The liver is the largest internal organ in the body and is responsible for approximately 500 bodily functions.

The liver is the largest internal organ in the body and is responsible for approximately 500 bodily functions. This vital organ processes almost everything we consume, breathe in or absorb through the skin. The liver impacts digestion, metabolism and regulates the production, storage, and release of sugar, fats, and cholesterol. It produces a variety of important proteins, including enzymes, hormones, blood proteins, clotting factors (a series of plasma proteins), and immune factors. Lastly, the liver plays a role in detoxification by filtering infectious organisms, alcohol, heavy metals, drugs, and other toxins from the blood, as well as processes and eliminates toxic byproducts from normal metabolism.

Because the liver performs so many vital functions, liver damage can impact almost all body systems. As the liver sustains damage, normal tissue can become fibrous, fatty and scarred. Symptoms of liver disease may include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).

Fat and the Liver

As previously mentioned, the liver is an organ that works very hard to metabolize chemicals and toxins that enter the body. The liver cycles 30 percent of circulating blood every 60 seconds. It has an incredible ability to regenerate itself from a damaged state if it is treated well. However, if the liver is continually overloaded with toxins through poor nutrition and lifestyle choices, it will be unable to perform its basic functions. Additionally, being overweight or obese can lead to liver dysfunction. In fact, a fatty liver is the most common cause of abnormal liver function in the United States.

Fatty liver disease is also known as NAFLD (Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease). Fatty liver is very common in overweight people above the age of 30. The healthy liver tissue is being replaced with unhealthy fats. When this occurs, the liver cells and the spaces in the liver are filled with fat. The liver will become slightly enlarged and heavier. There may be discomfort over the liver, which is located in the right upper abdominal area. There may also be gallstones composed of cholesterol and bile salts, as well as an elevation of liver enzymes.

The liver works as a filter removing toxins, dead cells, micro-organisms and fat from the blood. If the liver and liver cells are full of fat, the liver will not be able to filter and cleanse the blood efficiently. Therefore, the blood will become inundated with toxins and fat. If ignored, poor liver function can lead to significant problems later in life, including autoimmune conditions and type 2 diabetes.

Indicators of a fatty liver may include:

being overweight, especially in the abdominal area

difficulty losing weight

elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels

having Syndrome X

having type 2 diabetes

always being tired

immune system problems

The healthy liver regulates fat metabolism and is the major fat-burning organ in the body.  Interestingly, the healthy liver not only burns fat, it can pump excessive fat out of your body through the bile into the gut. Therefore, if the liver is healthy you will not have much difficulty controlling weight. A fatty liver is storing fat when it should be burning fat and removing excess fat from the body. A fatty liver ultimately becomes a warehouse for fat. That said, how do we keep our liver healthy? Typically, the foundation for health and wellness is exercise and nutrition. The same can be said for liver health.

Exercise and Liver Health

As previously mentioned, the liver performs several hundred bodily functions that ensure other body systems operate at optimal efficiency. One way to take care of the liver is by exercising regularly. The merits of regular physical activity – from preventing certain health conditions (such as fatty liver disease) to promoting weight loss and better sleep – are impossible to ignore. And anyone can realize these benefits, regardless of age, sex or physical ability.

Starting an exercise program may sound intimidating to some. However, all you need to remember is that your main goal is to optimize your liver health by meeting the basic physical activity recommendations: 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity at least three days per week. In addition, it’s VERY important to do some resistance training (weights) at least twice per week.

Aerobic exercise impacts blood oxygenation. It involves repetitive, large muscle movements that increase heart rate and changes breathing patterns. This increases the amount of oxygen taken in and speeds up delivery of oxygen to vital body organs, including the liver.

Weight training improves overall strength in both bones and muscles. Maintaining bone strength, as well as muscle strength, is especially important for women, as liver disease often leaves bones susceptible to osteoporosis. Lifting weights will supercharge workouts and promote the very best fitness results. It burns fat and calories, which impacts weight management and liver health. The healing of the stretched muscle after weight lifting is what makes resistance training unbelievable at increasing metabolism which, in turn, burns more calories. And, as a side benefit, for each pound of muscle you add, you will burn an additional 50 calories per day.

Both aerobic exercise and resistance training improve liver function in many ways. Continued aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and allows it to pump blood with less effort. As this occurs, the pulse slows down and blood flow improves, making it easier for the heart to pump blood to the liver and for the liver to send filtered blood back through the body.

Building lean muscle mass through weightlifting can delay the severe muscle wasting that becomes apparent during advanced stages of liver disease. Additionally, weight training prevents the buildup of excess body fat that can lead to a fatty liver and result in the previously mentioned NAFLD. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), although NAFLD initially displays few symptoms, it can cause the liver to become nonfunctional. The NIDDK reports that as obesity becomes a greater problem in America, NAFLD is also becoming more common.

Finally, if you already have a liver condition, it is very important to listen to your body when exercising. Fatigue is a common symptom of liver disease. Consider this when setting exercise goals and be sure to consult your healthcare practitioner.

Nutrition and Liver Health

Whether caused by alcohol or other lifestyle choices, a fatty liver can be helped by implementing a healthy diet as follows:

Fruits and Vegetables:  provides a plethora of valuable nutrients including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that strengthen the body's immune system which helps to fight off infection and disease. Fruits and vegetables are high in nutrients and low in calories, characteristics that help support healthy weight. Consume the following fresh fruits daily (among others) that are high in antioxidants:

Blueberries

Cherries

Raspberries

Oranges

Grapefruit

Tomatoes

Broccoli

Kale

Whole Grains: provides vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and, most importantly, dietary fiber. Regular consumption of whole grains is associated with a reduced risk for heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Foods that are high on the glycemic index or those that affect blood sugar levels may exacerbate symptoms of a liver in decline. A diet rich in low-glycemic foods may help prevent or help restore liver health. If you are at risk for a fatty liver, avoid enriched, processed foods, such as white bread, sugary cereals and processed snack foods. All of these offer little nutritional value. Incorporate a variety of whole grains into your diet which may include:

Oats

Barley

Brown Rice

Wild Rice

Rye

Healthy Fats: The term “fat” often has a negative connotation. However, healthy fats are mainstays in a healthy diet and may include nuts, seeds and certain vegetable oils. These foods are great for the heart, brain and overall physical wellness when consumed in appropriate amounts. Avoid saturated and trans fats typically found in fried foods, red meat and high-fat dairy products. Additionally, the mainstream media has been reporting on the benefits of fish and supplementing with fish oil for years. Studies have shown that the Omega-3s found in fish oil promotes liver health, as well as a plethora of other conditions. While Omega-3s can be found in flaxseed, walnuts and a few other foods, the most beneficial form of Omega-3, containing 2 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – which are essential in preventing and fighting both physical and mental illness, can only be found in fish. Be sure to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.

Finally, consider reducing or completely eliminating fructose from the diet. Fructose is much more readily processed to fat in the liver than glucose and can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which, in turn, can lead to type 2 diabetes.

That said, the number one source of calories in the U.S is high fructose corn syrup most commonly found in soda. In fact, there are about 40 grams of high fructose corn syrup per 12 ounces of soda. Reducing or eliminating soda will go a long way toward the health of your liver.

The liver has a far reaching impact on health. It impacts digestion and metabolism; regulates the production, storage, and release of sugar, fats, and cholesterol; produces a variety of important proteins; and plays a key role in detoxification of the body. You can’t live without your liver.  Fatty liver may be significantly reduced, when certain lifestyle habits are practiced. If ignored, poor liver function can lead to significant problems later in life. And, based on current trends in the US, fatty liver and obesity will become an epidemic problem. Do your due diligence. Your liver will love you for it. And so will you!