Your liver is like your body’s Brita filter, and its function is to sift out all the toxic stuff you run through it. And that’s just one of the hundreds of functions your liver has: It’s also an important tool in protein synthesis, aids in digestion, regulates glycogen storage, and plays a role in metabolism and hormone production.
But between drinking alcohol frequently and a diet rich in processed food, the average American’s liver takes a heavy beating. This can lead to some scary health complications, including scarring, fatty liver disease, or in serious cases, cirrhosis, which is irreversible scar tissue that can lead to liver failure. Some signs of liver damage include your skin and the whites of your eyes turning yellow, being easily bruised, and swelling in the abdomen and legs. Often times, however, liver damage is accompanied by no symptoms at all, until it’s too late.
The good news is, the liver has a remarkable ability to regenerate and heal itself. Here’s how to show your body’s second-biggest organ some TLC, and help heal it for optimal function. If you’re looking to make over other parts of your body as well, check out our 40 Habits That Make You Sick and Fat and quit them immediately.
Scale Back the Drinking…By This Much
The absolute worst offense to your liver is drinking alcohol. Since booze is toxic and gets processed in the liver, drinking too much of it can cause scarring or even cirrhosis. Although cirrhosis is mostly seen in alcoholics, even regular binge drinkers who consume four or more alcoholic beverages at a time but only once or twice a week can wreak havoc on their livers.
To repair your liver, give it a break by cutting back on the adult beverages. A couple alcoholic beverages can actually be good for you, but try to keep it to one or two at a time, a couple times a week. Any more, and you risk damaging this vital organ. If you feel like you’ve been hitting the bottle particularly hard lately, abstain from alcohol completely for at least a week, then resume with light to moderate drinking.
Liver damage isn’t just caused by drinking too much; it can also happen thanks to a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and weight gain. Like other obesity-related illnesses, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is tied to insulin resistance and heart disease. In severe cases, a fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis.
The good news is, losing weight, even a moderate drop in pounds can help improve liver scarring. A review published in the journal Minerva Gastroenterologica e Dietologica found that a one-year period of lifestyle change and just a 7-10 percent loss in overall body weight had “significant histological improvement of liver disease.” Looking to shed some pounds? Check out our 50 Best-Ever Weight-Loss Secrets from Thin People.
Cut Back on Processed Food
Even if you’re not overweight but eat a poor diet, that could still affect your liver. Rates of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease have been seen in patients who eat a diet riddled with processed junk food and preservatives, even if they aren’t overweight on the outside. Basically, your liver can get fat before your body does. This can also be due to a genetic predisposition to liver damage and consuming too many sugary drinks.
Since eating a poor diet contributes to liver disease, eating a healthy one will help heal it. Make sure you’re eating a diet rich in fresh produce, lean meats, whole grains, and limiting your consumption of simple, refined carbohydrates (like sugar).
Reduce OTC Pain Meds
A common over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen, known as the brand name Tylenol, gets metabolized in the liver. Although it’s been available for years and is considered safe, too much of it can result in liver toxicity. Taking more than 5,000 milligrams a day, or about 10 Extra Strength Tylenols, could result in liver damage or even liver failure, according to the FDA. It’s even more dangerous for people who drink regularly, or already have a liver disease such as hepatitis C.
Other pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) aren’t processed in the liver, so they don’t carry the same liver-damaging side effects as acetaminophen. If you’re worried about how OTC pain relievers will affect you, reach for an aspirin (Bayer) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) instead. And be sure to pay attention to dosage recommendations on the labels.
Beets are colorful, delicious, and most of all, good for you. They might also be good for your liver. Beets are a good source of the nutrient called choline, which helps the body metabolize fat. Since choline is metabolized in the liver, eating more of it could help protect against fatty liver disease; a study published in the journal Current Opinion in Gastroenterology found that people who were low in choline were more likely to develop fatty liver disease. Not sure where to begin with this vibrant veggie? Check out our 19 Boss Beet Recipes.
Drink Detox Water
Since your liver is responsible for several metabolic processes, including filtering out toxins from your body, drinking plenty of water will help this organ work at its most optimal. Drinking water revs up your metabolism, according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, and can help your liver flush out toxins better. Even better, try warm detox water with a squeeze of lemon and hot sauce. The lemon juice will help calm inflammation, and the capsaicin from the hot sauce will increase blood flow to the liver. Shoot for 8 glasses a day. If you can’t stomach the warm detox water, just upping your regular H2O intake will help.
Eat Healthy Fats
You would think eating fat would be harmful to a fatty liver, but it’s actually been proven to do the opposite. A study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics found that saturated fatty acids helped reverse inflammation and fibrosis (initial scarring) in the livers of rats, even as they continued to consume alcohol. Although a diet high in saturated fat isn’t great for your heart, there are some dietary saturated fatty acids that are healthy in moderation: Medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, were one of the beneficial fatty acids used in the study, and are found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, or isolated in MCT oil. Some people swear by 1 tablespoon of MCT oil a day, either mixed into food or stirred into coffee for bulletproof coffee.
Exercise isn’t just for losing weight and getting in shape; it has so many physiological benefits too, including helping your liver. A study published in the Journal of Hepatology found exercise is beneficial for obese and overweight adults who have non-alcoholic fatty disease. The study also found that didn’t matter how intense or often the participants worked out; the exercise was helpful. Regardless, regular exercise is important for overall health, so you should aim for at least 30 minutes 5-7 days a week. For some fitspo, check out our 30 Most Effective 30-Second Workout Moves.
Take Vitamin E
Along with lifestyle changes, taking vitamin E could be the secret to treating a fatty liver; a study published in the journal Nutrition found that taking vitamin E had a beneficial effect on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and “significantly improved” liver function in patients with a fatty liver. You can take a vitamin E supplement, or turn to almonds, spinach or sweet potatoes for good sources of this essential vitamin. Just be careful; the supplement has been shown to cause blood clots, so check with your doctor before popping a handful.
Eat Bitter Greens
Eating greens is good for your waistline and overall health, and they can be helpful for your liver, too. Bitter greens such as arugula, dandelion greens, and spinach have a bitter flavor that can help increase bile flow, which detoxes your liver. The greens themselves can also help remove toxins. Plus, eating more of these natural plant-based foods in lieu of processed foods will give your liver a break from all the junk food toxins, and help you lose weight -— another pro-liver bonus.