Hi, Spring Solutions dieters! It’s Hannah again, your friendly nutrition blogger. This week, Kirstie Fortescue wanted us to talk about the liver. I have to admit that when she first asked me for a blog on this topic, it caught me off-guard. Before researching it this week, all I knew about the liver was that it has something to do with processing alcohol. But now, I’m so glad I read up on it.
The liver is the great unsung hero of the digestive system. And the circulatory system. And metabolism. It’s a powerhouse of an organ! So, let’s review liver function, how an unhealthy liver can get in the way of weight loss, and how to show your liver some love through your diet.
What’s the liver and what does it do?
Your liver is a three-pound, rubbery organ that sits on the right side of your belly beneath your rib cage. Together with your pancreas and intestines, it digests and processes food into energy. The liver has over 500 functions, from producing hormones to storing vitamins and minerals. But its main job is to filter blood as it passes from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. It’s basically a big Purina water filter for your digestive system, neutralizing toxins and detoxifying chemicals before they hit your bloodstream.
That does sound important…but what does it have to do with weight loss?
Well, the liver doesn’t just filter blood. It also creates bile. Bile hangs out in your gallbladder and breaks down fat into fatty acids. It’s the difference between healthy fats working in your body to reduce inflammation and improve brain health, vs. just getting stored as excess body fat.
Processed food with lots of sugar and unhealthy fats overtaxes your liver. As fat builds up in the liver, it produces less and less bile. Without enough bile to break down the fats you eat into fatty acids, it continues to accumulate, and the problem gets worse. It’s called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and it’s one of the reasons why losing weight can be so hard for some people even when they cut calories and exercise.
Why is it called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease?
Fatty liver disease can also be caused by drinking lots of alcohol, which also overtaxes the liver. Doctors distinguish between the two causes because treatment for each type varies. But whatever the source, fatty liver disease can lead to cirrhosis, an irreversible scarring of the liver that prevents it from doing its job. When someone gets cirrhosis, he or she may need a liver transplant. It’s a serious and sometimes-fatal condition.
Well, that’s terrifying. How can I keep my liver healthy?
The best thing you can do for your liver is to eat healthy and stay hydrated. Like the Spring Solutions philosophy preaches, eat real food! That means unprocessed, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. The fewer toxins you give your liver to process, the less overworked it becomes, and the more it will detox.
There are also some fantastic herbal supplements you can use to help it along. Your liver loves antioxidant vitamins like vitamins A and C, and minerals like zinc. Try herbs like dandelion root and milk thistle. But remember that no supplement can replace a whole-foods, nutrient-rich diet. That’s the best way to thank your liver for all the work it does for you!