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Condition - Liver - the metabolic 'heart' of the body

By Debbie Paddington DipION

Roughly triangular in shape, weighing about 11/2 kg, approximately 25% of your blood flows through it every minute. Lose two thirds of its volume and it will still function. It is the largest internal organ in the body. I am talking, of course, about your liver and am sure you have never given a thought to this amazing organ and how hard it has to work every day. Among other things, it is involved in digestion, the immune system, the storage of vitamins and minerals, cholesterol production and the elimination of harmful substances from the blood. 

As if over 500 estimated functions were not enough for our liver to cope with, it also suffers the repercussions of our modern lifestyle. Research shows that drinking and the use of both prescription and recreational drugs is increasing. One in 16 hospital admissions are due to alcohol related illnesses, 22% of the population are smokers and 24% of the population are overweight. This, added to diets high in saturated fats, sugary foods, tea and coffee all put extra strain on your liver. Long before you get to the stage of liver insufficiency, your liver may be functioning at a sub-optimum levels that can effect your health. This may cause symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, skin problem, sensitivity to caffeine, PMS, frequent infections, digestive problems and hypoglycaemia. 

So what can we do to help our livers out?

Several amino acids are key players in liver health and it is important to eat enough of these in the diet on a daily basis. These include N-acetyl l-cysteine, methionine, taurine and glutamine. Good quality protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, lentils, beans and nuts are important sources of these amino acids that help to support the liver. Alternatively, it is possible to buy good supplements containing these amino acids. N-acetyl l-cysteine, and methionine may help to influence the levels of glutathione in the body, as does the antioxidant alpha lipoic acid.   Glutathione is a very important amino acid, as it supports liver detoxification which is key in removing the ‘toxins’ filtering through the liver from the food we eat as well as alcohol, cigarettes and drugs, including prescribed medication. The liver has to remove these efficiently, otherwise it will become sluggish and health will eventually suffer. 

Additionally methionine, together with choline and B vitamins, helps to support fat metabolism in the liver and the excretion of bile. Taurine also aids in fat digestion and has the added benefit of having a positive effect on cholesterol levels in the body. Glutamine is the primary fuel for the digestive tract, as well as fuelling brain cells, and can be converted into several different chemicals that support blood sugar levels, reducing our desire for substances such as sugar and alcohol. Most importantly, glutamine helps break down uric acid (from protein breakdown), thus protecting against harmful ammonia accumulating. 

Fruits and vegetables are a good source of antioxidants, needed to protect the liver, so be sure to include plenty in your diet, particularly artichoke, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, leeks, onions, parsley and watercress, apples, pears, apricot, berries, grapes, oranges and watermelon. Food should be organic if possible, to avoid pesticides.

Support with smoking and drinking can be found by the calling the NHS Smoking Helpline 0800 022 4332 or the NHS Drink line 0800 917 8282 or call the Higher Nature Nutrition department 0870 066 4478 for advice on the nutritional approach to a healthy liver. 

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