The skin-liver connection
Your liver is the only organ in your body that’s capable of self-repair, which is just as well as you need your liver for a variety of functions; to break down toxins, to deactivate hormones, to filter waste products to the bowels and kidneys and to store key nutrients such as vitamins A, D and B12.
If your liver function starts to become sluggish, you’ll quickly notice as your digestive system may be affected, alongside levels of certain hormones and yes, your skin. This is because your skin, similar to your kidneys and liver, is known as an elimination organ.
When your liver becomes overtired it becomes unable to eliminate toxins. This means that other organs such as your kidneys and skin have to pick up the slack resulting in all those nasty impurities exiting your body via your epidermis. It goes without saying that this process can upset your skin, especially if your skin is already sensitive or you suffer from a dry skin condition like eczema. These toxins can easily cause irritation, itchiness and even a dreaded flare-up.
You also have to consider the other roles that your liver plays. Your liver, for example, is crucial for helping to regulate your blood sugar levels. So, if your liver function is sluggish, you can expect to experience some fluctuations which may affect your energy levels, sleep patterns and appetite. This can make you more prone to craving sugary, carb-heavy foods that can impact your complexion.
Did you know your liver is also crucial for breaking down fat too? If your liver isn’t breaking down fat or assisting the production of bile, it can mean than undigested bits of fat pass into your digestive tract, causing a number of problems such as constipation, bloating and diarrhoea, which in turn can cause toxins and waste products to build up in your body, causing widespread inflammation.
Your liver is also responsible for deactivating sex hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone. If these sex hormones aren’t properly deactivated it means that they remain active in your body. In the case of women, excess oestrogen can cause oestrogen dominant PMS symptoms such as period pain, bloating and mood swings. However, when it comes to your skin, excess testosterone can be a real problem as testosterone encourages the production of sebum oil and, if you’re producing too much oil, it can start to clog your pores, causing an outbreak of spots or even acne!
It’s even been speculated that you need a healthy liver to maintain proper levels of vitamin D!1 Since vitamin D is important for your immune system and can help to reduce inflammation, it’s extremely useful for a variety of skin conditions, from eczema to acne.
So you see, you need a healthy liver to have a healthy complexion! But why are liver problems so common in the first place?
How can you support your liver?
Liver problems and diseases are, unfortunately, becoming increasingly common in today’s society. According to the NHS, 1 in 3 people in the UK are suffering from the early stages of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).2 A worrying statistic and one that begs the question, why, if your liver is so important, do so many of us neglect it? What can you really do to support your liver function?
1 – Look at your alcohol intake
Alcohol has a long history of being associated with liver problems such as alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis and it’s not exactly great for your skin either, often being counted as a major trigger of rosacea. Now let’s be clear; an excessive alcohol intake is the problem here.
If you enjoy the odd glass of wine or occasional cocktail, you’ve got nothing to worry about. While your liver cannot store alcohol, it’s certainly capable of metabolising it and it’s thought that around 90% of the alcohol you drink will eventually be excreted in urine and sweat.
However, your liver does have its limits – it can process a small drink or so an hour but, if you’re drinking more than this, your liver will not be able to cope and the remaining alcohol will circulate in your blood.3 Since alcohol can also act as a diuretic, it also means you’ll be losing more fluids – not a good scenario for your liver as it needs water to function properly!
Now, I’m pretty confident I don’t need to lecture about the dangers of binge drinking however, a new problem is creeping into our society – habitual drinking. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out at the pub downing shots of tequila. Instead, you may feel that you need a glass of wine in the evening to unwind after a long day of running ragged after your family or working hard at your job.
One glass a week is fine, however, this evening treat can quickly turn into a daily habit and that’s when it becomes problematic!
2 – Watch out for toxins!
Your diet can be a big cause of many liver problems and could explain why liver issues are now so widespread. In the past 50 years, agriculture has started to use more and more pesticides and chemicals in their farming methods, which means that many of the non-organic foods you consume may have a chemical residue. Your liver is then responsible for breaking down these toxins, but it can become overwhelmed, especially if processed meats and refined foods are a major staple of your diet.
Your diet isn’t the only source of artificial chemicals though – think of what you put on your skin! Perfumes, suncream and most high-street cosmetics and skincare products are loaded with parabens, preservatives and artificial fragrances which will eventually be transported to your liver, but not without first making contact with your skin!
Now going organic isn’t always the most affordable option so it’s completely understandable that you may be a bit wary of completely converting to an organic lifestyle. In her blog, ‘Go organic this summer’ our advisor Katie does go into detail about going organic on a budget and the ‘dirty dozen’ that may contain the highest volume of pesticides!
When it comes to skincare, you could try mixing up your own face masks or using natural moisturisers.
3 – Drink plenty of fluids
Water isn’t just essential for your liver, it’s also pretty important for your skin too. As I’ve mentioned, your liver needs plenty of water to breakdown toxins such as alcohol and, if you’re not drinking between 1.5-2 litres a day, you can become dehydrated, which will not only impact your liver health, but can cause digestive problems such as constipation as well as upsetting your skin!
Now, it’s important to remember that by fluids, I do mean good old fashioned plain water. Coffee or tea definitely doesn’t count and neither do herbal teas or fresh fruit juice! However, if you find the thought of sipping on plain water to be a bit boring, you could try mixing things up a bit by infusing your water with fresh fruit and fragrant herbs such as mint – Annmarie’s Detox Water is one of my favourite go-to recipes for a more refreshing drink!
4 – Focus on liver-boosting foods!
Food is your body’s primary source of fuel and your liver definitely needs plenty of good fuel to get the job done properly. Fibre is particularly important here as it helps to support the elimination process so plenty of fresh fruit, veg and wholegrains! If you want to learn more about the types of foods that can help your liver, I’d recommend checking out our nutritionist Emma’s blog, ‘What are the best foods for your liver?’
It could also help if you include more herbs such as Dandelion and Milk Thistle, which are traditionally used to help support your liver function, improving your secretions of bile and enabling your liver to cope better with toxins and impurities. Our Milk Thistle Complex contains a combination of Milk Thistle, Dandelion and Peppermint, so it may be useful to consider this remedy too!
5 – Get active
Since excess fat and cholesterol can play a role in determining your liver health, it only makes sense to take steps to improve your physical health. Keeping active can not only help to burn fat, it can also get your blood pumping, improving your circulation and ensuring that plenty of nutrients are conveyed to your skin!
Finding the motivation to exercise can be tricky, as can finding a form of exercise that works for you. Understandably, if you have a hectic schedule, simply popping to the gym for an hour can be difficult but generally, if you’re new to exercise, the simpler, the better. The Get Active section of our website offers a wide variety of exercises to suit a range of different scenarios; from exercises you can do if you're super busy to tips on how to stay motivated!