Most people tend to take their liver health for granted. Being the largest internal organ in the body, liver performs over 500 different functions including remove toxic and waste materials from the body, produce blood clotting factors, regulate blood sugar and cholesterol level, and even store vitamin and minerals.
The main function of liver is to help in detoxification. Everything that we breathe, swallow, and put onto the skin will finally go to the liver to be processed. Not to forget, liver also plays important role in our digestive health. Therefore, people with sluggish liver might have common symptoms like abdominal bloating, indigestion and constipation.
We will know better on how to keep our liver healthy if we are able to understand the way our liver function. Another role of liver is to process everything that get into our body. Liver helps to process alcohol, drugs, harmful chemical, and turn ammonia, the normal by-product of our body metabolism into urea, the less toxic compounds to be excreted out from our body.
Liver roles in digestive health could not be neglected. Liver produce bile, an alkaline substance that helps in digestion and absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, D, E, and K) in the small intestine. Bilirubin (toxic breakdown product of hemoglobin) is excreted in bile and then eliminated in the feces. If our body is unable to eliminate the bilirubin normally, high levels of bilirubin can lead to jaundice.
Liver also help in producing cholesterol which is necessary for the production of vitamin D, steroid hormones, and bile acids. Our liver produce about 80% of total cholesterol in the body while the other 20% can be obtained from food1. In the cases where cholesterol level is high, the excess cholesterol can lead to cholesterol precipitation which then slowly combine to form cholesterol crystals and finally become gallstones if left untreated2.
Let’s care more for our liver as liver may not showing any symptoms at earlier stage of damage. It is recommended for people to eat a healthy diet by taking foods from all food groups and to cut down fatty foods as much as possible in order to prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Besides, it is advisable to limit the amount of alcohol as excessive alcohol intake can damage the liver cells, leading to alcoholic fatty liver disease, and even serious liver diseases known as cirrhosis (the end stage of liver disease which scar tissue replacing the healthy tissue in the liver).
Besides healthy diet, milk thistle can be used as a natural therapy to improve liver conditions. Milk thistle has been found to help improving liver function by cleansing the body toxins and stimulating the liver cell regeneration. Silymarin is the active ingredient in milk thistle, it made up of 4 main flavonolignans (isosilybin, silychristin, silydianin, silybin)3. Among these, silybin is the most active constituent that possess antioxidant and liver-protecting properties.
Milk thistle helps to improve liver detoxification through stabilizing cell membrane, preventing toxic chemicals from entering the cell and exporting toxins out of the cell before damage occurs. In addition, milk thistle supplementation is able to increase glutathione (important antioxidant required for liver detoxification process) and decrease lipid peroxidation among alcoholic liver cirrhosis pertaining to its antioxidant activity4. Those who are suffering from severe liver conditions such as fatty liver, hepatitis, and liver cirrhosis can opt for high strength milk thistle which is standardized up to 80% silybin to improve their liver functions and to prevent further damage of the liver.
Another herb called dandelion can be used together to help support liver detoxification. The medicinal uses of dandelion dates back over 1000 years. Dandelion extract can help to enhance bile production in the liver and increase bile release from gall bladder5. This secretion of bile assist our body to digest fat from the food we eat.
Liver is the main detoxifying organ in our body. When liver is able to function better, toxins can be removed out from the body properly. The metabolism of carbohydrate, protein and fat takes place in the liver, therefore keeping the liver healthy is one of the important keys to a better digestive health.