By Yam Cher Seng
Our liver is a busy chemical plant that churns out 13,000 different enzymes, filters our blood of toxic substances and detoxifies them. It manages a wide array of physiological activities so quietly that we take it very much for granted. It weighs 1.4kg in an average adult and is the second largest organ of the body. It receives blood from two sources, making it a major blood reservoir and a filtering system.
The liver filters over a litre of blood per minute to remove bacteria, toxic substances, alcohol, drugs and other particles from the blood circulation. Ninety-five per cent of alcohol ingested is processed by the liver and repeated consumption of alcohol can inhibit the production of digestive enzymes, resulting in impaired digestion and absorption.
Apart from being a clearance house, the liver is part and parcel of the digestive system and is involved in the chemical breakdown of carbohydrates, fat and proteins from our diet for energy. The gallbladder, which is connected to the liver by the common hepatic duct, stores bile that is manufactured by the liver. Bile is a liquid mixture of bile salts, pigments, cholesterol, phospholipids and fatty acids. It is secreted into the small intestine to aid in absorption of fats, oils and fat-soluble vitamins. Any impairment of the liver's function will lead to poor blood sugar and cholesterol management that may lead to diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
The busy liver is also a vital component of the immune system. It supplies our body with antibodies and blood-clotting factors. With the zillion activities going on in the liver, any slight or minor upset of the liver function can easily be overlooked. Poor skin condition, constipation, headaches, fatigue, general malaise, premenstrual syndrome, aches and pains, irritability, hormonal imbalances, allergies and chemical sensitivities have been linked to an overburdened and sluggish liver.
Amazing as it may be, the liver has the ability to restore itself, whereby nutrition and herbs play an important role in keeping it healthy and efficient. Antioxidant nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamin C and E, zinc and selenium protect the liver cells from free radical damage. Such nutrients are richly available in fruits, leafy greens, carrots, cucumbers, onions, legumes and root vegetables.
Alternative practitioners advocate eating as much raw food as possible, and that includes raw juicing. Raw fruit and vegetable juices are good sources of plant enzymes that help digestion and provide antioxidant nutrients. Observing a one-day juicing detoxification plan once a month works wonder to ease the liver's load. The aim of a juice detox plan is to help speed up metabolism as well as cleanse and strengthen organs, tissues and blood. It also flushes out toxins and give the digestive and eliminative organs a well-earned rest along with good nutrition.
Sulphur is an excellent detoxifier found abundantly in dried legumes, eggs, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, turnips, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, fish and lean meat. The B vitamins are co-factors of the liver's detoxification pathways. These vitamins are usually destroyed when food is processed or refined. Food containing B-vitamins are poultry, fish, brown rice, legumes, egg yolks, dried fruits and nuts. Vitamin B12 is required to enhance the flow of bile and this particular vitamin is mainly available from animal products. It is observed that many strict vegans are deficient in vitamin B12 which can result in poor liver function.
Lecithin has a direct lipotropic effect on the liver. Lipotropic means hastening the removal or decrease the deposit of fat in the liver cells by interfering with the metabolism of fat. Sources of lecithin include egg yolks, soybeans, brewers yeast, legumes, fish and wheatgerm. Lecithin granules are easily available from pharmacies. They can be sprinkled on food and soups, or added to juices.
Herbs can play an important role in keeping the liver healthy. Many of these herbs are very gentle, and even a healthy person can benefit from using them to promote proper digestion and enhance liver detoxification. The most potent liver protective herb is milk thistle (Silybum marianum), high in a mixture of antioxidants collectively referred to as silymarin. Hundreds of studies have been published on milk thistle demonstrating that this herb is effective in preventing liver damage and repairing damage from alcohol, drugs, chronic hepatitis and exposure to toxic chemicals.
One of the most acclaimed successes of milk thistle's effectiveness was in 1970, when a researcher used it to treat 60 people from severe liver poisoning and deaths with wild Amanita mushrooms. As a result of its effectiveness, milk thistle extract in injection form is administered immediately in cases of mushroom poisoning.
Another liver herb is dandelion (Taraxecum officinale). It has a direct effect on the liver by enhancing the flow of bile, thus improving conditions in a variety of liver disorders, including jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatitis, liver congestion, gallstones and chronic constipation. Dandelion leaves are high in vitamins, especially vitamin A, minerals, protein, pectin and lipotropic factors. They are added raw to salad or cooked like spinach.
The writer of this article is a pharmacist who is actively involved in the dissemination of information on natural healthcare and holistic therapies.
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