After all the excesses of Christmas and New Year, this for many people involves an increased consumption of rich food and alcohol, meaning that the liver will have had a heavy workload, so anything we can do to help it along will be of long term benefit.
The liver is the largest and one of the most complex organs in the human body. It plays a vital role in a large number of bodily functions. Especially important among these is helping to process the food you eat by:
• Aiding digestion
• Extracting nutrients
• Breaking down harmful drugs and poisons, including alcohol
The liver produces bile which is used to aid digestion, and helps to makes it possible for the body to take up the vitamins A, D, E and K from the food passing through the gut. Carbohydrates from foods such as bread, pasta and potatoes are broken down in the liver into glucose, a type of sugar that provides energy. Some glucose is stored in the muscles, but most is stored in the liver. When the body needs energy fast - when you're running, for example - the glycogen is turned back to glucose and used by the body. If the liver is damaged, it can affect your ability to store and release glycogen, causing fatigue, muscle wasting and weakness.
The liver plays an important role in fighting infections and filtering out bugs that enter the bloodstream from the gut. In addition, the liver is a key organ involved in our natural immunity - releasing important chemicals that activate immune responses when infection is detected. If the liver is damaged, the body's ability to defend itself is reduced.
With so many key functions, your liver is essential for life. If it becomes severely damaged and starts to fail, almost every part of your body will be affected. Liver cells regenerate quickly; if cells are lost they are replaced within a few hours. This means that the liver can heal itself, to a degree. However, if the liver becomes severely damaged there comes a point at which it’s no longer able to repair itself.
If the liver becomes damaged it can become scarred and not fully functional causing toxins to build up in the body with unpleasant outcomes. These effects can range from the mild – a feeling of sluggishness to the more extreme where the liver is permanently damaged and jaundice will occur.
Returning to a healthy, well-balanced diet is the first step in supporting the liver. Fresh fruit and vegetables should provide the majority of the diet with fattier foods such as red meat and fried food being eaten in moderation. This should be coupled with regular exercise (30mins per day). Plenty of fluids too will help to detoxify the liver. Water is the best detoxifier but fruit and vegetable juices can also be used as they have additional vitamins and nutrients which support the recovery of the liver.
Milk thistle is a herbal product which is very popular for detoxifying the liver. The active ingredient is Silymarin, and it is claimed that this supports the function of the liver and the breakdown of fats, but there is little clinical evidence.
Gordons Chemists is the largest independently owned retail pharmacy chain in Northern Ireland. Established in 1980, Gordons now has 49 pharmacies here and also 9 in Scotland.
Products described are available at most pharmacies and Gordons Chemists does not endorse any individual product. Always consult your pharmacist in relation to your individual symptoms.
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