“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” was an adage often trotted out in times gone by to encourage people to eat more fresh foods to maintain their health. A trip to the doctor was expensive – and in many countries still is – so people needed to take whatever steps they could to avoid that necessity.
Though the importance of a steady intake of fresh, unprocessed foods is still being reinforced by health professionals worldwide, these days we have a greater awareness of how the body works and the roles individual organs play in maintaining health.
The liver is getting an increasing amount of attention for this reason.
Whatever food we eat, fluids we drink, or chemicals we are exposed to, the body will pass them through to the liver for processing. Toxins can come into the body via the mouth, skin and in the air we breathe.
The liver is like a giant filter and helps to protect us from harmful substances before they can reach the blood stream and the rest of the body. It helps to filter the blood and purify it, produces a substance called bile to help with digestion, particularly of fats, and elimination. It also reacts with toxins to reduce their potency or change their form so the body can more easily remove them.
It is one of the largest organs in the body, after the skin and intestines. It is bigger than the heart and fills up a large portion of the right handside of the body beneath the rib cage.
Supporting the liver in its role of cleaning and helping to manage toxins, then, can have a powerful impact on the health and vitality we each feel. Doing an occasional liver cleanse or adopting a liver detox diet are two of the more common ways people try to maintain the health of their livers. There are also a number of herbal liver tonics and supplements that can be used to help support the liver.
Is my liver struggling?
The liver is a robust organ and can take a fair bit of punishment – lucky for us! Some signs and symptoms that your liver is becoming overburdened include: allergies, poor digestion, bad memory, difficulty with blood sugar levels, fatigue or no endurance, headaches, weigh gain, pain after eating fatty foods, and skin problems. Vomitting, nausea and diarrhoea can also indicate that the liver is stressed.
What is a liver cleanse?
Logic would lead us to believe that reducing the volume and types of toxins we are exposed to would help us to give the liver a break.
Common toxins and chemicals people are exposed to that the liver needs to filter include: alcohol, caffeine, prescription drugs, pesticides or other chemicals used in food processing and production, air pollution, impurities in water, sugar and food additives. Chemicals and toxins can also be found in meat, house paint, shampoo, toothpaste, plastics, deodorisers, makeup and a range of other everyday products.
Removing these items or minimising your exposure to them can help cleanse the liver. A more formal liver cleanse involves adjusting your diet to remove chemicals and processed foods, sweating more, consuming liver-friendly foods such as organic green vegetables and lemon juice, drinking more clean water, and reducing the amount of fat and alcohol consumed.
Some of the more widely known liver detox diets include: the liver cleansing diet, raw food diet, fat flush detox, and lemonade diet.
Using a liver tonic
If you are really serious about giving your liver a helping hand, then, as well as adopting a liver-friendly diet or detox diet as a lifestyle choice, some people also opt to take liver-cleansing herbs or a liver tonic. As the concept of organ health is often the primary focus in Eastern Traditional Medicine paradigms, the best known liver tonics tend to be formulated with Chinese or Indian herbs.
Some common Chinese herbs for liver health include:
- Polyrhachis Ant
- Gynostemma Leaf
- Schizandra Berry
- Duanwood Reishi
- Lycium Berry
- Dioscorea Root
- St Mary’s Thistle
- Baical Skullcap
If you are looking for a good liver tonic, try to find one with a combination of some of these herbs. Take the tonic in conjunction with a liver-friendly diet not instead of one.
If a herbal tonic is not to your taste then at least with a low-toxin, high antioxidant, healthy diet your liver will be better able to do its job and help keep you well and energised.
Vanessa Blake is a freelance writer and health freak with a ridiculous general knowledge of nutrition and the body. No wonder she decided to study for a Diploma of Nutrition in 2003. She also loves yoga.