What’s stressing your liver?

Image: Stacey Rozells via Unsplash

Image: Stacey Rozells via Unsplash

In my last post, in honour of liver health month, I explained some of the little-known functions of the liver - hormone regulation and inflammation reduction among them.

The liver is an incredible organ, but like any component of good health, it requires care and occasional maintenance - and it’s not infallible.

Chances are there are some parts of your day-to-day routine that are having a negative effect on your liver without your knowledge.

Below you’ll find the top 4 liver-stressors… stay tuned for more info about how to combat their damage.

Alcohol & Drugs

When most of us think of an ailing liver, unfortunate addictions like alcoholism and drug dependence come to mind. And it’s true: the most damaging substances for your liver are undoubtedly drugs and alcohol.

If you’re regularly binge drinking, consuming multiple drinks every day, or taking recreational drugs, you’re doing your liver a grave disservice - and there are probably some psychological factors affecting your behaviour you’ll need to deal with.

If you have a couple of glasses of wine a couple of nights a week, however, your liver is likely going to be okay (provided you don’t have any pre-existing conditions).

So why is it that so many of us don’t actually have an optimally functioning liver?

One answer could be pharmaceutical drugs - if you’re on a hefty number of prescription drugs, there’s a good chance your stressing out your liver. It may seem counterintuitive, as these drugs are designed to treat conditions that are also bad for you - but they could be making your liver worse in the long run.

Fried, fatty foods

A diet high in saturated fats is associated with NAFLD - non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This is the kind of liver disease we see in people who drink very little alcohol (the most common cause of liver failure).

NAFLD occurs when excess fat is stored in the liver. It inflames the liver, slows its function, and may even lead to liver failure. The disease typically occurs in people aged 40-50, is most often seen in obese patients, and is often accompanied by insulin resistance (increasing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes).

Clearly, this is a disease resulting from years of consuming a diet high in saturated fats - chief among them deep-fried foods.

Refined Sugar

Much like saturated fats and deep fried fatty foods, too much refined sugar in our diet can cause a buildup of fat in our liver - leading to sluggish liver function, and possibly even NAFLD.

The big issue here is where all this sugar in our diet is coming from, as most of us aren’t in the habit of adding a cup of white sugar to our coffee, or eating 7 cookies a day.

The fact is that many, many processed foods are artificially sweetened with sugar and high fructose corn syrup, to make them more appealing/addictive.

Unfortunately, everything from pasta sauce to salad dressing is suspect these days - be sure to read your labels, and cook at home!

Environmental Toxins

The chemicals and pesticides we now find in our cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and even food can contain environmental toxins that put extra stress on our livers.

The liver is our body’s filter - it cleans our blood and rids our system of potentially harmful substances.

When we inundate our body with these harmful chemicals, we place extra stress on the liver - which is already working double time to filter out refined sugars, saturated fats, any (recreational OR pharmaceutical) drugs we consume, and that extra glass of wine you had on Friday night.

It’s no wonder this little organ isn’t quite living up to its potential in so many people these days.

Between the rise in pharmaceutical drug prescription in the last 50 years, the industrialization of our food production, the lack of FDA regulation of cosmetics and cleaning products, and sneaky “drugs” in our diet or lifestyle, our poor livers have been taking a beating.

Luckily, there are several natural ways to support liver function - more on that later. For now, take a good look at your habits & patterns, and be honest with yourself: are you helping your liver? Or stressing it out?

Steph Bowen