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Your liver is one of the most important organs for detoxifying the body. Practically everything you eat, drink, and breathe gets processed through your liver. It acts like a filter to remove and inactivate the toxins you’re exposed to on a daily basis.
The problem is, your liver is working harder than ever. There are heavy metals in drinking water, pollution in the air, dangerous additives in food, and toxic chemicals in your furniture. The list could go on and on.
That’s why it’s imperative to take good care of your liver—to give it the support it needs to protect you from today’s toxin-infested world. Here are 10 of the most effective foods and activities to support liver health.
Even though your liver is effective at detoxifying, it has its limits. Scientists sometimes call this a detoxification capacity (1). This simply means that you can only detoxify so much at a given time. As heavy metals build up in the body, your liver can’t keep up, with severe consequences.
One study from Johns Hopkins scientists found a strong link between the heavy metal cadmium and liver disease. Higher levels of cadmium exposure were associated with a 3.5 times greater risk of dying from liver disease (2).
One way to help your liver function effectively is to detox heavy metals from your body using liquid zeolite. This natural mineral acts like a magnet, trapping heavy metals and other toxins as it passes through the body.
Another effective way to take the burden off your liver is to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins by eating organic foods, drinking filtered water, and avoiding toxic household goods.
Herbs have been used throughout history to help cleanse and restore the liver, and now science is backing up these traditional healing methods.
Milk thistle for example, has long been prescribed for liver health. Scientists have identified its active compound silymarin as the source of its benefits (3). Mice studies have even shown milk thistle helps to reduce liver injury (4).
Other cleansing herbs that support detoxification and ease the burden on your liver include cilantro, dandelion leaves, and turmeric root.
Drinking coffee or tea every day may energize your body, and give your liver a boost too. Get double the benefit by having a serving of both daily.
Research shows coffee may help prevent the accumulation of fat and collagen in the liver, two common markers of liver disease (5). Drinking coffee can also help boost levels of glutathione—a powerful antioxidant that helps detoxify the liver (6).
Tea can potentially protect the liver in another way. One study found that people who routinely drank green tea were less likely to develop liver cancer (7). Another study found that drinking tea may prevent liver fibrosis which occurs when liver function is impaired from scarring (8).
When it comes to coffee and tea, make sure to opt for organic varieties. These two crops are among the most heavily sprayed with toxic pesticides, which can stress your liver.
Berries are a rich source of anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that give berries their distinct color. Anthocyanins are touted for their wide range of health benefits including their ability to support the liver.
Several studies, for instance, have found that blueberries and cranberries can protect the liver from oxidative stress (9). Oxidative stress is one of the mechanisms that causes liver disease and compromises liver function.
Anthocyanin-rich berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries also help fight inflammation, which can cripple your liver’s ability to detoxify.
Alcohol is a toxin. It’s easy to forget that considering so many activities and social events revolve around alcohol consumption. Since alcohol is a toxin, your liver must process it (10).
If you are in the habit of drinking several servings of alcohol a day, your liver is working hard to remove the alcohol from your blood. Long-term heavy drinking is also associated with liver disease and impaired liver function (11).
Limit your alcohol consumption to 1 or 2 drinks a couple of times a week, or take a break from drinking to give your liver a breather and chance to recover.
Getting plenty of healthy fats in the form of omega-3s in your diet can also have beneficial effects on your liver. Research has found that foods rich in omega-3s can prevent fat from building up in the liver, help regulate normal enzyme function, and even fight inflammation that compromises liver function (12).
To increase your omega-3 intake, eat wild-caught fatty fish, and add in more nuts and seeds such as flax seeds, walnuts, and chia seeds. You can also boost your omega levels with a plant-based supplement.
Drinking enough water every day is absolutely essential for a healthy functioning liver. Clean water also helps flush toxins through the body.
When you don’t drink enough water, your blood becomes more viscous or thick. Since the liver filters blood, having viscous blood can make it significantly harder to filter. As a result, this could put a greater strain on your liver and hamper its ability to detoxify.
Remarkably, obesity can cause just as much damage to your liver as extensive heavy drinking (13). Much like alcoholism, obesity can cause fatty deposits to accumulate in the liver—doctors call this fatty liver disease.
Some sources even suggest that fatty liver disease is more often caused by obesity-related complications than alcoholism. It’s also estimated that 90% of people with morbid obesity have concerning abnormalities in the liver (14).
Read More: 5 Steps to a Lean, Toned Tummy
A diet that’s rich in vegetables delivers a variety of antioxidants and natural compounds that can support liver function. One scientific review of over 100 studies on the topic concluded that a well-balanced diet full of vegetables is “critically important for liver health” (15).
In addition to protecting the liver from oxidative stress, veggies in the allium family (chives, garlic, leeks and onions) may be protective against heavy metals. While cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower may improve liver enzyme levels.
If you have trouble eating 5 servings of organic vegetables a day, opt for an organic green juice powder to make sure you’re getting enough.
A regular exercise routine that includes aerobic workouts and strength training can help boost your liver health. One study found strength training can help reduce liver fat, a benefit seen even if there was no weight loss (16).
Another study showed that aerobic exercise can help. Activities such as running, biking, or swimming significantly decreased the number of biomarkers in the body that are signs of a damaged liver (17).
We often take our liver for granted. We assume it will handle everything we put in our bodies, no matter how processed or polluted it may be. But our livers need to be taken care of so they can protect us. The good news is that there are many steps you can take to preserve and protect the health of your liver so it can keep you healthy throughout your life.