any excess toxins. However, some medications can put an undue strain on the liver, and cause damage, especially when mixed with other substances.
A particular concern is over-the-counter Tylenol, and cold and pain remedies that contain acetaminophen. Commonly prescribed medications including statins, acid-blockers, psychiatric drugs, certain antibiotics and anti-fungals are notorious for causing liver problems.
Always take these and other medications as directed, and ask your doctor or pharmacist before mixing prescription medications with any over-the-counter medications, vitamins, supplements, or alcohol.
9. Protect Yourself from Hepatitis
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is usually caused by a virus. There are three main types of hepatitis: A, B, and C, and all are contagious, however hepatitis C is usually only spread by sharing intravenous needles. Vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B.
- Hepatitis B is commonly spread through unprotected sex, so always wear a condom.
- Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B.
- Practice good hygiene: remember to wash your hands after using the restroom or changing a baby’s diaper.
- Do not share drug needles with another person, or come in contact with another person’s blood.
Other Ways to Protect Your Liver
1. Lemon Water
Warm lemon water is a great way to detox your liver every single morning. Water is important to the natural detox system; it’s one of the methods by which our bodies remove toxins. The citric acid in lemon juice encourages the liver to produce bile, which is another vehicle that our bodies use to excrete toxins.
- This isn’t lemonade, so don’t add sugar or anything else. Just purified water and a healthy dose of fresh lemon juice.
2. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables stimulate the enzymes that catalyze detoxification. A key ingredient of cruciferous vegetables, sulforaphane, protects the liver as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Broccoli, cabbage, kale, arugula, collard greens and other cruciferous vegetables are recommended foods when doing a liver detox. Be sure to eat at least one serving a day.
A Japanese study found that avocados contain compounds that can protect the liver from damage. When compared with 21 other fruits, avocados had the most promise in protecting the liver from galactosamine, a “powerful” toxin that has been shown to cause a liver damage much like human viral hepatitis.
Coffee drinking has been shown to protect the liver by optimizing the flow of bile. It’s not clear whether it’s the dark polyphenolic compounds in coffee or the caffeine that helps liver function — even decaf may help.
Another study published in Hepatology found that coffee drinkers, including those who drank decaf, were up to 25 percent less likely to have abnormal liver enzyme levels. Researchers do not yet know why this is the case, but drinking coffee may be helping your liver out.
Potentially, according to preliminary research in a study, patients who drank three or more cups of coffee per day had a 50 percent lower risk of disease progression. Although it’s too soon to recommend that non-coffee drinkers start drinking coffee for their liver’s sake, it won’t hurt to keep drinking it if it’s already a habit.
- Opt for Swiss water-processed premium decaf to avoid the decaffeinating agent methylene chloride, which is harsh on the liver.
Garlic contains sulfur compounds that can help activate enzymes in the liver. It contains allicin and selenium, which are both good for liver protection. Add some garlic to your cooking or thinly slice a clove into your next salad.
6. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is the best herb to use when it comes to protecting your liver. This herb has been extremely well researched for use in the treatment of liver disease.
Milk thistle also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Human studies have shown milk thistle to be generally without side effects. However, at doses above 1,500 mg. daily, it may produce a laxative effect due to increased bile flow and secretion.
- Typical dosage: 200 to 400 mg. of silymarin (milk thistle’s active ingredient) daily
7. Vitamin C and E
Vitamin C boosts levels of the antioxidant glutathione, which is highly effective in neutralizing free radicals, especially in the liver. Free radicals leave our bodies more vulnerable to disease and accelerate the aging process.
Vitamin E is another potent antioxidant. Be sure to take the natural form, d-alpha-tocopherol, rather than the synthetic counterpart, dl-tocopherylacetate; the natural form is more easily absorbed and stimulates the immune system more effectively.
Symptoms of Liver Disease
Because the liver does its work quietly, many people fail to recognize that they are experiencing liver damage or disease until it has gotten quite severe. The following are some of the early signs of liver disease, which often emerge gradually over time. If you experience some or all of these symptoms, especially jaundice, see a doctor and explain your concerns right away: