The liver is both a gland and an organ. It is the largest gland in the body that helps you get rid of toxic substances. The liver is also responsible for producing certain chemicals crucial for digestion. It’s the only organ in the body which is capable of regenerating its cells.
The liver performs the following functions:
1. The liver is responsible for removing harmful substances called pathogens from the body through the kidneys or gallbladder.
2. It stores and releases vitamins and minerals into the blood when required by the body.
3. It produces a digestive juice known as bile that helps absorb fat from the diet.
4. It helps metabolise carbohydrates that help in maintaining blood sugar levels. If the blood sugar level increases, it removes sugar from the blood and stores it as glycogen. Whereas when sugar levels are low, it breaks down the stored glycogen to be released into the blood.
5. The liver helps in protein metabolism by converting them into amino acids so that it can be further used as an energy source by the body. A harmful substance called ammonia is produced during this process and is removed by the liver by converting it into urea (a comparatively lesser toxic substance).
6. It aids the regulation of hormones and supports their proper functioning. It also enhances the working of immune system by fighting infections.
Usually, people don’t realise they have any underlying liver complication until the symptoms become prominent. Therefore, doctors recommend a Liver Functioning Test (LFT) at least once in six months to know how well your liver is functioning. Some commonly seen liver problems are:
- Diseases caused by virus infection: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
- Diseases caused by drugs, poison, or excessive alcohol consumption like fatty liver diseases and Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver tissues)
- Cancers like liver cancer or bile duct cancer
- Inherited diseases like Wilson disease.
- Autoimmune problems like autoimmune hepatitis
Symptoms of liver diseases:
- Yellow skin and eyes, known as jaundice
- Dark-coloured urine
- Pale, bloody or black stool
- Swollen ankles, legs, or abdomen
- Decreased appetite
- Itchy skin
- Easy bruising
Dietary considerations for maintaining a good liver health:
If you have been diagnosed with liver disease, special dietary changes are required to stay healthy and hep manage the condition:
1. Cut down the intake of animal protein from the diet. This will help you limit the toxic buildup in your body. Opt for more plant sources of proteins.
2. Reduce your fat consumption to 20-25% of the total calories consumed in the entire day. Focus more on unsaturated fats like MUFA and PUFA.
3. Include nuts and seeds as they are a good source of fibre, micronutrients and antioxidants that protect the liver from free radical damage.
4. Have fruits as part of your daily diet as they are rich in fibre and antioxidants. They not only help in improving your immunity but also provide the required micronutrients for a healthy liver.
5. Cranberries and blueberries are rich in an antioxidant called anthocyanin which gives them their colour. They prevent the risk of developing lesions and fibrosis in the liver.
6. The nitrate content in beetroot improves blood flow in the body and helps detoxify the liver.
7. Incorporate vegetables in your diet as they keep your gut healthy, improve the enzymatic action, and reduce oxidative stress.
8. Avoid fried and fast foods or packaged snacks since they are high in trans fats, sodium and preservatives which are extremely harmful to health.
9. Eliminate sugar and its products like jams, jellies, candies, bakery products, and others as they help reduce stress on the liver.
10. Restrict alcohol consumption as it can worsen the liver problem, cause inflammation or lead to the build up of fat.
11. Weight loss can support liver health immensely. Losing just 5% of your body weight can lower the fat build-up and inflammation in the liver.
12. Include garlic in the diet as it is rich in allicin and selenium that play a major role in detoxification. Allicin is a sulphur compound that possesses antioxidant, antibiotic, and anti-fungal properties, while, selenium lowers the burden on the liver by speeding up the action of antioxidants.
Various studies suggest that adhering to a nutritionally balanced diet rich in fibre, protein, and healthy fats is an apt way to improve your liver health, eliminate the risk of diseases, and support healthy weight loss. Treating or preventing any liver-related complication would not just require dietary changes, but also involves modifications in the daily lifestyle such as increasing physical activity, managing proper sleep and stress.