Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Treat Your Liver with Love: Improve Your Energy, Memory and More

The liver is one of the largest, busiest, most important organs in the body. People generally give little thought to liver health... and that’s a mistake.
Poor liver function can lead to a wide range of physical and mental health problems—from allergies and bad breath to bloating and chronic fatigue, food sensitivities, memory problems and migraines, to name just a few.
In naturopathic circles, we have a saying, "If you aren’t sure what a patient needs, treat the liver." This approach is in step with the great healing practices of old, including Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, which emphasize the importance of a healthy liver for optimal wellness. Here are steps you can take to protect, detoxify and heal your liver—and the dangerous "treatments" some misguided people try that actually do more harm than good.


Roughly one-quarter of the blood in the body flows through the liver every minute. Oxygen-rich blood is delivered directly from the heart... and nutrient-rich blood travels nonstop from the intestines. Liver cells called hepatocytes handle more tasks than any other cells in the body. They also contain high concentrations of mitochondria, the energy-producing parts of the cells. The liver affects numerous bodily functions...
Digestion. Before the small intestine can absorb fats—including fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K—the fats must be emulsified (suspended in fluid). To do that, the liver produces up to 27 ounces a day of the digestive fluid bile. Some bile goes directly to the small intestine to meet immediate needs, and the rest is stored in the gall bladder.

The liver metabolizes food, turning it into fuel called glucose... and converts glucose into glycogen and stores it as a fuel reserve for times when blood glucose runs low. The liver also transforms vitamins and minerals into forms the body can use... stores reserves of numerous nutrients... and breaks down various substances into waste products, which the body then excretes.
Detoxification. Toxic substances, such as alcohol, and prescription and nonprescription medications (which some people cannot properly metabolize for genetic reasons), meet their ultimate end in the liver. How: First the liver filters toxins from the blood... then changes the toxins’ chemical structures to make them more water-soluble so that they can be excreted through urine and stool. The various enzymatic processes through which the liver accomplishes these tasks are called detoxification pathways.
Circulation. The liver produces components that allow blood to clot, plus proteins to dissolve clots that are no longer needed... breaks down old red blood cells, freeing the iron they contain so that it can be reused... and produces albumin, a blood protein that transports certain minerals and medications throughout the body.
Hormone activity. The liver synthesizes cholesterol, which is necessary for the production of hormones... and produces carrier proteins that transport hormones via the blood.
Immune function. The liver produces immune cells that help remove bacteria from the blood.


When the liver operates suboptimally, it is called "sluggish," meaning it cannot detoxify substances rapidly or thoroughly enough for them to be efficiently excreted. Consequently, lingering toxins exit the liver and migrate to other areas of the body, producing free radicals—unstable molecules that can damage body tissues. Eventually, the body tucks the toxins into fat tissue and cells of the brain and central nervous system. These toxins may be slowly released into the blood and contribute to many chronic health problems, including arthritis, chronic fatigue and poor memory. A sluggish liver also may affect blood flow—one possible reason why liver problems are linked to cold hands and feet, migraine and nearsightedness.
Sluggish liver is not recognized in the world of conventional medicine, so it often goes undiagnosed and untreated.One reason: Blood tests intended to detect the elevated liver enzymes that signal poor liver function generally do not show marked abnormalities until liver impairment is severe.
Many conventional doctors dismiss mildly elevated liver enzyme levels as unimportant and therefore do not recommend follow-up testing or treatment. However, small elevations can indeed indicate liver damage. Evidence:In a study in the British Medical Journal, researchers followed up on abnormal liver enzyme test results in 873 patients. They found that physicians ordered further testing and/or treatment for 531 patients who had known liver disease. Among the remaining 342 patients, doctors’ notes suggested that 157 merited further investigation—but 91 of those patients were not sent for follow-up testing. When the researchers ordered additional tests on all 157 patients, 62% of them had an identifiable diagnosis—including contagious viral hepatitis or other chronic liver diseases that required hospitalization.
My approach: When initial tests show elevated liver enzyme levels, I work with the patient to address possible contributing factors, including diet, pharmaceutical use and toxin exposure... and I prescribe natural supplements that enhance liver function. After four to six weeks of this protocol, I retest to see whether the problem has been corrected.


The following protocol promotes liver health and generally is beneficial for everyone. Unless noted, supplements are sold at health-food stores, are safe and have no side effects (as a general precaution, do not use if you are pregnant or breast-feeding).
DO NOT try "liver flushes." Currently popular is a one-to-three-day fast during which the person consumes only a mixture of water, lime juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper (or a similar concoction). I strongly advise against this. First, flushes don’t work. It takes more than a few days to clear out toxins, reestablish normal bile flow and heal liver cells. Second, flushes can be dangerous, especially for people with nutritional deficiencies, gallstones or severe chemical toxicities. Risks include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fatigue and muscle aches.
DO follow a detox diet. Most plant foods contain phytochemicals that aid in detoxification. Aim for two or three servings per day of foods rich in the following phytochemicals...
  • Allium—from garlic, onions, chives.
  • Chlorophyll—from spinach, chard, turnip greens.
  • Ellagic acid—from red grapes, raspberries, blackberries.
  • Gallic acid—from mangoes, rhubarb, soy foods, green and black teas.
  • Glucosinolates and indoles—from cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts.
  • Isothiocyanates—from horseradish and cruciferous vegetables.
  • Limonene—from citrus fruits and peels.
  • Sulforaphane—from broccoli sprouts and cruciferous vegetables.
Also helpful: Curcumin, found in the spice turmeric. To incorporate it into your diet, add turmeric liberally while cooking.
Important: Avoid—or use sparingly—foods that stress the liver, including alcohol, caffeine, sugar, artificial sweeteners, saturated fats (found in meats and nonskim dairy foods) and trans fats (such as hydrogenated vegetable oils and shortening).
DO hydrate. Each day, drink 80 ounces of water that has been purified through a faucet-mounted or pitcher-style charcoal filter or a reverse-osmosis filter (installed on your home’s main waterline).
DO steer clear of toxins. When possible, avoid secondhand smoke... pesticides... automobile exhaust... fumes from paints, glues, fire retardants and cleansers... arsenic (in unpurified water, contaminated shellfish and nonorganic chicken)... lead (in old pipes, paints, crystal and dishware)... and mercury (in some vaccines, amalgam dental fillings and some seafoods, such as swordfish and tuna).
DO use healing roots and herbs. Beetroot, dandelion root, Oregon grape root, wild yam, wormwood and milk thistle stimulate production of bile and its flow from the liver. Convenient: A formula that combines liver-supporting herbs, such as Gaia Herbs Liver Health (888-917-8269, or Solaray Liver Blend (800-669-8877, Follow dosage instructions on labels—typically one capsule before each meal. For a general liver tune-up, I advise all adults to take an herbal liver formula for one month per year. If your liver enzyme levels are elevated, take it for six weeks or until enzymes normalize. If you have chronic hepatitis, continue indefinitely.
DO take supplements that support detoxification pathways. I advise everyone to take a multivitamin/mineral daily, continuing indefinitely. In addition, I recommend the following supplements. Take them for one month per year (the same month in which you use the liver support formula, described above)... or indefinitely if you have chronic liver disease or frequent exposure to any of the toxins described above.
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an amino acid derivative, at 250 mg twice daily.
  • Vitamin C at 500 mg twice daily (in addition to the vitamin C in your multivitamin).
  • Chlorella, a green algae, taken as directed on the label. Good brand to try: Sun Chlorella (800-829-2828,
DO limit medication. Avoid unnecessary prescription and nonprescription drugs—and never use higher-than-recommended doses. Certain drugs can harm the liver by creating the following problems...
  • Liver inflammation—from more than 100 products that contain the painkiller and fever reduceracetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Bile flow impairment—from birth control pills, the antibiotic erythromycin, the psychiatric drugchlorpromazine (Thorazine) and anabolic steroids.
  • Elevated liver enzyme levels and possible liver failure—from cholesterol-lowering statins.
  • Drug-induced hepatitis—from statin drugs and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such asibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve).
  • Liver toxicity—from the arrhythmia drug amiodarone (Cordarone, Pacerone) or the rheumatoid arthritis and cancer drug methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall).
DO reduce stress. Every day, practice a relaxation technique, such as meditation or deep breathing. Regular exercise also alleviates stress.
When your liver is once again operating optimally, you will be amazed at how much better you feel.
The more symptoms you have, the more important it is for you to adhere to the recommendations in this article and to seek help from a holistic doctor. In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, a poorly functioning liver could contribute to numerous ailments, including blood sugar regulation problems (hypoglycemia, prediabetes, diabetes)... body odor that is very strong... cold hands and feet... depression... frequent diarrhea... fibrocystic breasts... gassiness... joint and/or muscle pain... irregular menstrual periods... nasal congestion... prostate enlargement or prostate cancer... skin rashes... and weight gain.

Mark A. Stengler, NMD, is a naturopathic medical doctor and leading authority on the practice of alternative and integrated medicine. Dr. Stengler is author of the Bottom Line Natural Healing newsletter, author of The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies (Bottom Line Books), founder and medical director of the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine in Encinitas, California, and adjunct associate clinical professor at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon.


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