The Consummate Multitasker
By Linda Diane Feldt
The liver is the consummate multitasker of the body. With over 500 functions, the liver is constantly at play to cleanse, store, purify, transform, and support. All we need to do is support the liver, and it will do its work. Somewhere along the line, holistic health care started promoting people actively “cleansing” or “purifying” the liver, as if we could do a better job directing these critical tasks.
In almost all cases, the liver is already doing what it needs to do, and it is doing it brilliantly and thoroughly. And, like all organs and systems of the body, nourishing support would do more to positively affect liver functioning rather than unproven and sometimes dangerous “cleanses.”
The liver needs to move blood through it — every minute or two a liter of blood flows through the liver, and 10–15 percent of your blood volume is in the liver at any given time. Lemons, artichoke, dark green leafy vegetables, celery, beets, and bitter foods are just a few examples of foods that can help blood flow. Garlic, onion, and other alums also have a special role in keeping things moving and healthy in the liver. For best results with garlic, you need to crush the cloves and then wait at least 10 minutes for the chemical reaction that forms. You can then cook with the garlic, or use it raw.
Avoiding processed foods, fried foods, trans fats, and added chemicals will also be beneficial. Poor quality or rancid oils are also problematic. Olive oil and coconut oil have positive effects for the liver. At a time when my liver was very stressed from a chronic health condition, I found that simple soups with lots of lentils or other beans, dark green leafy vegetables, other garden veggies, and simple vegetable stock (or adding miso after cooking) were very helpful and easy to digest.
It is common knowledge that overconsumption of alcohol is harmful for the liver. It is also important as much as is possible to avoid toxins in all forms — what we eat, drink, inhale, and apply topically.
Milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum) extract, or tincture, is considered a liver cleanser according to the popular literature. It actually protects the liver from damaging toxins, and may also help repair the liver — supporting the constant regeneration of the liver. The tincture made from the seeds can be added to water and used preventatively or for active liver concerns.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a food and extract nourishes the liver and provides some of the best liver support for liver functioning. All parts of the dandelion can be used. Include dandelion leaves as a pot green, in salads, added to sauces, as a homemade herbal vinegar, even baked in filo dough as a substitute for spinach in Greek recipes. I’ve had some of the best dandelion greens in Greek restaurants, simply cooked with olive oil and garlic. The flowers can be made into wine, which has a lemony taste and can also help with digestion. In winter or if you find it easier, a tincture of dandelion leaves and roots can be used in water.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) may be able to reverse some liver cirrhosis, as well as to prevent liver damage. It has many other substantial health benefits including being an excellent anti-inflammatory. The root is used in cooking, but for regular intake, a root extract can be taken daily with water.
There are hundreds of other herbs and foods that can benefit the liver. This is just enough to get you started in providing liver support and nourishment. The combination of avoiding what stresses the liver and taking care of your health with liver nourishing herbs will give you immediate benefit.
Liver disease is a serious and sometimes life threatening condition. If you believe there may be something seriously wrong with your liver, you should talk with a medical practitioner right away. A holistic approach can include herbs and food.
Linda Diane Feldt is a local holistic health practitioner “providing an integrated approach to holistic health care since 1980,” with a focus on hands-on bodywork including massage (1973), polarity therapy (1979) and craniosacral therapy (1982). She is also a writer, teacher, and herbalist. Visit holistic.lindadianefeldt.com.
The Disease Prevention Organ: The Most Important Thing You Didn’t Learn in Health Class
By Logynn Hailley
I remember once I had a biology teacher who was giddy about discussing the “millions of chemical processes” in the body. But when we learned about the roles of each organ, the liver was described as if it were a simple filter on a vacuum cleaner. It was there to “remove toxins from the blood.”
Where did those toxins go? We never covered that part.
I assumed they stayed in the liver and that it just turned into a rather gnarly “dirt sponge” as you got older. You could buy a mysterious thing called a “liver cleanse” at the health food store if you worried about it, which I never did … until recently.
I visited a neurologist turned chiropractor named Jen Hartley in Colorado. On my first visit, I learned more in 15 minutes with her than I had in the past 15 years of doctor appointments. The most surprising thing she said was that my hormone-related symptoms were a liver problem.
I had played treatment pinball with my glands and organs for years attempting to correct a mysterious imbalance. But I had never once considered the liver to be part of it. Isn’t the liver at the end of the chain of processes, like the drain everything passes through after its job (good or bad) has been done?
Apparently it is far more than that.
The liver processes Dr. Hartley described would have made my ninth grade biology teacher go into overload. It’s not a “filter” in the sense that we think of filters as an inert sponge for accumulating dirt. It’s more like a factory with an almost magical array of chemical processes. The liver plays an integral role at some point in almost every process in your body, to the point that you might say any disease is caused by the liver not working as well as it should. A healthy liver, fed right, should be able to remove the factors that cause disease.
Hormonal disorders might involve your glands or chemical estrogens from your environment, but it is the liver that controls how much of those hormones remain floating around in your body. The liver is supposed to recycle or remove the excess ones.
Cancer might come from a lack of antioxidants to clean up free radicals, but the liver creates, recycles, and mobilizes the most powerful antioxidants in the body.
Diabetes might involve insulin and sugar imbalance, but it’s the liver that stores, releases, and regulates the body’s sugar-based fuels. The stress hormone, cortisol, might cause stress-related disease but only if the liver doesn’t have the ingredients to deactivate it when it’s not needed.
If you find yourself juggling prescription drugs to regulate all these problems it is probably because your liver isn’t doing it for you. The liver ultimately controls every toxin, chemical, hormone, mineral, vitamin, amino acid, fat, sugar, and protein in your body. Even if its effect comes later when it should be removing the by-products of completed processes. Imagine what would happen if you cleaned your tub so you could take a bath, but the drain didn’t work? You’d have to bathe in dirt, scum, and toxic cleaners. And that is literally what happens inside when your liver can’t clear things out quickly enough.
I’ve often wished for a user’s manual for my body so I could “pop the hood” and figure out what has gone awry, but there is a reason that we don’t have one. It’s because if your liver is working right, it dispatches toxins and corrects imbalances without you ever even knowing it, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.
So, how can we help our magical liver factories get back on the job so upper management (the brain) doesn’t have to handle emergency waste clean-up and disaster relief operations?
For one thing, you might have heard from your yoga teacher that the liver “stores anger,” and it turns out there is a correlation. When your body stresses out, it makes cortisol, and the liver needs a lot of glutathione to get that hormone out of your body. Otherwise it floats around damaging your organs and causing the dreaded “belly fat” problem.
If you don’t get enough glutathione (and you probably don’t) then the first order of business is reducing the need for it by calming down. Practice yoga, walk your dog, smile, and so on. If you’re stressed out and angry all the time, your liver can become chronically backed up. This is how it’s possible to have illnesses with root causes dating all the way back to a traumatic event years and years ago.
The second important thing is to get a little bit of exercise every day. Even a little exercise, like five minutes of sprints, can purge some of your liver’s stored energy (glycogen) and get things moving. The liver was meant to constantly release and then re-stock energy stores. If there is no energy release, things get stale in there really fast. Stale, as in “fatty liver disease” stale.
Third, it turns out that one of your most important jobs as upper level management for your body is to fill all your liver’s orders for necessary ingredients. Make sure to get all the substances to keep each “toxin removing department” of the liver running smoothly. Unfortunately, some of those ingredients are a little hard to come by. That’s why it’s important to make a habit of including certain foods in your diet.
Here’s How It Works:
There are two major detoxification pathways inside liver cells, which are known as the Phase I and Phase II detoxification pathways. In a nutshell, these phases break down (metabolize) toxins through various chemical reactions. The Phase I pathway is responsible for converting the toxic chemical into a less harmful chemical, and Phase II converts the resulting toxic sludge into a water-soluble substance so that it can be excreted from the body via bile or urine. If Phase II isn’t completed or working efficiently, this sludge just backs up and causes a hazardous waste spill in our bodies! Here are some recipes that contain many of the liver-healthy foods you need to assist in these complex processes. Enjoy these whenever you can to keep the polish on your shiny new liver!
PURPLE SUPER SALAD
(Purple produce contains anthrocenes, which assist in Phases I & II Glutathione Conjugation.)
In a large bowl, whisk together:
3 tablespoons almond oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons dill weed, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 cups baby spinach or replace some of the spinach with purple cabbage
1 purple carrot, shredded
2 handfuls of blackberries, black cherries, or red grapes
Some also like this salad with diced black olives and/or a diced hard-boiled egg
EASY RAW VEGAN KEY LIME CHEESECAKE
(Assists in Phase II Glucoronidation, which requires nutrients found in these foods: almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chocolate, citrus zest, dill weed, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, oysters, peas, pumpkin or squash seeds, spirulina, spinach.)
Crust: Take 1/4 cup dried, unsweetened coconut and sprinkle it evenly over the bottom of your cake pan. Then mix the following in a food processor:
1 1/2 cups walnuts and almonds
1/2 cup dates
1 pinch sea salt
Press this mixture evenly over the coconut.
Filling: In a high-speed blender —
3 cups cashews
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon key lime zest
2 tablespoons key lime juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup of water, only if you need it to blend. Use as little as possible. Mix until “cheesy” and pour on top of crust. Then put it in the freezer for an hour to get the right consistency. Defrost it for a 30 minutes before serving. It’s super rich tasting and actually tastes like cheesecake.
IRISH BREAKFAST SKILLET:
(Enhances Phase II Acetylation, which requires nutrients found in these foods: almonds, asparagus, avocados, berries, broccoli, cheeses, citrus fruits, eggs, guava, kefir, kiwis, dark leafy greens, lemon, mushrooms, oysters, papayas, peas, pecans, peppers, spirulina, spinach, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.)
Use a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan with a tight fitting lid. “Grease” it with coconut oil and add:
1 large sweet potato, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
Spread evenly over the bottom of the pan and cover. Turn the heat to medium-high and allow to cook until the pieces begin to brown. It’s okay to turn one or two over and check every couple of minutes. Discard any condensation on the lid, as you want some moisture but not too much. Once the potato is browned on one side, stir it well and spread evenly on the bottom of the pan again. Allow to cook until beginning to soften. Then spread all the sweet potato to the sides, making an open space in the middle, then add:
2 – 4 eggs, cracked into the center
Sea salt and pepper or rosemary to taste
Cover and cook until eggs are almost to desired done-ness. Turn off the burner and add two handfuls of shredded cheese, sprinkled evenly over the sweet potatoes. Cover again and allow to sit for two minutes, then serve. Makes enough for two large breakfasts.
FILLING SPICED FIG PROBIOTIC BREAKFAST:
(Assists in Phase II Methylation, which requires nutrients found in these foods: almonds, asparagus, avocados, bananas, beets, broccoli, raw dark chocolate, eggs, figs, kefir, dark leafy greens, molasses, oysters, parsley, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin and squash seeds, quinoa, shell fish, spirulina, spinach, tea, turnip greens.)
Combine in large breakfast bowl:
½ cup plain kefir (I like goat milk kefir for this)
5 dried black mission figs, diced
4 tablespoons of cottage cheese
1 – 2 teaspoons molasses (to taste)
1 large pinch of ground clove or garam masala
1 small pinch of cayenne pepper (optional, if you like spice)
1 small pinch of ground cumin (optional, but I find it makes it wonderfully aromatic)
Next, stir in:
1 small diced apple
1 cup of grapes, halved
This is my favorite way to get fruit as a meal, and not feel hungry soon after.
A note about the consumption of spirulina:
Spirulina is blue-green algae, which is a fresh water plant. Under stressful or crowded conditions, blue-green algae can become contaminated with microcystins. This cumulative toxin has negative effects, especially for he liver and brain, but also for male fertility. While the probability that any single batch of spirulina contains the contaminant is small, it is still possible. Seaweed, a salt water plant, delivers many of the same nutritional benefits, and more. When gathered by ethical harvesters, it can be considered safer and of equal or greater benefit without the risk of toxic accumulations. At the minimum, please investigate this danger with the individual brands before consuming spirulina.