Did you know that the Greek word for liver is, ‘hepar’? This will explain why medical terms, related to the liver, start with, ‘hepatic’ or ‘hepato’. The Greeks also considered the liver to be the home of all human emotions. It was the organ which was closest to divine presence.
It is the largest solid organ in the body; about the size of a rugby ball and weighing in about 1.8kg in men and 1.3kg in women.
All living beings that has a spinal cord, has a liver.
It’s the only organ that regenerates. Amazingly, if you remove two thirds of your liver, the remaining part will grow out to replace the missing part in about 6 to 8 weeks! Better still, when it reaches its normal size, it functions the same as it did before!
Many liver conditions, from hepatitis to cirrhosis, may have no symptoms in the early stages. You can even have a serious liver injury, when liver tests are all normal!
We tend to believe that drugs and alcohol are the leading cause of liver disease. I use to think this, until, years ago, when I met someone who had it and wasn’t a drinker. However, it’s obesity that’s the leading cause. Also, it could be genetic.
Functions of the Liver.
Well, I’m not going to list all 500 of them, or this will be a very long post! The liver:-
- Breaks down food and converts it into energy. Carbohydrates are broken down to glucose and stored mainly in the liver and muscles as glycogen. When energy is suddenly required, the liver converts its store of glycogen back into glucose, ready for use.
- Plays a vital role in fighting infections, particularly infections occurring in your guts. It does this by mobilising part of your body’s defence mechanism called the ‘Macrophage System’. The liver contains over half of the body’s supply of macrophages, known as, ‘Kuppfer Cells’ which literally destroy any bacteria that they come into contact with.
- Changes potentially damaging substances that are either made by or taken in by the body and make them harmless. If your liver is badly damaged and unable to function properly, these toxins can build up in the bloodstream. If they enter your brain, they can result in a condition called, ‘hepatic encephalopathy.’
- Holds approximately 10% of the blood in your body and pumps nearly 1.5 litres through itself per minute!
- Produces bile, which helps in digesting food and removing toxins from your body and, breakdown fats into smaller particles so that the pancreatic lipase can digest fat better.
- Filters and makes bilirubin, (chemical produced by your body; formed by the breakdown of haemoglobin), before sending it to your kidneys. Your kidneys then, filter out the bilirubin from your body, along with urine. This, what gives the yellow colour to urine.
- Processes medicines. Your body is not capable of using medicines as they are so, the liver breaks them down in a form that the body can use.
- Produces enzymes and chemicals that helps blood to clot.
How to Care for Your Liver.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can put you in danger of having a fatty liver, which can lead to disease.
- Exercise regularly. This helps to burn triglycerides (form of fatty acids) for fuel and can also reduce liver fat.
- Don’t smoke.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Be aware to take medications, exactly, as prescribed.
Foods to Eat and Drink for your Liver.
If you love coffee, you’re going to be so happy with this next bit!
Studies have shown that drinking coffee protects the liver from disease, even in those who, already, have problems with this organ. This is because coffee decreases inflammation and increases levels of the antioxidant, known as ‘glutathione’ – one of the body’s most important and potent antioxidants.
Tea. Drinking tea may improve enzyme and fat levels in your liver.
Grapefruit, blueberries & beetroot juice. These foods and drink contain antioxidants that may protect your liver by reducing inflammation and increasing its protective mechanisms.
Grapes. Especially red and purple grapes. Some human studies show that grapes and grape seed extract protect the liver from damage, increase antioxidant levels and fight inflammation.
Cruciferous vegetables. (Brussels sprouts, broccoli etc.). A recent study in men with fatty livers, found that broccoli sprout extract, (high in beneficial plant compounds), improved liver enzyme levels and decreased oxidative stress. (Sprouts, not just for Christmas then…).
Nuts. A 6 month study of 106 people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, found that eating nuts was associated with improved levels of liver enzymes.
Fatty Fish. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, have been shown to prevent fat from building up, keep enzyme levels normal, fight inflammation and improve insulin resistance.
Olive Oil. Studies have shown that olive oil decreases levels of fat in the liver, increases blood flow and improves liver enzyme levels.
Oatmeal. Its high fibre content helps the liver to work at its best. Research shows it can help you lose extra pounds and belly fat.
Foods to Reduce in Your Diet.
Foods that are high in saturated fat. Too much of them could lead to inflammation; possibly leading to cirrhosis.
Too much sugar. One job of the liver is to convert sugar into fat. Too much of the fat in the long-term could lead to fatty liver disease.
Too much salt. Early research shows that a diet high in salt may lead to fibrosis, (first stage of liver scarring.)
Even though your liver is an incredible organ, it still needs some tender, loving care. You can do this by regularly exercising, including fruits and vegetables in your diet, as described above and, reducing the amount of saturated fat, sugar and alcohol in your diet.
Sources: britishlivertrust.org.uk, mentalfloss.com, health.com, liverfoundation.org, factslegend.org, medicalnewstoday.com, healthline.com, webmd.com