Ever thought about what your liver does for you? It’s likely you have only given your liver a cursory thought unless you’ve had a liver function test from your GP & it’s come up not so healthy. You’ve probably heard that your liver helps process alcohol, but in the wider scheme of things, this is just the tip on the iceberg when it comes to the talents of your liver. Essentially, nearly everything that enters our bloodstream, everything you eat passes through the liver. It’s your liver that makes sure everything gets filed into the right place, the bad things get filtered out & the good things get turned into energy & healthy tissue. If your liver is having trouble keeping up with its workload you are going to get a backlog of nasties polluting your amazing, fabulous body – and we can’t have that now can we?
Detoxification assists you to function at your best, however it may be particularly important to consider a detox program if you have a chronic condition, digestive symptoms, ongoing fatigue and inflammatory disorders. Detoxification can also support those with autism, autoimmunity, weight gain and in fact, any patient who wishes to improve their health, digestion and overall vitality. Aging well is also part of the benefits of caring for your liver. Look after your liver & it will look after you!
How can you tell your liver is under functioning?
There are many clues that your liver is under stress and these manifest as symptoms that mean you just don’t feel right. If you have any of the following, it’s time to detox:
- You feel tired, sluggish or lethargic
- Your concentration is not what it used to be
- You pick up every cold or sniffle that goes around
- Your breath is a constant battle to keep fresh – and not just cause you had an extra serving of garlic with lunch!
- You often have sinus congestion & post nasal drip – that yukky sensation of mucous in the back of your throat
- Your body odour is unpleasant when not using deodorant or perfume
- You get gas, bloating or discomfort after eating
- You have dark circles under your eyes
- You have allergies or a skin condition like eczema, acne or psoriasis
- You can go for more than 1 day without having a bowel movement
- You smoke, spend time around a lot of smokers or have smoked in the past
- You usually drink less than 3 cups of water a day
- You usually eat meat more than 2 times a day
- You tend to wake up bloated or puffy in the mornings
- You eat less than ½ cup of green vegetables a day
- What will a detox do for me?
A detox helps your body focus on repairing itself. This means that instead of working hard to process the Red Bull’s, coffee, refined sugars & saturated fats, not to mention the environmental pollution & stress we deal with every day, your liver will have time to do the normal stuff that keeps us feeling healthy. This means more energy, regular bowel movements, clear skin & easier weight management. People who frequently complain of headaches, allergies, food intolerances, hormonal imbalances and skin disorders usually find improvements in their symptoms as the gut restores optimal function following a detox.
What’s the link between weight loss & a detox?
Surprise! Your liver controls your metabolism. Ok, your thyroid has something to do with this too, but the liver & your thyroid gland work as a team & your weight loss team has dropped the ball if your liver is sidelined with a hangover, so to speak. Your liver transforms many of your hormones into their active state and this is also true for your thyroid hormones. So, your sluggish metabolism could have something to do with your overburdened liver. Healing your liver improves insulin sensitivity & this has benefits when it comes to shifting belly fat, which has the greatest risk of adverse health implications.
What does a detox involve?
Your liver is an integral part of your digestive system & doesn't operate alone. This said, a detox concentrates on healing & supporting the function of your digestion.
Dietary changes take the stress off your digestion with a focus on anti-inflammatory foods & your naturopath will guide you on any particular foods for you. This is part of the initial phase of reducing the burden on your liver & digestive system. Clean, healthy living is a lifelong goal, so a detox gives you a taste of what this is like & the benefits you will experience. During this period your naturopath may include herbs to assist balance the bacteria in your digestive tract & stimulate good digestion. This is where your bowel, liver & gall bladder get all the support they need to happily go about their work. You also need good levels of stomach acid to have healthy bacteria in your digestive tract – the fact is we have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that helps process our foods & actually nourishes the cells lining our intestines.
Here you focus on rebuilding the digestive lining to be all pink & healthy, supporting urinary elimination, alkalising the body and re balancing the beneficial flora levels within the gastrointestinal tract. Your naturopath will support you with supplements designed to heal your digestive tract, help you get rid of heavy metals stored in the body & build up your good bacteria.
Giving your liver a hard time?
It’s important to take care of your liver, particularly if you are taking a lot of medications, work in an environment with lots of pollutants, or have any of the symptoms listed above. The fact is your liver can regenerate its cells, we just have to give it the opportunity! If you would like some advice on starting a detox program, come in & see me for a consult. Correcting a lifetime of bad habits is something you generally need to do in baby steps, but your liver is a vital organ & not something you can do without, so taking those steps to detox is an important part of caring for your long term health.
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Why change your diet?
Change is hard – there’s a part of our brain that likes consistency & rebels, strongly, against even the hint of change. So what do you do when you have horrible allergies, or increasingly uncomfortable reactions to your favourite foods? The rational being way back in the deep dark recesses of your mind, KNOWS this is a good idea but everything seems too hard. Historically, this is not a new feeling with Roman poet philosopher Lucretius, lamenting “what is food for one man may be bitter poison to others”. So if your favourite food has become bitter poison to you, you’d think someone would have come up with an easy out by now. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? The truth is, if certain foods are causing you grief, continuing to include these offending items on your plate is only going to cause you extra inflammation, damage to your delicate insides & trigger more food sensitivities in the long run. The benefits are many, clearer skin, clearer mind, reduced bloating, more regular bowels & sparkling health. Around 25 % of Australians report suffering from a suspected food intolerance, so statistically, you’re in good company with others who report vague symptoms like increased headaches, bloating or mouth ulcers after eating certain foods. Cracking the code for your particular complaints gives you the power to control your symptoms & spend far more time enjoying your life & much less lying in a dark room nursing a migraine or blaming the dog for letting-off so outstandlingly!
The Elimination Diet
Doing an elimination diet is the best way to figure out which foods are contributing to your symptoms. This can seem hideously restrictive & you can end up wondering what you have left to eat if you don’t get good advice before you start.
Step 1: Do you need help identifying which foods you are intolerant to?
You may already have a pretty good idea which foods are causing you problems but if not, a visit to your nutritionist, naturopath or your GP is a good place to start. You may be asked to keep a diet diary & note down your mood & other symptoms to identify a pattern connected to what you eat. This can be tricky as symptoms of food intolerance are not usually immediate & relate more to the amount & frequency of a food or type of food than to the one time you ate parmesan cheese. However, the people who do this for a living will have experience with the most likely culprits depending on your symptoms & will be able to tell you which ones are the best to avoid with the help of a food diary.
Step 2: Start adding in alternatives – dig out your gluten, sugar & dairy-free recipes
Fortunately, we live in a time where recipes are more accessible than ever – Google has nearly 35 million hits for gluten-free blogs alone! Many more if you Get out there & check them out! Add more good stuff in before you cut out the bad. This way you may naturally crowd out the foods you are trying to avoid & it will give you good, safe, healthy alternatives along the way. Also if you know delicious alternatives to your regular diet, the move towards cutting out the foods that are causing you distress won’t be such a leap after all.
Step 3: Make sure your gluten, dairy or sugar-free diet has the right nutrition
The diet you have right now isn’t equip for nourishing you if you just take something out & you don’t have anything to replace it with. While not everyone has issues with dairy, this is a good example of a potential gap in nutrition. Up to 45% of the Australian population is at risk of being deficient in Calcium. This is without factoring in what happens if you remove dairy without knowing which foods are alternate sources of Calcium. This is something worth checking out. If you don’t feel confident sorting this out for yourself, this is another good reason to check in with your nutritionist, naturopath or GP – it can take a little planning to get the right nutrition from your diet but your body will thank you for making the effort!
Step 4: Make-over one meal at a time
Baby steps are all steps in the right direction. After you’ve mastered a few alternatives for breakfast, move on to lunch, snacks & then dinner. Filling your cupboards with foods that you feel happy about eating & meet the requirements of your elimination diet will make the next few weeks a whole lot easier.
Step 5: Testing out your suspected culprits – the food challenge
The elimination part of this process usually lasts about 3 weeks, with you feeling increasingly better & reporting less symptoms along the way. From here you start adding foods back in, keeping the ones that cause no drama & ditching the ones that trigger uncomfortable symptoms. Your health care practitioner may also recommend a probiotic & some supplements to help heal your digestive system along the way.
Cold-turkey or bust? Maybe not…
Without the proper preparation, a dietary change can be pretty stressful. Something I have learned the hard way! However, with a little planning you’ll be shining with health & making the most of all the healthy, nutritious food you’re eating! For, as our good friend Socrates said, ‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new’. Look out for my next article in the series on dietary changes. Meanwhile, keep your eye out on my Facebook page for some tips on new tasty foods to start adding to your repertoire, and please feel free to post, if you find a recipe too good not to share!