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Preventive Maintenance: Loving your liver

Your liver, the second largest organ in your body, is crucial to your good health, working overtime (doing more than 500 jobs) to keep your body running. When food enters your body, your liver acts as...

Karen Bowen

Karen Bowen

Your liver, the second largest organ in your body, is crucial to your good health, working overtime (doing more than 500 jobs) to keep your body running. When food enters your body, your liver acts as a food processing centre and metabolizes packages, stores, and ships nutrients to the organs that need them all around your body.

Here are the major jobs your liver performs each day: It converts carbohydrates into glucose; breaks down and distributes fats; manufactures complete proteins (including the clotting factors) from non-essential amino acids floating around in your system; filters ammonia out of your blood to send to your kidneys for excretion; manufactures bile to break down the fats you’re eating; detoxifies alcohol; pulls apart old red blood cells to recycle into new ones; stores most vitamins and minerals; and forms lymph.

Take the following advice so you don’t put yourself at risk for hepatitis and other liver diseases: Be cautious if you are exposed to blood or bodily fluids on the job. Wear protective gloves and clothing. Breathe through a filter when you are exposed to toxins or chemicals such as aerosol cleaners, bug spray, and paint fumes. Don’t smoke. Avoid drinking a lot of alcohol and caffeine products. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can have toxic effects, especially when taken with over-the-counter drugs containing acetaminophen. Follow the proper dosage amounts on over-the-counter medicines and supplements, such at Tylenol and mega-dose vitamins. Avoid hair dye. Keep your weight under control. Maintain a proper blood sugar level. Watch your cholesterol.

You may want to ask your doctor for a liver enzyme test (it’s painless) if you have ever had an abnormal liver function test. Or, if you are a military veteran who was exposed to someone else’s blood. Or, if you received a blood transfusion before 1992. Since what you eat and how well you take care of yourself will affect how well your liver works, it’s important that you eat the foods that will help maintain and support your liver. (As a bonus, good nutrition can help rebuild your damaged liver cells and help your liver form new cells.)

In general, try to eat plenty of fresh fruits and lightly cooked vegetables especially dark green, leafy vegetables and orange, yellow, purple, and red coloured fruits and vegetables – they contain living enzymes, fiber, Vitamin C, natural antibiotic substances, and anti-cancer phytonutrients.

Choose foods that are rich in glutathione or help to produce glutathione in the body. Asparagus, watermelon, broccoli and boldo are good sources of glutathione while papayas and avocados are foods that help the body produce glutathione.

Drink green tea because it has immune-boosting properties with less caffeine than coffee.

Drink lots of water (six to 12 cups per day). This helps the kidneys flush out the toxins that the liver has broken down. Choose foods with Omega-3 fats. They are found in cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and halibut. Other good sources are ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and walnuts.

Crack open some nuts, seeds and avocados, since they good sources of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, which are less harmful to the liver than saturated fats.

Eat light meals more often. A light evening meal can let the liver rest during the healing hours of sleep.

On the other hand, below are some things that stress your liver. You’ll feel better if you stay away from them. Saturated fats are harder for your liver to process, so limit high fat meats like sausage, bacon, salami, hot dogs and high fat dairy products like whole milk, ice cream and regular cheeses. Snack foods are also notorious for their high fat content: French fries, potato chips, Doritos, Cheese Doodles and popcorn loaded with butter and salt.

Cut down on your processed foods like white bread, white rice, cakes, cookies, donuts and candy. Add whole grains like whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, quinoa and barley to your diet.

Skip coffee and choose another drink at the rest stop. Limit your caffeine drinks (coffee, tea and most sodas) to two to three cups per day. Exchange them for green tea, herb tea, juice or water.

Limit food colourings, flavourings and preservatives, as well as insecticides and pesticides because they make the liver work harder to flush them out.

So, love your liver. Choose wisely and support your whole body’s health.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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