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Nutrition Made Easy For Busy People

A Liver Is For Life, Not Just For January

If you’re coming to the end of your ‘dry’ January, then you may be wondering what the next step should be, so that your heroic efforts of staying alcohol-free don’t go to waste. If you’re serious about your health then this is when the real work starts.

The first thing you need to realise is that liver health is a long-term game. The truth is that a short-term detox followed by a return to the old regime is a waste of time. Dr Mark Wright, consultant hepatologist, put it very well in a recent report: “Detoxing for just a month in January is medically futile. It can lead to a false sense of security and feeds the idea that you can abuse your liver as much as you like and then sort everything else with a quick fix.

“It makes about as much sense as maxing out your credit cards and overdraft all year, then thinking you can fix it by just eating toast in January. The figures just don’t stack up,”

So what should you do to optimise liver health and build on the good work you’ve started? One of the advantages of a ‘dry’ January is that you realise just how much better you can feel when you’re not drinking regularly, as even just 1 or 2 small glasses of wine every night affect your quality of sleep and impact energy levels. Here’s why: we think of the liver as the detox organ and it’s true that filtering toxins from the blood is one of the functions of the liver but there are many, many more.

The liver is responsible for breaking down carbohydrates which provide our primary energy source and it manages the release of glucose to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and support weight management; it breaks down protein and fats so they become biologically useful and can also be used as a source of energy; it plays a primary role in digestion by producing bile which is stored in the gall bladder and ensures the absorption of dietary fat; it breaks down old red blood cells, converting them into bilirubin, a component of bile; the Kupffer cells in the liver have a protective immune role by capturing and digesting bacteria, fungi and parasites; it stores iron and vitamins A, B12, D, E and K to ensure you have plenty of these vital micronutrients to hand; it plays a key role in producing active thyroid hormone and it processes old oestrogen for excretion. And there are many more functions.

So if your liver is kept busy every day filtering toxins generated by alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, additives, pollutants etc, how can it possibly do the rest of the work it needs to do? If you suffer from niggling issues such as low energy, poor sleep, PMS, bloating, digestive discomfort, IBS, skin problems or are susceptible to colds and infections, then you may be over-working your liver.

The solution is simple: having done the hard work of adjusting to an alcohol-free regime, all you need to do is ensure at least 3 consecutive alcohol-free days each week. This will give your liver the time to repair itself, work through the back-log of other jobs and empty its in-tray. And if you can make sure you’re not over-doing it on the other days, then you’ll be doing your liver a big favour. After a dry January, this should seem like a walk in the park, and could make a huge difference to your health and well-being throughout the year.

Don’t let your hard work from this month go to waste and remember that a liver is for life, not just for January!

Everyday Foods That Support Liver Function

  1. The brassica family e.g. cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower – these contain sulphur compounds which studies have shown help to support the detoxification process in the liver1.
  2. Vitamin C-rich vegetables such as peppers, kale, cabbage and watercress increase the production of glutathione which is responsible for the detoxification of 60% of toxins in the liver, including alcohol, paracetamol and antibiotics2.
  3. Turmeric – curcumin a compound found in turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that studies have shown can help protect against liver cell damage3.
  4. Sulphurous foods such as eggs, onions, garlic, chives and other allium vegetables. These promote the effective processing of prescription medication, pesticides and hormones4.
  5. Lipotropic factors such as vitamins B12, B6, folate, choline and inositol have a decongesting effect on the liver and promote fat metabolism. Meat and fish are good sources of vitamins B6 and B12; folate is found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach or lettuce; choline is found in eggs and brassica and inositol is mostly found in pulses and brown rice5.

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