Instead of looking at one paper specifically, we’re going to take the findings from multiple studies and dig deeper into some physiology to understand how our body works in the way it does, and what we can do with this information to maximise our efficiency.
We’ll be de-livering that information on one of your critical organs:
Your liver. Sorry for the awful pun.
An organ that’s often not discussed or thought about in terms of health until it’s too late, your liver is often not given the credit it deserves, considering the long list of functions it performs.
It’s also the only organ that’s able to regenerate and self-heal.
So what makes the liver so important?
Your liver performs a number of physiological functions including:
• The metabolising of nutrients.
• Blood volume regulation.
• Supporting your immune system.
• Controlling your hormones and cholesterol.
• Breaking down foreign compounds such as alcohol and medications.
• The storage of glycogen (i.e. sugars).
But arguably the most important functions of your liver are the metabolising of glucose (sugars), lipids (fats), and protein.
Let’s look at glucose metabolism first:
The liver is sensitive to the changes in hormone levels – glucagon and insulin – to determine how much glucose to take from the blood, or glycogen to break down, based on your body’s energy demands.
But if we overeat, the liver can become increasingly resistant to insulin, which can lead to diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and cardiovascular disease.
It often surprises people that cardiovascular disease can be caused by their liver, not just their heart.
Then there’s lipid metabolism:
Another role the liver plays is the absorption of fats in the blood, which are packaged into lipoproteins, also known as ‘cholesterol’. It can also use those fats as a fuel source.
But if there’s too much fat in your diet, the liver will produce excess cholesterol – another contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Finally, there’s your protein metabolism:
Here, your liver controls the amount of protein circulating your body, which helps ensure healthy bloody volumes and your ability to carry fat around your body.
So, it goes without saying that your liver is worth taking care of because it has such a profound impact on the rest of your body – including your cardiovascular system.
And by looking after your liver, it’s better able to metabolise medication.
How do you protect your liver?
It’ll come as no surprise – when you consider the roles of your liver – that the food and drinks you consume are going to have a profound impact on the condition of your liver.
Probably the biggest factor is your nutrition.
Ok, so it’s pretty clear that taking care of our livers is tremendously important, but what do we actually need to do to keep it in tip-top condition?
• Minimising the amount of saturated fat you consume – often found in processed foods – and prioritising unsaturated fat sources like avocados, oily fish, and nuts.
• Ensuring you’re consuming enough fibre. You should be aiming for 30g per day, by consuming wholemeal carbohydrates and fibrous vegetables.
• Keeping your alcohol intake below 14 units per week. The average glass of wine is around 2.5 units.
• Minimising your simple sugar intake. That’s the stuff found in sweets, processed foods, or the stuff you stick in your tea or coffee.
• Reducing your salt intake. It may make food taste great, but too much can wreak havoc on your liver.
With your nutrition sorted, you can look at other means of looking after that all-important organ.
Physical activity will keep your liver healthy too.
In fact, research has shown that your levels of physical activity and time spent sedentary have both been associated with your liver fat content and subsequent liver health.
It’s estimated that each extra hour of sedentary time per days is associated with an increase in liver fat content of 1.15%.
The simple message here that ‘moving more’ is good for your liver.
How do you know if your liver needs help?
It’s never too late to start to improve your liver health, and considering the many roles of the organ, its performance is vital for a healthy life.
However, if not looked after, we may need medical intervention. Symptoms to look out for include:
• Fluid retention – swelling in your abdomen or legs.
• Jaundice – yellowing of the skin or darker yellow urine.
• Bleeding – noticing blood in the toilet or when coughing.
• Confusion – in extreme cases of liver failure, toxins may build up and cause confusion and lethargy, but this is less common.