Love your liver

I recently went to have Japanese acupuncture for the first time to treat my back, neck and shoulder pain. Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of things to get a little pain relief, from physiotherapy to remedial massage, Chinese acupuncture and chiro.

Incidentally, the Japanese acupuncture was fabulous and gave me wonderful pain relief. But what I found most interesting was that the practitioner informed me that my liver was performing extremely poorly and the resulting muscle tension around my liver and spleen was responsible for the tension in my back, and therefore shoulders and neck.

The ins and outs of this are a whole ‘nother story in themselves, but it got me thinking about my liver, and I realised I knew little about it – nor how important it is. And it got me thinking as to how I can look after it.

In fact, the liver is a little bit amazing and is sort of the super hero of organs. Sitting on the right-hand side of the abdomen below your diaphragm, it’s the largest internal organ in the body. It’s rather hefty, weighing about 1.25 – 1.5kg which is roughly the size of a rugby ball!

That’s all well and good, but what does it do? Well, I’m glad you asked, as it performs many functions that are vital for your wellbeing. It’s basically your very own personal chemical processing plant.

First of all, it cleanses the blood of all the nasties your body doesn’t need (or want) such as drugs, hormones, waste products and toxins. It also breaks down old blood cells and makes, stores and releases fats and sugars.

But wait, there’s more! This organ is seriously busy – it helps digestion by releasing bile salts that break down food, makes essential proteins (including enzymes and blood clotting factors) and even stores and supplies essential vitamins and minerals to the parts of the body that need them. Handy!

But the most fascinating thing for me about the liver is that it is the only organ in the human body that can regenerate itself by creating new tissue. Imagine if all our organs could do this! This extraordinary ability means it can still function even if a significant part of it is diseased – or removed. Impressive.

So, for something so essential, it makes sense therefore to make sure it is in good working order. Your liver’s cells, called hepatocytes, work hard to keep your body working at it’s best. When harmful substances and toxins enter the body (whether eaten, inhaled or otherwise), your liver jumps to action to detoxify and destroy them. All these unwanted beasties are then sent off to the intestine or kidneys for disposal.

Looking after your liver is surprisingly easy. Minimising toxins such as drugs, alcohol and cigarettes is the most important favour you can do your liver.

A good, healthy, balanced diet is the next step, particularly one that limits fat intake.

So in theory, being healthy is all you need to do to keep you liver ticking along happily. Other things you can do to keep your liver happy are to avoid fad diets, practice safe sex, take care with tattoos and piercings, go for regular blood tests and speak to your doctor about mixing medications if you take more than one kind.  

by Sunny de Bruyn