The importance of your liver!
Your liver has a busy job as its main responsibility is to detoxify us; unsurprisingly this is no mean feat in today’s society! Often, unbeknown to us, we are continually bombarding this important organ with environmental and dietary toxins as it attempts to do its job effectively and keep you healthy.
Interestingly, some surprising symptoms from problem skin to mood swings could indicate that your liver is under pressure and these can be useful warning signs to tune into. Here I run through some common complaints and explain how they could be linked to the health of your liver!
1 - Constipation
Amongst its many functions, the liver is responsible for manufacturing and secreting bile. Bile is not only important for helping to break down the food that we eat (fats in particular), but it also helps to stimulate peristalsis – the unique movements that work to carry waste through our digestive tract. If your liver is struggling to secrete enough bile then it could be slowing your gut down and contributing to constipation.
Now that’s not all; if you’re going to the loo less often, this means that the excretion of toxins will also have slowed down, which puts further pressure on the liver as these are reabsorbed back into your system. This can easily turn into a nasty vicious cycle.
Although liver health and constipation are often linked, if you’ve experienced any recent changes in your bowel movements it could also be linked to changes in your diet, dysbiosis or some other underlying problem, so it’s always best to get this checked with your doctor.
2 – Fatigue
As your liver is such an important organ with a number of key functions, if it’s under pressure, you may feel it elsewhere and you could find that your energy levels soon plummet. Many of you may have felt the effects after a night out, but if the liver is continually under pressure, then these feelings of lethargy may stick around longer-term.
As we know, the liver is also associated with detoxifying toxins from the body and helping with the breakdown and absorption of key nutrients from the food we eat. If these processes aren’t happening properly our nutrient uptake can become affected, plus there can be a build of toxins in our system - not a good combination in terms of supporting your energy levels, that’s for sure!
Ironically, liver complaints often coincide with insomnia and trouble sleeping too; so especially if you wake between 1-3am of an evening (when the liver is most active accordingly to Traditional Chinese Medicine) it could be a sign that your liver isn’t so happy. Unsurprisingly, if you aren’t sleeping well you’re also much more likely to feel more fatigued, and so on!
However, if you’re struggling with fatigue, it could be the result of a number of issues; from liver health to menopause or nutrient deficiencies, so if in any doubt, a check up with your doctor would be recommended.
3 – Itchy skin
Itchy skin or skin conditions such as psoriasis may also be linked to the health of your liver. If the liver is struggling to process toxins and bile salts as it normally would, then the skin can become irritated as a result of some of these by-products being excreted elsewhere (the skin is thought to act as an alternative exit route).
When it comes to skin, the holistic approach is often to try and determine what the underlying cause may be, rather than just attempting to treat any issues topically. Allergic reactions or digestive issues such as food intolerance or liver health are often common culprits to consider.
4 – Problem PMS
We don’t often link PMS with liver health, but actually one of the liver’s main jobs is to recycle our hormones. In many cases of PMS or period-related conditions such as endometriosis or fibroids, oestrogen dominance is at the root of the cause.
Some typical oestrogen-dominant symptoms can include heavy, painful periods, water retention, mood swings or irritability, and especially if you notice any digestive symptoms such as constipation alongside these, it could suggest that your liver needs a little extra support.
5 – Nausea
Nausea is often a classic ‘liver symptom’. As your liver is responsible for breaking down the fats we eat and processing any toxins that we consume, if it becomes overloaded or isn’t doing its job properly, we can be left feeling a little queasy.
When it comes to nausea, it can be really useful to listen to your symptoms. If your symptoms tend to crop up monthly or in the approach to menopause, hormones could also be having a part to play, however, if your symptoms are worse after eating certain foods, drinking alcohol or taking certain medications, then this heightened sensitivity you are experiencing could stem back to the digestive system.
6 - Increase in body temperature
The liver is surprisingly large, around the size of a small football! It’s also very metabolically active so, if it’s working extra hard it can generate more heat and as a result, make us feel warmer than usual.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine a liver under pressure is readily associated with ‘excess heat’. Some symptoms that are often linked back to the liver include sweating, facial flushing or inflamed, acne-prone skin, bloodshot eyes or feeling angry or more heated mentally too!
Sweating or hot flushes may also be linked to other causes though, for example, as result of hormonal changes during the menopause, or certain nutrient deficiencies may also be having a part to play – your vitamin D status is one to consider and check with the doctor, for example. If you’re simply not quite sure what could be causing you to overheat, it’s always best to have a check up with your doctor.
What’s the best advice?
As always, it’s best to check in with your doctor if you are worried about any unusual symptoms that you are experiencing. However, if you’ve come to the conclusion that you could be a little kinder to your liver going forward, some top tips from me include the following:
1 – Dust up your diet
Your liver will always thank you for fresh foods. Warm, cooked veg and bitter tasting foods such as artichoke, chicory, rocket, radish and watercress are particularly liver-friendly, as are cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts.
If you’re looking for some sweetness in your life, opt for fruit including berries, grapefruit and lemon, but limit sickly sweet packaged foods where the combination of refined sugar and fats will be most likely to overload even the liveliest of livers. And finally, don’t be scared of healthy fats – good quality olive oil, coconut oil or avocados are perfect options for supporting your liver going forward.
2 – Eliminate exacerbating extras
As much as diet is important, when it comes to liver health it’s often all the added extras in peoples’ regimes that can be easily overlooked, but may actually be piling on the pressure when it comes to your liver.
Caffeine, alcohol and prescription medication are all big considerations. Even everyday medicines such as cold and flu remedies all need to be processed by the liver and if you’re on a number of medicines from the doctor already, this can become quite a burden. If you have a long list of supplies in your medicine cupboard, consider having a medicine review with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure that you aren’t taking anything unnecessarily.
3 – Helpful herbs
If you want to better support your liver going forward, bitter herbs are often the way to go. Include bitter leaves such as rocket or watercress in the form of a small salad before your main meal, or for a stronger kick, why not try a tincture such as Milk Thistle which combines extracts of milk thistle, dandelion, artichoke boldo and peppermint.