Surefire Ways to Protect Your Liver, Say Dietitians
In the hierarchy of human organs, the brain and the heart take top billing. The liver? Not so much.
But your liver deserves your love. Everything you eat or drink, even second-hand cigarette smoke that your lungs usher into your bloodstream, goes through your liver for processing and detoxification.
Your liver is a workhorse organ, which is why it's so important to keep it healthy. When it can't function properly, toxins and other harmful substances can damage the cells of every other part of you and increase your risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and cancer.
Knowing that everything entering your bloodstream makes a pitstop in your liver should encourage you to want to guard it like an offensive line protects a quarterback from getting sacked. What you may not be aware of is how easily the seemingly harmless foods and drinks you swallow can affect the function of your liver. Keep your body's unsung hero healthy by doing the following. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don't miss 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
Avoid heavy drinking.
That goes for everything from hard liquor to light beers to chardonnay. "There is no such alcoholic beverage that is easier for your liver to metabolize because the major ingredient that affects your liver is ethanol, which is present in all types of alcoholic drinks," says Susan Kelly, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the lab Pacific Analytics.
"Any alcohol affects your liver, but heavy drinking overburdens the organ and starts damaging your liver cells."
You don't have to be an alcoholic to drink excessively, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as eight or more drinks per week for women or 15 or more per week for men. Binge drinking is 4 or more during a single occasion for women, and five for men.
Don't drink soda.
Say you don't drink alcohol at all or just imbibe a little wine with dinner now and then; your liver still isn't safe if you drink a lot of soda. "People aren't connecting the dots," says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, author of the best-selling book, Skinny Liver. "Sure, alcohol has a huge impact on your liver, but so does sugar. I consider it to be one of the most poisonous substances in our food system."
The worst sugar for your liver is likely fructose—not the fructose you get from eating whole fruit which comes with beneficial fiber, but the fructose added to foods and beverages, namely high fructose corn syrup.
Studies suggest that high fructose corn syrup used to sweeten soda, candy, baked goods, cereals, and other foods, may increase the risk of NAFLD, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Have your coffee every day.
Several studies suggest that drinking coffee may protect your liver from damage. The effect doesn't seem to have anything to do with caffeine. Instead, researchers believe that the antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds in coffee lower the risk of cirrhosis. Clinical evidence also demonstrates that regular coffee drinking offers a protective effect against nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
If you don't drink coffee, here's another option for your morning mug: tea. A small study in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine found that people suffering from the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease who drank green tea high in powerful antioxidants called catechins reduced fat deposits in the liver and improved the results of liver enzyme tests.
Go nuts, lose weight.
Researchers aren't sure why, but eating lots of nuts is associated with a lower risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, according to a BMJ Open study. Some scientists speculate that the antioxidants, fiber, protein, and phytosterols in nuts all may play a role in protecting against fatty liver.
"Fiber from nuts, beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables helps the liver function properly, including with its role in detoxification," says private practice dietitian Laura Poe Mathes, RD.
Choose fatty fish.
Need another reason to get more fish into your weekly diet? Keep this in mind: A meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled studies reported in Gastroenterology in Research and Practice suggests that the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in omega-3s found in fatty fish may be a new treatment option for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
The research noted deficiencies in PUFAs in people with the liver condition and found that adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet not only reduced liver fat accumulation in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease but helped those with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), the most serious type of NAFLD.
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