Just Say “NO” to a Fatty Liver
The liver is a vital structure of the digestive system and is the largest internal organ of the body. It is located in the right upper quadrant of the abdominal cavity, just below the diaphragm, to the right of the stomach.
The liver receives two types of blood simultaneously. There is an inflow of “clean blood” from the heart, which provides the organ itself with fresh oxygenated blood. Then there is an inflow of “dirty blood” entering from the small intestine, colon, and stomach, which the liver is required to filter.
Once the “dirty blood” is filtered, it is sent back to the heart for oxygen and the filtered products are sent to the colon for excretion. When the liver accelerates its detoxification process, toxins are pulled from various body tissues, processed for elimination, and emptied into the colon. It is extremely important for the colon to be working well. A sluggish colon can result in toxins that the liver has already processed becoming re-absorbed by the body.
The liver plays a part in more than 800 known functions of the human body. Due to its filtering capabilities, it is one of the primary organs involved in detoxification. It constantly filters the body’s blood and identifies toxins, processing them for elimination through the colon. This filtering occurs all day, every day, as chemicals, food additives, colorings, and medications, are introduced into our system and need to be filtered. Each time we eat, our body is mining for the necessary vitamins and minerals in our food and it selectively eliminates those, which we do not need.
The more we are exposed to, the more the liver must filter. Over the course of a lifetime, liver cells may become clogged with fat globules or toxins that block liver ducts and interfere with its ability to properly filter. Furthermore, liver function can become compromised as we age or with undue stress from improper lifestyle and dietary habits that contribute to the premature decline of the organ.
Let’s look at some of the most common jobs of the liver:
*Filtering blood from the digestive system;
*Creating and processing cholesterol;
*Breakdown and excretion of toxins and hormones;
*Metabolism of hormones;
*Storage of glycogen, vitamins A, D, B12, iron, and copper.
Liver health Affects Gall Bladder Health
The liver is responsible for producing bile. The bile is then sent to the gall bladder for storage. The gall bladder is only as healthy as the bile that it is supplied with. This means that an unhealthy liver leads to an unhealthy gall bladder.
The bile must contain a specific formulation of cholesterol and bile salts. If the formulation is compromised and/or there are insufficient bile salts or excess cholesterol present in the bile, it can lead to stagnation of the bile within the gallbladder.
When the bile is less fluid, there is a decrease in the emptying capacity of the gall bladder. This leads to more stagnation within the organ, less contraction to expel its contents, and a sludge type of substance that develops within it. This leads to the formation of gallstones.
Liver Fat Is A Serious Health Risk
Fat deposits can accumulate inside the liver ducts and block the inflow of nutrients to liver cells and simultaneously block the outflow of toxins from liver cells. This leads to a condition called fatty liver.
In the past, fatty liver was seen in alcoholics with end-stage cirrhosis and liver disease. Now it is commonplace to see the non-alcoholic fatty liver, (NAFL), variety in one out of every three American adults. Non-alcoholic fatty liver is the accumulation of fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol. NAFL is common, often causes no signs and symptoms, and no complications, until it is advanced. In advanced stages of NAFL there is liver inflammation and death of liver cells.
Let’s take a closer look to find out more…
Studies show that 1/3 of all Americans have imbalanced fat metabolism in the liver. Fatty liver is rarely discussed in conventional medical offices as a problem and even less in the media. Yet the problem is epidemic.
The accumulation of fat inside the liver can cause liver inflammation and can negatively impact its function. This occurs when the liver is overburdened with substances from the diet or the environment, and this affects its ability to efficiently detoxify itself.
Fatty liver can be seen in a blood test that shows elevated liver enzymes. It can also be detected via liver ultrasound. Liver inflammation can be a direct result of alcohol consumption, elevated cholesterol, medications, and/or exposure to environmental chemicals or solvents. There is significant data suggesting that 30% of all American adults have non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL). In type 2 diabetics that number jumps to 70%.
It is thought that fatty liver is more common today than ever before because of the connection between fatty liver, obesity, and insulin resistance.
As many as 80% of fatty liver patients have metabolic syndrome. (1)
Metabolic syndrome can include any 3 of the criteria below:
*Pre- Diabetes – Fasting blood glucose level ≥101 mg/dL;
*High blood pressure – ≥130/85 mm Hg;
*Elevated triglyceride levels – >250 mg/dL;
*HDL cholesterol level – <40 mg/dL for men; <50 mg/dL for women;
*Abdominal obesity – Waist: >102 cm (40 inches) for men; >88 cm (35 inches) for women.(2)
Conventional Treatment for Fatty Liver
According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no proven conventional medical treatment for NAFL (3), but these lifestyle modifications may help:
*Gradual and sustained weight loss;
*Exercise and healthy dietary changes;
*Control of blood glucose levels (for pre-diabetics and diabetics);
*Gastric bypass surgery.
Naturopathic Integrative Treatment of Fatty Liver
Enhancing liver health requires a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole unprocessed food.
Real, whole, organic foods from plants provide crucial compounds that assist the liver in detoxification and regeneration. Specifically, beets, artichokes, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables are the best at liver detoxification. The consumption of beets helps reduce fat deposits in the liver, and artichokes stimulate bile flow and are protective to liver cells.
Certain herbs and nutrients can also promote liver health, including milk thistle, lecithin, N-acetyl cysteine, alpha lipoic acid, and vitamin B1 and B12.
Beneficial Lifestyle modifications include:
*Sustained Weight loss - with a reduction of abdominal fat;
*Consistent Exercise – 20-30 minutes daily;
*Proper fasting glucose levels <100mg/dl;
*Reduction of triglycerides;
*Reduction of insulin resistance.
The liver is vital to good health and has many important jobs. Poor liver health can compromise the gall bladder. Dietary and lifestyle modifications can greatly improve the function of the liver and decrease the occurrence of fatty liver. Certain herbs and nutrients can help promote healthy detoxification and function of these key organs.
References:1. Ramesh S, Sanyal A. Evaluation and management of non-alcoholic steatohepatitits. J Hepatol. 2005;42:(Supplement 1):S2-S12. 2. How Is Metabolic Syndrome Diagnosed? National Heart Blood and Lung Institute. Accessed May 2012 http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ms/ 3. Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. MayoClinic.org. ©2001-2012 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Accessed May 2012 http://www.mayoclinic.org/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/treatment.html
A trusted and well-respected naturopathic health care provider, Dr. Andrea Purcell has been in private practice for ten years in Costa Mesa, California. As founder of the Portal to Healing Naturopatic clinic, Dr. Andrea has spearheaded the full scope naturopathic medical practice, providing primary care natural medicine to a diverse roster of patients.
Dr. Purcell has also written and published articles on a variety of health and nutrition related subjects which have appeared in OC Health, Healthy Times and Nutricula. Dr. Purcell received her Bachelors of Science degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in Environmental Science with an emphasis in Public Health in 1996.
She received her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Arizona’s Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2002
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