4 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Liver
The liver is a large organ in the abdomen that is responsible for many different functions. For example, your liver can:
Filter toxins by breaking down harmful chemicals that are found in various foods, drinks, and drugs to clear them from your system.
Produce bile which is an important compound in your body that is used to break down fats and helps your body use vitamins consumed through diet.
Store energy in the form of long sugar chains known as glycogen. If you are someone who intermittently fasts, the periods where you do not eat are periods where your body relies on glycogen stored in the liver for energy (1) (2).
In this context, it is no wonder that the liver is a vital organ that constantly works to make sure you stay in good health.
Therefore, it is a good thing to include activities or behaviors in your daily routine that can help your liver maintain a healthy function.
It is just as important to give your liver a break from its continuous efforts and allow it to recharge from time to time.
Here are just some of the many ways you can help your liver stay healthy as well as maintain, or even improve its function throughout your day-to-day life.
1. Drink Less Alcohol (Or At Least, Drink In Moderation)
One of the easiest ways we can help our livers stay healthy is by reducing alcohol consumption or by cutting it out completely.
In fact, heavy drinking can cause a list of problems for the liver, causing it to become inflamed and damaged (3).
In the worst cases, frequent, heavy drinking can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, which can be life-threatening if not treated early (4).
The good news is that your liver can actually repair itself. The not-so-good news is that it needs time to do this (5).
Frequent drinking can cause scars and damage to the liver, which it tries to repair over time. This is why it is important to either reduce the total number of drinks or cut the booze out entirely for a little while.
By doing this, you are giving your liver time to repair so you can get back to enjoying those delicious cocktails in the future.
It’s all about balance, right?
In the long run, your liver will thank you.
Main point: Frequent drinking can damage the liver. Reducing alcohol consumption can give the liver time to repair itself and recharge.
2. Watch Your Weight
Believe it or not, a slimmer waist makes for a happy liver.
This is because being overweight or obese can increase the risk for a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (or NAFLD). This tends to happen when fats build up on and around your liver (6).
When this happens, your liver becomes damaged and inflamed, which can affect how your liver is able to function.
Obesity is known to increase the amount of fat in the blood. So, by reducing your weight on the scale, you can reduce the amount of fat in your blood (7).
In turn, you’ll give your liver a break by reducing the amount of strain it must deal with to break down all of those extra, unnecessary fats.
Some of the best ways to lose weight are:
Living a healthy active lifestyle (8)
Eating a balanced diet (9)
Eating the right amount (not too much, not too little)
Main point: Your liver works hard to break down fats. Obesity increases fats in the blood, making your liver work even harder. Maintaining a healthy weight can help you maintain a healthy liver.
3. Eat More Fiber
Of course, many things we put in our bodies eventually reach the liver.
So, choosing the best foods and drinks that do not cause a lot of strain on the liver is another way to keep it working in a healthy and appropriate manner.
Foods such as fruits, oatmeal, broccoli, and beans are all great sources of fiber, and fiber is very important for a healthy liver.
In fact, one study showed that the fiber you get from fruit can greatly improve the health of your liver, even if you are experiencing obesity (10).
Another study showed that other types of fibers, like whole grains, soy foods, vegetables, and nuts greatly decreased the chance of developing a fatty liver (remember NAFLD? That one), but fruits did not have this effect (11).
So, while fruits may be full of one type of fiber, they may not be the best choice if you’re looking to protect yourself from a fatty liver.
But that doesn’t mean fruits are the bad guy—this just means that getting your fiber from sources like oatmeal, broccoli, and soy may be the best to prevent fatty liver from developing, while diets involving fruits may be more beneficial to people who are already dealing with fatty liver.
Of course, a diet combined of all sorts of fiber is likely the best way to improve liver function.
Main point: The liver works hard to break down complex foods like fat and sugars, while fibers are easy for the liver to work with. If you want to reduce the strain on your liver, try including fibrous foods like nuts, soy, broccoli, oatmeal, and fruits in your diet.
4. Include More Antioxidant Foods And Drinks
Getting more fiber is important but including foods and drinks that have antioxidant properties are just as important if you want to improve your liver function.
Foods such as those that contain high levels of sugar or fat can strain the liver and cause it to become overworked.
When cells become overworked, a process known as oxidative stress can occur (12).
In terms of the liver, if high-fat diets are consumed, the liver has to work extra hard to break down those fats.
Part of the process involved in breaking down fats also leads to the release of oxidized molecules (these are just molecules that are bad and can cause damage).
If these molecules build up, they can be toxic to cells and can cause damage and inflammation.
If the liver cannot keep up and remove these molecules in a process called “detoxification”, then these molecules can build up and damage cells throughout the body (13).
In a nutshell, if your liver cannot remove these molecules fast enough, they cause oxidative stress on the body.
Now, as their name implies, antioxidants are compounds that help the liver to remove these bad, oxidized molecules from the system.
In fact, many animal studies have shown that diets containing high levels of antioxidants can greatly improve liver function (14).
Other studies have shown early support for the effects of antioxidants found in a variety of food and drink on liver health, such as (15):
Green tea (16)
There are other foods high in antioxidant activity that may also improve liver function, including spinach and blueberries (20).
Lastly, if you’re a coffee drinker, keep on sipping! It turns out that coffee may actually have positive effects on liver function as well (21).
Main point: As your liver works to break down foods and chemicals entering your body, it can get quite worked up and cause the release of damaging compounds. Antioxidant foods and drinks may help your liver by removing these compounds from the system.
In the end…
Improving liver function all comes down to including a variety of these steps into your daily routine.
These are all effective ways to help your liver break down complex foods, keep cool when working hard, and preserve its function over your long, healthy life.
As always, you should discuss any changes to your diet or lifestyle with a healthcare professional.