Your liver is the largest organ in your body, and it plays a vital role in your overall health. Many people assume liver problems only develop in people with alcohol dependencies, but the incidence of liver problems like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is rising rapidly, particularly among younger people. Alarmingly, up to 30% of the population in North America and Europe are affected by a fatty liver. It's important not to neglect your liver health, because it performs many important functions in your body - over 500 bodily processes involve your liver!
Primary Functions of The Liver
On the surface, the liver’s job sounds straightforward. The digestive system delivers blood to the liver through the portal vein. Once that blood arrives, cells in your liver called hepatocytes act as a filtration system to remove toxins and create energy. The detoxification process helps your body rid itself of harmful substances like excess hormones, harmful food additives, and environmental pollutants. Behind that simple explanation, however, lies a complex network of processes that include:
● Producing gamma globulin, which is essential for immunity
● Manufacturing hormones
● Creating the proteins necessary for blood clotting
● Producing cholesterol
● Regulating blood sugar
● Metabolizing carbohydrates, fat, and protein to deliver energy
● Storing vitamins and minerals, and releasing them as needed
● Filtering toxins
● Breaking down waste products and delivering them back to the digestive system for elimination
● Producing bile to break down fat
With so many functions in its wheelhouse, it’s not surprising that liver problems can have a deep impact on your health. One of the most common is NAFLD, in which fatty tissues build up in your liver. Left untreated, this can develop into cirrhosis and even liver cancer.
Warning Signs of a Sluggish Liver
One of the most common and debilitating symptoms of liver problems is overwhelming, unexplained fatigue. One study found that patients with a fatty liver frequently experience extreme fatigue during the day no matter how much they slept the previous night. Pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen is another symptom. Other possible indicators of liver problems include:
● Swelling in the stomach and legs
● Mysterious rashes
● Jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin and the eyes
● Muscle aches
● Mood swings
● Fuzzy thinking
● Hormonal imbalances leading to problems like severe PMS and low libido
6 Ways to Support Liver Health
The good news is that your liver is amazingly resilient. It’s one of the few organs that can regenerate under the right conditions, so healthy lifestyle changes can go a long way to restoring liver health. Below are some strategies to support your liver.
1. A liver-friendly diet. Focus on a well-rounded, whole foods diet. The “Mediterranean Diet'' with its emphasis on fresh produce, seafood, and healthy fats is often recommended for liver health.