“Symptoms, then, are in reality nothing but a cry from suffering organs.” — Jean-Martin Charcot
IT’S SPRING TIME, which means now is the best time to detoxify and stabilize one of the most important organs in your body – your liver.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, your liver is considered to be your master organ. It is involved in almost every process of your body, including:
- digestion of food
- enzyme activation
- hormone production
- protein production
- immune cell activation
- storage of vitamins and iron
- blood sugar storage and regulation
Your liver is also vital for processing and detoxification of chemicals, alcohol, drugs, and cholesterol, and affects many other functions related to mental and physical well-being.
Liver and Toxins
Your liver processes toxins, which come from chemical processes in your body and from foods, drugs, alcohol, pesticides, and other environmental toxins.
Your liver removes these toxins from your body by producing bile, which releases into your intestines and into your blood for excretion through your kidneys. The bile in your intestines mixes with your feces and leaves your body along with any other undigested material. Bile is also like a lubricant and helps your feces move easily out of your body.
Most people today have a sluggish liver due to stressful lifestyles and environmental toxins. These people detoxify less, produce less bile, and are often more prone to gas, bloating, constipation, inconsistent stools, or irritable bowel syndrome.
Constipation increases the amount of toxins retained and reabsorbed back into your body.
These toxins negatively affect hormones, neurotransmitters, and all your organs, which are all essential to emotional well-being.
Increased levels of toxins also burden your organs and make them work much harder, increasing their demand for precious nutrients, which leaves fewer nutrients available for making mood-enhancing neurotransmitters.
Toxins also create chronic inflammation in your body, which stresses your adrenal glands to constantly produce higher levels of cortisol. Continuously high levels of cortisol exacerbate depression and anxiety because cortisol suppresses serotonin, GABA, and dopamine.
Poor liver function increases toxicity in your body and has a direct correlation with mental health. It also has a direct correlation to different diseases, including:
- menstrual issues
- low libido
- irritable bowel syndrome
- chronic inflammation
- vision disturbances
- and many other conditions
Liver, Lactate, Alcohol, Coffee, and Sugar
Lactate is an anxiety-creating chemical that is produced when you eat high amounts of sugars, simple carbohydrates, and inflammatory foods.
Your liver converts lactate back into glucose, but if your liver is toxic or sluggish, lactate levels in your blood increase rather than being converted into glucose, causing higher levels of anxiety.
To minimize lactate levels in your body, practice the following:
- Eat fewer refined carbohydrates, sugars, and foods you may be sensitive to.
- Avoid alcohol as it interferes with liver function and also impairs your liver’s ability to convert lactate back into glucose. If you crave alcohol, you’re likely low in a neurotransmitter called GABA.
- Coffee stimulates sugar to be released into your blood and also interferes with liver function, both of which increase lactate levels in your blood. Caffeine also pushes your adrenal glands to work harder without nourishing them, making depression and anxiety worse.
High amounts of alcohol, coffee, and sugar worsen anxiety and depression, and avoiding these foods will speed up your recovery.
Liver and Your Hormones
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone have a profound effect on your emotions, and your liver plays an important role in regulating these hormones.
Many women are estrogen-dominant, meaning they have high estrogen levels and low progesterone. Progesterone is an important hormone in depression and anxiety because it helps improve GABA function in the brain and is linked to better sleep and more positive emotions in women.
High levels of testosterone make you feel good and reduce feelings of anxiety, leaving you less prone to depression.
With women in particular, liver imbalances cause hormones to become unbalanced, and this can cause symptoms such as:
- irregular menstruation
- painful periods
- premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- blurry vision
- breast tenderness
- mood swings
- symptoms of anxiety and depression
Other factors that alter the estrogen and progesterone balance include hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and taking the birth control pill. The chronic use of hormonal drugs increasing your risk of emotional issues while it depletes vital nutrients such as:
- B vitamins (especially vitamin B6)
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
Caring for your liver includes detoxifying your liver cells, improving their functioning and healing, and protecting them from oxidative damage caused by all the toxins they detoxify. Using herbs, diet, supplements, and castor oil packs are some of the best ways to prevent and correct liver damage.
Liver-Healing Foods and Supplements
Many foods and nutritious supplements can help your liver to function better.
Certain foods improve the health of your liver, some repair the damage caused to your liver by toxins, and others stimulate your liver to secrete more bile, which helps to eliminate toxins.
Foods that enhance your liver’s health, and reduces damage caused to the liver by toxins include:
- brussels sprouts
- sweet potatoes
- squash and yams
- mustard greens
Beetroot juice, especially, is a good source of a nutrient called glutathione, which protects your liver from toxin damage.
Bitter leafy vegetables like dandelion, chicory, and rocket (arugula) stimulate your liver to release more bile and toxins and can easily be added to your salad. Choose organically grown foods as much as possible, since a lot of products contain pesticides, which are harmful to your body and increase toxicity. Avoid trans-fatty acids and junk food because these also increase the toxic load on your body.
Antioxidants are nutrients that help to repair and protect your liver cells from damage caused by toxins. Colorful berries (e.g., blueberries and raspberries) and fresh vegetables are rich sources of antioxidants.
Nutrients that are antioxidants include:
- vitamin A
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
- alphalipoic acid
- coenzyme Q10
If you do not eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables, or if you live or work in a potentially toxic environment, like most of us do nowadays, you need extra antioxidants in your diet. Antioxidants are also excellent for heart health, cancer prevention, and general health.
To help your body detoxify better, include a high amount of fiber and water in your diet. Water helps your kidneys flush out toxins, and fiber binds to toxins in your intestines for easy removal through your stools. Fiber is a vital component of a healthy diet, as without being bound to fiber, a lot of toxins are reabsorbed back into your body.
Herbs for Your Liver
Herbs can detoxify your liver, improve its function, and protect it from toxic damage. Most of these herbs are available in a health-food store or from your Naturopathic doctor. Use these herbs under the supervision of a health professional since combining them with medicines or improper dosages may be harmful.
- Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is a popular herb for liver health. Milk thistle contains silymarin, a powerful substance that protects liver cells from damage by toxins and other chemicals. Milk thistle also helps liver cells function better, thereby improving detoxification.
- Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinale) stimulates your liver to release more bile and is a powerful liver detoxifier. The root of dandelion is more useful for liver detoxification, whereas the leaf is more useful for kidney detoxification.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a spice used in Indian cuisine and has curcuminoids, which have numerous health benefits. Turmeric protects your liver cells and stimulates your liver to produce and excrete bile. Turmeric is also antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, making it useful for infections and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Turmeric also seems to help with cancer and cholesterol issues, making it a truly wonderful herb.