6 Easy Ways to Get Your Liver Back in Shape
It’s official. We are abusing our most precious organ. No, not your heart, or your brain. I’m referring to your liver. We don’t think much about this unappreciated gland. Many of us don’t even know what it does (which is a lot). One third of the nation has nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition caused mainly by central obesity and poor lifestyle choices. This condition can worsen over time and eventually put you on a liver transplant list. Additionally, a new study shows rates of liver cancer have doubled since the 1980’s, making it one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States. Here are six ways to help get your liver back in shape.
Get Off the Couch
As far as your liver is concerned, making exercise a habit rather than a chore may be key. A 2017 study showed it’s not just about planning more physical activity, but perhaps, about avoiding our very sedentary behavior. This concept, called “habitual physical activity,” is the kind of activity individuals in the blue zones get. It’s just part of their daily life. This kind of activity includes walking to the store or gardening, for example. The study found liver fat (which occurs in excess in NAFLD) could be reduced, even in individuals who do not engage in rigorous physical activity, as long as they got off the couch and moved. In your world, that may mean walking after dinner instead of watching TV, opting for stairs over elevators, parking further from the door, or choosing movement type activities for social engagements rather than drinking at the bar. Sitting is killing us. Do less of it. Your liver will be happier if you do.
Throw Out the Scale
Your liver cares more about your waistline than your weight. A 2016 study found individuals whose waist was greater than 35 inches for women or 40 inches in men had a much higher risk of developing the later stages of NAFLD. This study highlighted the fact NAFLD risk is not about your body mass index (BMI), or how obese you are, but how much fat you’re storing in the midsection of your body. Get rid of the scale. Buy a tape measure instead, aiming for less than a 35-inch waist circumference if you’re a woman and less than 40 inches if you’re a man. Here’s how to measure it.
Coffee is perhaps the best food on the planet to feed your liver. It’s like fairy dust for your hard-working organ. Researchers have identified it as a liver protector in many large studies. The most recent showing that indulging in a coffee habit helps livers in more advanced stages of NAFLD. Authors found having just a few cups a day could help with reducing fibrosis (the first stage of scarring caused by liver inflammation). Decaffeinated coffee and herbal teas have also shown favorable impact on the liver.
Seriously Cut Back on Sugar
As the rate of NAFLD has exploded, so have the fingers pointing at what’s to blame for the rise. Sugar seems to be one of the culprits. One sugar in particular, fructose, has been deemed the official “bad guy” in this scary story. Perhaps it’s because fructose is the only sugar that is completely metabolized by the liver (as opposed to sucrose and glucose that take a different metabolic pathway), or because fructose is tied to fat accumulation. Perhaps it’s because we are drowning in it. Fructose is not always found in “bad for you” liver foods. After all, fructose is the sugar found in fruits – high antioxidant plants your liver loves. It’s the soda, the sugary snacks, the crackers, the salad dressing, the yogurt, the breakfast cereal, and the BBQ sauce that are causing damage. Bottom line, it’s everywhere and often packaged as high fructose corn syrup. Here’s how to cut back on all sugars. Avoid sugar in the first three ingredients of any food. Limit the grams of sugar in a product to no more than 4 grams per serving. Don’t count sugars coming from fruit. However, limit your consumption of dried fruit which may contain too much concentrated sugar.
Embrace Curry Powder
Curry powder contains roots and spices your liver gets very excited about. It’s easy to find, and even easier to use in cooking and seasoning. One ingredient in curry powder is especially promising – turmeric. Turmeric’s active ingredient is curcumin, a compound that may play a role in delaying damage caused by NAFLD and other liver conditions. However, studies have found that curcumin is not always well absorbed and so the benefits in real life may not always mimic what we see in the laboratory. That’s why I prefer curry powder to turmeric, because it contains other spices (like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, mustard, nutmeg and pepper) that may help benefit health as well. If you want to help your liver out, give it as many resources as you can. Curry powder should be considered your best arsenal in your spice cabinet.
Load Up on Omega 3 Fatty Acids
All omega 3 fatty acid sources have shown benefits for strengthening our liver. That includes animal sources like wild salmon, trout and sardines as well as plant sources like chia, flax and hemp seeds, walnuts, tofu and soybeans. One of our favorite sources of omega 3 fatty acids in a supplement form comes from Microbiome Laboratories. Their Gut Specific Fish Oil contains just the right ratios of all the essential fatty acids as well as naturally-occurring metabolites called pro-resolving mediators (PRMs) shown to support a healthy immune and inflammatory response. If you’re having trouble getting enough healthy fatty acids through your diet, the Mega Omegas is the right choice.
Commercial Liver Cleanses
The are many companies that encourage you to do a proprietary “live cleanse”, which tends to involve a costly box of powders and supplements. There is no need to “cleanse” your liver with commercial products. Your liver IS your detox organ. It does the job for you as long as you treat it right. Instead of spending your money on expensive cleanses and detox potions, spend it on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and a nice pair of walking shoes. Keep your liver happy to have a strong and healthy body!