On your right side under your ribs, you’ll find your largest organ. The liver has several jobs, but one of the most important ones is to detoxify our bodies. But sometimes your liver may need a little helping hand, especially when faced with a diet full of processed food which can eventually lead to liver disease. Read on for a rundown on your liver and what you should eat to give it a boost of nutrients.
What does the liver do?
Our livers are constantly on the go, working to remove infections and harmful substances like alcohol and toxins from our bodies. The liver also plays a part in digestion, releases bile which breaks down fat, and stores essential vitamins and minerals like iron. When the liver isn’t working as it should, all of these functions can be affected, especially the digestion of fats.
What are the different types of liver disease?
There are several conditions that can affect the liver and lead to scarring (cirrhosis), including:
- Alcohol-related liver disease
Caused by long-term alcohol misuse.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Most often seen in overweight or obese people, this is the result of a build-up of fat.
An inherited disorder where iron slowly builds up around the liver.
Swelling of the liver triggered by exposure to harmful substances or viruses.
What foods are good for your liver?
You might know it as a vegetable, but the main ingredient in guacamole is actually a fruit. Researchers in Japan have revealed that avocados contain substances that could help reduce liver damage. In addition, the avocado’s creamy flesh is also packed with essential minerals and nutrients such as potassium, vitamin E and magnesium.
Loaded with protein, iron and B vitamins, it’s easy to see why eggs are a nutritional powerhouse. But served boiled, poached or scrambled, the humble egg is also a good source of choline. Choline is a vitamin that contributes to normal liver function and is also found in scallops, chicken and poultry. Even though eggs contain cholesterol, if you’re eating a balanced diet there is no need to cut down on eggs unless you’ve been advised to by your GP.
A plant native to the Mediterranean, milk thistle is also known as silymarin and has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Research has shown that this herbal medicine could help protect the liver. In fact, one study one group of people with fatty livers took a silymarin and vitamin E supplement and followed a low calorie diet whilst another group just followed the diet. Those that took the supplement saw twice the improvement compared to the others.
Renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is a common ingredient in curries. Its main ingredient is curcumin which evidence suggests could help prevent scarring of the liver by protecting the flow of bile which breaks down fat. But this member of the ginger family doesn’t just belong in your favourite curry, why not sprinkle it on rice, add it to soup, or even blend it into smoothies?
Salmon, herring and mackerel are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA which could help reduce fat in the liver. In a study based on 50 overweight children with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, those that took supplements containing DHA lost belly fat, fat around the heart and reduced just over half of their liver fat. If you are unable to source omega-3 from your diet, you benefit from taking an omega-3 supplement.
With its strong smell and aromatic flavour, garlic is a staple in many home-cooked recipes. Research shows that as well as having beneficial effects against cardiovascular disease, colds and cholesterol, garlic could also protect the liver from harmful toxins. Spice up soups and casseroles or roast it slowly for a more mellow taste.
If you want to look after your liver, a diet full of liver-friendly vitamins and minerals along with controlling your consumption of alcohol, processed food and saturated fat could help stop any damage in its tracks.
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