You may have heard before the terms “sluggish” or “congested” liver. These terms have been used for a long time in the naturopathic medicine and, of course, the functional medicine acknowledges suboptimal liver function too. Within the conventional medicine paradigm you may have encountered the term “non-alcoholic fatty liver disease” or NAFLD for short, which is becoming more and more common and can be reversed if it is caught early.
Why is all the ruckus about the liver and its’ function? Why so much attention is devoted in all 3 medical paradigms to the liver?
Well, maybe, because the liver is the main detoxification organ of the body! You can live with one kidney or without a spleen, if necessary, but you cannot live without your liver!
So if you have not heard anything about the liver function, it is high time you learned about it, as well as the symptoms that could be pointing at the struggling liver.
Symptoms of the Impaired Liver Function:
So, what are the common signs of liver dysfunction?
Dark circles and / or dark spots on the skin
New allergic reactions
Multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS)
Loss of appetite
Estrogen dominance in women and men
Inability to digest fatty meals
If you experience 3 or more symptoms, it may be a good idea to get your liver enzymes and bile acid level checked.
Fructose and Different Kinds of Sugar
There are a number of foods that can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – excessive accumulation of lipids in liver cells? You may erroneously think that the accumulation of lipids (fat) in the liver cells is caused by the diet high in bacon and other sources of saturated animal and vegetable fat (such as coconut oil). Fortunately, the 30+-year war on saturated fat is over and the American Heart Association, at last, made a statement that saturated fat is not causing strokes and heart attacks.
Meanwhile, the last 30-plus years the Americans have been avoiding high fat or even moderate-fat foods and ate mostly low-fat or non-fat packaged foods, fruits, and lots of starchy veggies. Basically, we turned into carbiterians and snacketarians, because we were always hungry and needed a low-fat high-carb snack. Instead of sausage and eggs for breakfast, we started eating oatmeal endorsed by the AHA (American Heart Association) and sugar-laden cereals with 0% skim milk. By the way, skim milk is pure sugary water, nothing else. Once the milk is stripped of fat, only lactose and water left!
So, where does the fat deposition in the liver come from?
First and foremost, it comes from the high-fructose corn syrup that is used in different sodas. Believe it or not, if I were to pick a soda I would pick one made with the real cane sugar, and not with the subsidized by the government high-fructose corn syrup! Stay away from the carbonated beverages, any types and kinds of juices and even drinks sweetened with various sweeteners such as maple and agave syrup.
Secondly, the high fructose fruits such as pineapple, mango, and grapes, if eaten without moderation, can cause liver issues too. I see so many people who are trying to lose weight by making “healthy” smoothies with at least 1-2 cups of pineapple and mango fruit in them! Such a smoothie should be treated as a dessert, not an afternoon snack! And honestly, if I were to pick between that smoothie and 1-2 scoops of high-fat creamy ice cream, I would pick the latter!
At the same time, low-sugar whole fruits or even pineapples and mangos could be ok to eat if you have not been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance or diabetes! But, only 1-2 servings per day. Servings, not fruits! It does not mean 1-2 pineapples a day, only ½ cup a day of pineapple would be enough. Seasonal fruits are better, as they have the most nutrients and taste amazing!
What is the difference between fructose and glucose?
Glucose can be used directly for the production of energy in almost all tissues of the body.
Fructose is different from other sugars because the liver must first convert it into glucose or save it for later in the form of fat. The overconsumption of fructose is the main cause of the epidemic of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and obesity. Our poor 4-pound liver just does not have the capacity to deal with increased consumption of fructose over the last several decades.
And what happens when the liver gets overloaded with sugar and fructose?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the first stage to the non-alcoholic liver cirrhosis where most of the liver is dead and the only way to fix it is to get on the liver transplant list and hope you stay alive long enough to get that liver transplant. But why to get to such extremes, if you can reverse the pathologic disease process and at the same time save so much money while staying healthy and avoiding the surgery and its’ possible complications? You may think I am painting the picture too dark, but in reality, we now have 11 and 12-year-old children with fatty liver disease! If they do not reverse the pathology (fatty liver now) in 5-10 years they WILL ultimately face the liver transplant surgery!
If you do not believe me, go to any park or zoo and see how many kids are given “Honest” juice in the carton boxes or even sodas followed by carb-only snack such as cheerios with a whopping 2 grams of protein in 3 cups! Now, the terrible toddlers are screaming for juice, later on, they will choose sweet carbonated beverages like Coke and Mountain Dew.
If you have fatty liver disease, you are guaranteed to also have insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and, eventually, diabetes. Your pancreas and liver will not be able to deal with “shoveling” that much sugar in your body and deciding what to do with it!
How to prevent the liver from being overloaded with “shoveling” sugar? Just get rid of sugar and simple carbs in your diet and your liver will thank you! Well, it is easier said than done, because changing habits is not easy and I would recommend finding a like-minded community, health coach, nutritionist, or a functional medicine provider who could oversee your progress with lab test markers for fatty liver and liver ultrasound if needed.
Alcohol: to Drink or Not to Drink? That is the One-Million Dollar Question!
Alcohol. If you are trying to lose weight, drinking alcohol will derail your efforts to lose that stubborn weight! When you consume any kind of alcohol, your liver puts away for later other urgent tasks (such as biotransformation of carbohydrates) and starts processing and detoxifying alcohol! The metabolism of alcohol gets your liver’s attention. You also use the main antioxidant your body makes – glutathione – to detoxify your body and liver from alcohol. Thus, you need to support your glutathione production to make sure your liver has enough resources to detoxify other invisible environmental chemicals that you encounter in your everyday life. (If you do not believe me, look at my post about how “rich” our bodies are in environmental chemicals including perchlorate!)
All that said, what if it is a special occasion and what if you ABSOLUTELY need to have a drink?
1. I would advise sticking to low-carb low-sugar drinks like vodka and cranberry juice, tequila, and other high-proof kinds of alcohol.
2. Decrease your carbohydrate consumption 2 days before and definitely when you go out. So, no, no mashed potatoes with your drink! Eat some steak and non-starchy veggies, like Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and asparagus. As a bonus, these veggies are rich in sulforaphane will also help you detox alcohol better!
3. Take 2-4 capsules of activated charcoal before you go to bed or as soon as you feel a bit tipsy.
4. Drink lots of water during and after. Hydration will help to detox alcohol and take its’ byproducts out of your body.
5. Do not drink wine… I know, I know, there was some research showing that drinking wine has reservatrol – the longevity antioxidant – and drinking wine is good for your heart… Well, maybe, but definitely it is not a regular wine that is rich in those properties. Plus, you would have to drink several bottles of wine to get the necessary amount of reservatrol. Unfortunately, even 1-2 glasses of wine are enough to saturate you with pesticides, Mega Purple coloring used in the wine production, carbohydrates (i.e. sugar), and other stuff that your body does not need. And guess what – you have to pay for it too, around $12-16 per glass while dining out.
6. Find responsibly sourced wines and enjoy them… in moderation.
7. If you are not feeling well after 1-2 drinks, reconsider drinking at the moment, optimize your liver and health, and see if you can tolerate alcohol later.
What about Coffee?
I get that question A LOT! I am addicted to coffee myself, I will not lie. I enjoy low-mold coffee in the form of espresso and as a rule, never go over 2 shots (approximately 50 mg of caffeine per 1 shot). I cannot tolerate drip coffee anymore as one 8-ounce cup has around 150-200 mg. It is way too much for me and I do not feel that good. If you are like me, it is a habit, a ritual that I enjoy most of my mornings. So, my advice about coffee will be biased. It is an opinion, and as you can tell there is a lot of conflicting information about coffee online!
1. Therefore, my advice is to drink coffee in moderation, avoiding any plastics that are touching the hot liquid and leach BPA (another hormone disruptor) in your yummy coffee! (No Keurig, drip coffee with plastic tubes, etc.)
2. Pay attention to how you feel: if you do not observe negative symptoms – continue drinking coffee.
3. If you have such symptoms as headaches, anxiety, heart palpitations, irritability – decrease the amount of coffee or stop it slowly and gradually.
4. Some people are genetically slow metabolizers. The effects of caffeine could be felt 24 hours after coffee consumption. Others can be drinking coffee 1 hour before bedtime and will be fast asleep right away! I am a slow metabolizer of coffee, so I only drink it in the morning. Sometimes, there is no black and white when it comes to healthy and not healthy foods! Just like one diet does not fit all, the same is with the foods! Paying attention to how you feel is more important than following the opinions of other “specialists”!
Bitter Taste in Bitter Foods for your Liver!
It is difficult to find a better friend of the liver than … bitterness! Bitterness is one of 5 tastes. During the evolution, the taste of bitterness in plants was most likely a signal to avoid them. They were considered poisonous. Then, during the food shortage, people began to use such plants in small quantities. This helped them to adapt to the toxicity. Over time, people noticed the healing properties of bitterness – primarily for the liver and digestive system, and began to use them as part of their diet. To take advantage of the healing properties of bitters, you can simply start each meal with a bitter product – a piece of ginger, greens such as arugula, radish or watercress. And you can buy or make a tincture of bitters at home! Sweetish Bitters are available at any health food store. Just take 1-2 dropper-full in 1 ounce of water 15-20 minutes before meals.
The reverse side of hepatosis: choline deficiency
Together with an excess of fructose, many of us have a shortage. The deficiency of the trace element, without which the liver is forced to store fat literally on and in itself. Instead of transporting it to a more storage-friendly place – subcutaneous fatty tissue (also not perfect, but for health risks are much less). This trace element is a vitamin B called choline. Phosphadithylcholine – A substance that is made from choline, it is necessary in order to “take away” fat from the liver, which it produces. And fat is transported away from the liver by very low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or type of cholesterol, as they are often not exactly called. No choline, no cholesterol, the liver, in addition to its 500+ functions, should also become fat storage. And when it becomes it (the repository), there is not enough resource to perform these 500+ functions of the resource. It stores fat.
And in conclusion, how to understand – is there any hepatosis? You can accurately establish only with the help of ultrasound. However, the answer is likely to be “yes” if you have high blood sugar, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, or type 2 diabetes.
The healthy lifestyle should include the following:
Rich in protein – to lose fat instead of burning to maintain sugar muscle mass, to support the production of choline (this requires the amino acid methionine)
Cruciferous vegetables – as a source of important trace elements for the production of choline (primarily folates) plus fiber, other substances important for the liver
Choline and phosphatidylcholine – eggs and liver.
“In a rapidly changing medical environment, guidelines have emerged as a novel though often the over-promoted driver of unprecedented influence and change. Treatment choices no longer rest primarily on the personal interaction between patient and doctor but have become a mass commodity, based on the increasing use of guidelines not as advisory but obligatory for result interpretation and subsequent treatment. Contrary to all proclaimed efforts towards more personalized medicine, this has become a regulated consumer mass market as with many other situations. This is of little benefit to patients who will continue to complain, and with some justification, that the medical profession is not listening, thereby abandoning one of its primary functions in the doctor-patient relationship.” From Time for a reassessment of the treatment of hypothyroidism
Zhanna Tarjeft, FNP is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner and a founder of Sprouts Health Functional Medicine Practice in Gilbert, Arizona. Her articles are a matter of personal opinion and do not constitute direct medical advice. All conditions are unique and require the direct review and care of your own physician. To book an appointment with Zhanna Tarjeft contact her at (480) 550-9551