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Common Sense Approaches To Health: Loving Your Liver

By Maureen McDonnell, BS, RN


I remember learning about the liver in nursing school and the information all seemed so technical, medical and boring.     I don’t feel that way anymore…the liver is amazing! 


Did you know this incredible organ (which is the second largest one in your body after the skin),  has over 500 functions? One of its main duties is to convert harmful chemicals into water-soluble molecules that can be eliminated more easily via urine, sweat and stool.  And how amazing is the fact that in addition to the toxins created daily from our own metabolism, we are also exposed to over 80,000 man-made chemicals that this three pound chemical processing plant must contend with?   When the liver receives blood from the digestive tract it must filter it and metabolize not only protein, carbs and fat, but also drugs, alcohol, pesticides, medications and other toxins. The liver is probably the most overworked organ in the body!  In addition to being the headquarters for detoxification, it also turns food into fuel by storing glucose as glycogen, produces cholesterol and protein, breaks down estrogen and other hormones, regulate blood sugar levels, creates thousands of enzymes, manufactures bile, clears bilirubin (a potentially harmful substance that is generated from the breakdown of red blood cells) and performs several hundred other functions.

Up until the point in medical history when allopathic or traditional Western medicine allowed the pharmaceutical industry to dominate its profession, supporting the liver was considered a primary function of physicians and healers.  When a patient needed to restore their health or increase their vitality, many physicians in various cultures including the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Native Americans and Ayurvedics in India used botanicals and other forms of cleansing to rid the body of toxins and optimize health. Unfortunately, today, many clinicians trained in the illness-focused, pharmaceutically dominated style of medicine consider cleansing the liver a form of quackery and unless one’s liver enzymes are elevated (which usually occurs long after the damage is done) or you’ve been diagnosed with cirrhosis, fatty liver disease or Hepatitis, the liver and its miraculous multi-faceted role in keeping us healthy is for the most part ignored.  

Savvy individuals, however, are supporting the liver through diet and lifestyle changes including reviving the lost art of liver cleansing.  Instead of waiting until the liver shows signs of damage or disease, they are implementing strategies while they are healthy to love their liver and keep this amazing organ in top working order.


10 Tips for Loving Your Liver:


1.         Eat clean: in other words consume foods that are grown organically. Non-organic foods contain pesticides, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics (more of these are fed to non-organically raised livestock in this country than are given as prescriptions to people), growth hormones, etc.   All of these substances tax your liver.  An additional benefit of eating organic is you will naturally be eliminating many processed foods which contain trans fats or hydrogenated oils (typically found in cookies, crackers, French fries, donuts, etc.) which add an additional burden to the liver and can lead to fatty liver disease and obesity.   Eating a plant-based diet high in fiber, with limited amounts of dairy and meat also support liver health.

•           Specific Foods that are known to support the Liver:   Dark green leafy vegetables, like kale, Swiss chard, spinach as well as sulfur-containing vegetables such as onions, garlic, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower) all help the liver detoxify.

•           Juicing Vegetables:  Raw vegetable juice provides high concentrations of health promoting nutrients that help to cleanse the liver. Using a variety of colorful vegetables to make organic fresh-made juice can be an effective method for fatty liver disease. 

•           Supplements and Herbs that support the  liver include: 

o          Milk thistle which promotes the growth of liver cells and serves as an antioxidant

o          Additional herbs include Turmeric, cinnamon and licorice

o          Alpha Lipoic Acid is a supplement that also has antioxidant properties and  supports healthy liver function.


2.         Limit sugar intake especially Fructose and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup):  HFCS is typically found in soda and juices and in excess can contribute to the development of non-alcoholic

fatty liver disease as well as obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation, diabetes and heart


3.         Limit alcohol and caffeine: It has long been known that alcohol (especially in excess) destroys liver cells which can eventually lead to cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, inflammation and fatty liver disease.  Caffeine, although not as detrimental as alcohol, still must be metabolized by the liver in order for it to be excreted.  The thought of never indulging in a glass of wine or a great cup of coffee borders on extremism and is not something I advocate.   I do however suggest people be mindful of the additional burden these substances (especially in excess) put on this already overworked and valiant organ.

4.         Green your life:   Knowing that what you put on your skin is in your blood in 26 seconds, makes you think twice about choosing petroleum-based, chemically laden cosmetics, skin lotions and hair products.  Additionally, between lawn care products, insecticides and cleaning products, the average American household contains 3-10 gallons of hazardous material.  The more chemicals one is exposed to, the harder the liver must work to detoxify.  Seventh Generation, Ecover and Deirdre Imus’s Green the Cleaning at are all natural, yet effective alternatives that will limit your exposure to chemicals in your cleaning products.   Many skin care and personal care companies also offer natural, botanically-based products, such as Arbonne and the listings on Green Sources.  


5.         Watch the Water:  “When you pollute, dilute!”   Water is essential for the detoxification process to be effective.  But water must be pure and free of contaminants to obtain its full range of benefits.   Consider installing a water filtration system and drinking from stainless steel or glass bottles instead of plastic, which even when not heated can leach BPA and phthalates. 


6.         Periodic Cleansing: Eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of pure water and avoiding toxins as much as possible are all wonderful ways to maintain your health.  But just as our homes require a more thorough cleaning once in a while, our livers also appreciate a periodic deeper purification.  In addition to our blood, kidneys, lymphatic system, bowels and skin, the liver helps the body eliminate toxins via our sweat, urine and stool.  Periodic liver cleansing supports and enhances this process.


7.        Medications: can be tough on the liver.  Even when taking them in their correct doses, if they are taken for long periods of time or in combination with other substances such as alcohol or additional prescriptive or over-the-counter medications, your liver can be damaged.    Taking too much Tylenol, for instance, can lead to elevated liver enzyme levels and is a leading cause of liver failure


8.        Liver and Weight Loss: We don’t often think of the liver’s role when considering weight loss.  However, the liver is responsible for metabolizing fat.  If it is clogged or dysfunctional due to being overburdened with toxins, it will not perform this function well.   The liver also produces bile, which breaks down fat.  The final connections between weight loss and the liver is this:  toxins are stored in fat cells.   So when you begin to lose weight, your fat cells release these toxins.  It is wise to combine a weight loss program with a liver cleanse, so that your liver will be supported while it is dealing with the increased toxic load.    


9.        Exercise and Sweating: Staying active has been shown to improve liver enzyme levels.   Additionally, since obesity increases one’s risk for developing fatty liver disease, maintaining optimal weight with exercise lowers the risk for developing this as well as other liver disorders.  Whether you sweat with exercise or use a sauna, a good sweat helps the body get rid of toxins through the skin, lowering the burden on the liver. 


10.      Laugh for Your Liver:  When we are young, we jump, run and throw which increases circulation to the liver and keeps it in good shape.  Throughout our lives, we want to continue to stay active, but don’t underestimate the important role laughter plays in keeping us healthy. A family practitioner at the NJ School of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Marvin E. Herring, said, “The diaphragm, thorax, abdomen, heart, lungs and even the liver are given a massage during a hearty laugh.” A good hearty laugh translates into liver health by increasing circulation and improving the flow of bile. 


Many people today struggle with symptoms related to an overburdened liver due to a toxic diet and lifestyle.  These symptoms may include:  fatigue, weakened immunity, acne, headaches, bad breath, an inability to lose weight, allergies, PMS (and other hormonal imbalances), bloating and more. Loving your liver by practicing healthy life style and liver-enhancing habits like a periodic cleanse, are great ways to protect yourself against the barrage of toxins in our air, water, food, medications and vaccines that cause so many illnesses.   Decreasing your toxic load, eating a high quality diet and taking appropriate supplements (along with loads of fun and laughter) will keep your amazing liver happy and in tip top shape for years to come!



maureenmcdonnell Maureen McDonnellhas been a registered nurse for 35 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, labor and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.)   She is the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now Conferences, and the co-founder of Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet (  Maureen lectures widely on the role the environment and nutrition play in women and children’s health.  She is the health editor of WNC Woman Magazine and owner of Nutritionist’s Choice Inc.   Presently, Maureen serves as the Medical Coordinator for the Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer.   She and her husband have five grand kids and feel blessed to be living in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.

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