Liver Support In Health and Disease Through Diet and Lifestyle Modifications

The liver is a critical organ playing a role in practically every organ system in the body. It is so vital, but we hear less of this organ than the other organs when it has to do with health, mainly due to its extraordinary regenerative capacity. The liver can almost completely regenerate after damage. 

The liver supports digestion, metabolism, detoxification/drug metabolism, reproduction, immunity, blood clotting, sex hormone metabolism, cholesterol homeostasis through bile production, energy, blood and nutrient storage, and many other functions. The liver does tall of these due to its interactions with the many organ systems. 

The liver comprises around 2% of an adult’s body weight. It has a dual blood supply. 

Liver disease that is not associated with heavy alcohol use is common in people with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. 

There are many kinds of liver diseases.

  • Inflammatory liver diseases include acute and chronic hepatitis, 
  • Non-inflammatory liver diseases include hepatic steatosis, toxic lesions, cirrhosis, vascular conditions, and liver tumors. 
  • Viral liver diseases are caused by hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, Epstein-Barr virus, Cytomegalovirus, and others. You can successfully treat Hepatitis B and C if the diagnosis is made in time.
  • Some liver diseases are caused by drugs, poisons, too much alcohol, or too many fats. Examples include fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.

When the liver becomes sick, the body enters a state of chronic poisoning

You can test liver health with a combination of the following blood tests:

  • Aspartate transaminase (AST)
  • Alanine transaminase (ALT)
  • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP)
  • Bilirubin
  • Gamma-glutamyltranspeptidase (GGT) 

These enzymes are components of liver cells. Blood tests of these enzymes help identify cell damage in the liver because these enzymes are released into the bloodstream when liver cell damage occurs. 

  • Another blood test is albumin produced by the liver. This shows how well the liver is functioning and tells about nutrition status.
  • Clotting factors are also important. All but one clotting factor is produced in the liver (factor VIII), so the PT test is an essential signal for liver damage, vitamin K deficiency, or warfarin therapy. [1]

The feeling of pain on the right side below the ribs is also a sign of liver disease. 

There are no medications available to treat liver disease; therefore, diet and lifestyle changes remain the best way to heal or prevent further liver damage.

Here is what you can do to reduce the risk of permanent liver damage or chronic liver disease: 

  1. Malnutrition is common in liver diseases. Malnutrition does not necessarily mean a lack of food. Sometimes malnutrition comes in the form of a lack of nutrients even though there is no lack of calories. Alcoholic liver disease comes because people consuming much alcohol do not consume enough healthy foods and thus do not receive sufficient nutrients from their diet. Also, the toxic byproducts of alcohol prevent the body from adequately digesting nutrients, especially proteins, specific vitamins, and fats. In both cases, nutrient deficiency contributes to malnutrition.
  2. Overeating is another common cause of decreased liver function. Overconsumption of food and drink burdens the liver. An exhausted liver is not as effective in detoxifying harmful substances as when this organ has less work to do. Obesity has long been closely linked to liver disease, particularly non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. According to a study on the nutritional issues in patients with cirrhosis, obesity increases the risk of primary malignancies. Therefore, it is paramount to maintain a healthy weight. [2] I recommended consuming small but frequent meals (4-6 small meals per day). Three meals a day of grain, healthy fat, and a plant-based protein, and three snacks of fruits and natural nuts or seeds in between the meals are ideal.
  3. Too little fiber is not suitable for the liver. Most energy should come from whole carbohydrate-rich foods such as root vegetables, fruits, organic whole grains, and legumes.
  4. Salt has pro-oxidant properties. It would be best to consume salt in moderation to prevent overburdening the liver. One study showed that a high-salt diet led to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis in mice and stimulated oxidative stress production and inflammation even more than a high-fat diet in mice. I recommended limiting daily salt intake to ½ a teaspoon a day as salt retains excess water in the body, which increases the pressure on the damaged liver. [3] 
  5. Avoid processed and red meat. A recent study on the food groups associated with liver disease showed that red meat and animal fat intake were associated with an increase in liver fat accumulation that results in liver damage and insulin resistance. [4]

Furthermore, processed meats like bacon, sausage, and salami are high in saturated fats, sodium content, and nitrates which cause inflammation and place a burden on the liver. For this reason, people with liver disease should avoid high-fat meats, chicken, deli meats, pork, and beef.

Also, animal products have high levels of bacterial endotoxins even after being cooked. These toxins are associated with alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and liver disease caused by intravenous feeding. Alcohol consumption and gut bacteria that produce alcohol may cause leaky gut syndrome, allowing bacterial endotoxins (lipopolysaccharides) to increase inflammation. This leads to higher oxidative stress, causing insulin resistance, burdening the liver, and worsening disease. Healthy protein-rich foods should be consumed instead, including beans, peas, and lentils, as well as sea and green leafy vegetables. There is no need for more than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Aim for it to come from plant sources instead of animal sources.

Recommended supplements

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant helping regulate lipid homeostasis, decreasing free radical formation, and improving the antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase. Since oxidative stress is a critical factor in the development and progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the increased production of free radicals can lead to fat degradation, resulting in inflammation and liver fat accumulation fibrogenesis increased insulin resistance [5-7]. It is also inversely associated with levels of the inflammatory markers C-reactive protein (CRP) and myeloperoxidase [8-10].

Apples, raspberries, and celery are rich in vitamin C, B, K, E, fiber, and flavonoids and support a healthy liver. They are rich in pectin polysaccharides, supportive of a healthy liver. [11-12]

A study from China with 3741 participants from 40 to 80 years examined the association between vitamin C intake and NAFLD found that vitamin C intake was inversely associated with NAFLD, especially for non-obese males. [13] I recommend taking 500-1000 mg of liposomal vitamin C four times a week.

Zinc

Liver disease has been associated with zinc deficiency for a very long time, especially alcoholic liver disease. [14-15]

Zinc reduces oxidative stress through different mechanisms. Zinc supplementation was also shown to prevent alcohol-induced decreases in glutathione (GSH) concentration and glutathione peroxidase activity in the liver. [16-17]

Zinc supplementation reverses impaired night vision, skin lesions, liver metabolic function, nutrition parameters, encephalopathy, and immune dysfunction caused by zinc deficiency in liver disease. [18-20]

In one study from Japan on long-term zinc supplementation, researchers concluded that zinc helps improve liver function and reduces the risk of developing chronic liver diseases and liver cancer. [21] As an essential trace element, the liver needs zinc to activate enzymes critical to its healthy functioning. Zinc is also a necessary element for activating the enzyme responsible for breaking down potentially harmful oxygen molecules in the liver cells.

Zinc is naturally found in beans, nuts, and whole grains. 

However, if you want to supplement, I recommend supplementing with 25 mg of zinc daily and a spirulina tablet or powder five times a week to ensure the zinc will not cause a copper deficiency. It is crucial not to surpass the recommended limit with zinc supplementation, as this may cause side effects.

Barley Grass

Barley grass is of the foods ancient humans consumed in the rainforests of Africa that allowed our species to thrive. Barley sprouts are abundant in the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities of the flavonoid saponarin, which has liver-protective effects by inhibiting the inflammatory response induced by alcohol. Barley grass is rich in chlorophyll, the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase, flavonoids lutonarin, saponarin, and an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and eight essential amino acids. [22-26]

The deficiency of superoxide dismutase (copper/zinc) will cause free radical damage leading to the development of liver cancer. [27]

I recommend regularly adding barley grass powder to your foods or taking supplements 5-7 times a week.

Here is my favorite:

https://amzn.to/3JRId9r

Increase green tea consumption

An analysis of the effects of green tea on the risks of liver disease concluded consuming green tea may protect against liver disease. [28] Green tea is rich in antioxidants, reducing oxidative stress and enhancing liver enzyme function. Researchers have shown that green tea can interfere with fat absorption, lowering cholesterol, and reducing fat storage.

Green tea is best when consumed without sugar. Green tea also has polyphenols that interact with the digestive enzymes in the small intestine and improve liver function. 

Milk thistle

Milk thistle, the most well-researched plant in the treatment of liver disease, contains silymarin in the entire plant that helps alleviate the symptoms of liver dysfunction. Silymarin is concentrated in the fruit and seeds. Silymarin is an antioxidant reducing free radical production and lipid peroxidation. Silymarin also has antifibrotic activity and may serve as a toxin blocking agent by stopping toxins from binding to liver cell membrane receptors. [29]

I recommend supplementing with an alcohol-free extract of milk thistle like this:

https://amzn.to/3Fbw7V0

Lifestyle habits

Avoid smoking and alcohol consumption

Smoking causes many side effects on organs such as the liver. This causes three main adverse effects on the liver: direct or indirect toxic effects, immune effects, and cancer-promoting effects. In addition, smoking causes suppression of immune responses and is associated with reduced surveillance for tumor cells. [30]

Since the liver is a detoxifying organ, liver health also depends on how well your kidneys are filtering toxins from your body. Avoid drinking alcohol excessively as chronic heavy use can lead to liver cirrhosis. According to a study on liver disease, consuming between 30 to 50 grams of alcohol daily for over five years can cause alcoholic liver disease. And drinking more than 14 drinks a week puts men at high risk for developing liver problems. [31] The threshold is different for women. For women, drinking more than seven drinks per week puts their livers at risk. Chronic overconsumption also stresses the liver by leading to fat accumulation, which leads to an increase in free radicals associated with liver disease.

Takeaway

If you have liver disease or are at high risk for developing the condition, you should avoid foods that can lead to more damage to your liver. Avoid excess sugar, remove red meats from your diet and eat lean meats in moderation. The best diet to follow focuses on whole, plant-based foods if you have liver disease. Eat various fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats. 

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References 

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