By Susan Brown
The liver is a vital organ with a wide range of functions. As the second largest organ in your body, the liver plays a major role in metabolism and produces biochemicals necessary for digestion. Liver functions include glycogen storage, decomposition of red blood cells, plasma protein synthesis, hormone production and detoxification. The liver is thought to be responsible for over 500 separate functions. Some of the important tasks the liver performs include:
- Nutrient breakdown. Everything consumed, whether nutritious or not, must be broken down before the nutrients can be utilized by the body. The liver produces bile which helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during the digestion process.
- Storage and creation. The liver processes all foods including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and converts them into glucose. While glucose is circulating throughout your body nourishing your organs and cells, the liver is converting excess glucose to glycogen which is stored for later use. The liver produces cholesterol and special proteins which help carry fats throughout the body.
- The liver removes toxic substances from the bloodstream. The liver helps to fight infections by producing immune factors and cleansing the blood of bacteria.
The liver is an amazingly tenacious organ. It can lose three-quarters of its cells before it stops functioning and is the only organ that can regenerate itself. Because of its strategic location and its multidimensional functions, the liver is prone to infections and disease. Common liver problems include hepatitis, alcohol damage, fatty liver, cirrhosis, cancer and drug damage.
Viral hepatitis is a liver inflammation caused by a viral infection. Hepatitis infections can be acute or chronic.
- Hepatitis A is often a result of eating contaminated food or water. Most people recover from a hepatitis A infection although some residual effects can remain for up to one year. Thorough hand washing, especially when preparing food, is the best way to prevent the spread of hepatitis A. A vaccine is available that can prevent infection for up to 10 years.
- Hepatitis B can cause both an acute or a chronic condition. Hepatitis B is generally transferred through contact with blood or bodily fluids. Chronic hepatitis B can evolve into life threatening cirrhosis and liver cancer. Approximately 65% of patients in treatment for hepatitis B receive a sustained response. A lifetime vaccine is available that will prevent infection from hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis C is also transmitted though contact with blood or bodily fluids. Hepatitis C usually leads to chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis. Hepatitis C is the most common chronic blood-borne infection in the United States. All persons with hepatitis C should avoid alcohol and should be immunized against both hepatitis A and B. Presently there is no vaccine that will prevent this virus.
- Fatty liver disease (FLD) is a preventable illness in which large vacuoles of triglyceride fat accumulate in the liver cells. Fatty liver has multiple causes including excessive alcohol intake and obesity with or without insulin resistance. The accumulation of these fats may also be accompanied by progressive inflammation of the liver. If treated at an early stage, this condition is often reversible. Gradual weight loss, dietary changes, and/or medications that decrease insulin resistance are often the recommendations for improved liver function. FLD, commonly associated with metabolic syndrome, is found in 75% of obese people largely from a prolonged diet containing foods with a high proportion of calories coming from lipids (fats).
- Cirrhosis is a disease that causes permanent scarring of the liver. In cirrhosis, normal liver cells are replaced by scar tissue that is unable to perform any liver function eventually resulting in liver failure.
- Alcohol related liver disease is due to excessive consumption and is the most common preventable cause of liver disease.
Your internal organs are working round the clock to keep you healthy and functioning. Most of us give little thought to what we eat and drink each day. Prevention is always the best route to take when addressing your general health. As with any illness that comes with lifestyle choices, the best time to think about your health is now. To prevent liver disease and other chronic diseases, talk with your healthcare provider regarding vaccinations, maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy, nutritious diet, exercise regularly, limit alcohol intake, follow dosing instructions on all medications and avoid risky behaviors.
Supplements to support the liver:
Liver Cleanse (SF769) by Thorne Research is a potent combination of herbs that work synergistically to enhance the function of the liver and is specifically helpful during a comprehensive detoxification program. The herbs in this formula enhance the production and flow of bile, which helps to optimize metabolism and the elimination of substances detoxified by the liver.
Liver Support by Vital Nutrients is a unique combination of herbal extracts that works synergistically to support liver function, and nutritionally support and protect liver cells from free radical damage. Silybin, one of the primary constituents of milk thistle, supports the liver’s efforts to remove chemicals, drugs, alcohol, and other exogenous toxins.
Liver Support, Q. by Quantum Nutrition Labs is a key nutraceutical liver formula. It is an effective, broad-spectrum phytonutrient complex that promotes optimal detoxification, rejuvenation and healthy liver support.
Silymarin by Pure Encapsulations is a milk thistle extract that nutritionally supports liver function. This highly active botanical protects the liver from free radical damage, supports glutathione concentrations and promotes superoxide dismutase activity. Milk thistle extract also stimulates protein synthesis in hepatic cells.
Hepato Synergy (K-69) by Apex Energetics integrates four synergistic formulas that work together to support normal hepatic detoxification. These products support detoxification, hepatic cell growth, methylation reactions, hormone excretion, glutathione synthesis and recycling, and RNA synthesis.
Glutathione 250 mg by Now Foods is a tripeptide, consisting of the three amino acids, cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. Glutathione is found and manufactured in every cell in the body, but is found in highest concentrations in the heart, muscle tissue and the liver. Glutathione is critical for healthy immune system function and necessary for various liver detoxification processes. Glutathione also acts as an antioxidant that works to prevent oxidative stress in most cells and helps to trap free radicals that can damage DNA and RNA. Milk thistle extract and alpha lipoic acid are included to enhance glutathione’s liver supporting properties.