6 easy ways to get this vital organ in shape
It’s official: we are abusing our most precious organ. No, not your heart or your brain, but your liver. We don’t think about it much and a lot of us don’t even know what it is doing (which is a lot). A third of the nation suffers from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a disease caused primarily by obesity and poor lifestyle choices. This can get worse over time and eventually get you on a liver transplant list. In addition, a new to study shows that liver cancer rates have doubled since the 1980s, making it one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States
Isn’t it time to stop beating your liver? Here are six ways to get it back in shape:
1. Get off the couch
Making exercise a habit can be the key. A recent study has shown that it’s not just about planning more physical activity, but maybe avoiding our very sedentary behavior. This concept, called “usual physical activity”, is the type of activity that people in “blue zones” engage in. It is just part of their daily life and includes walking to the store or gardening.
The study found that liver fat, which occurs in excess in NAFLD, may be reduced, even in people who do not engage in rigorous physical activity, as long as they get up from the couch and move around. . In your world, that might mean walking after dinner instead of watching TV, going for stairs over elevators, or parking farther from the door. Sitting is killing us. Do less. Your liver will be happier.
2. Discard the scale
Your liver cares more about your waistline than your weight. A 2016 to study found that people who were taller than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men had a much higher risk of developing the late stages of NAFLD. The risk isn’t about your body mass index (BMI) or obesity, but how much fat you store in the middle. Get rid of the scale. Buy a tape measure instead. Here’s how to measure your waistline.
Coffee is perhaps the best food on the planet to nourish your liver. It’s like fairy dust for your hard-working organ. Researchers have identified it as a protector of the liver in many large studies, with the most recent showing that engaging in a coffee habit helps livers in more advanced stages of NAFLD. The authors found that having just a few cups a day could help reduce fibrosis, the first step in healing caused by inflamed liver. Decaffeinated coffee and herbal teas have also shown a favorable impact on the liver.
4. Seriously cut down on sugar
As the rate of NAFLD has skyrocketed, pointing to what is to blame has also exploded. Sugar seems to be one of the culprits. Fructose in particular was seen as the official “bad guy” in this scary story. This may be because fructose is the only sugar that is completely metabolized by the liver (as opposed to sucrose and glucose, which take a different metabolic path), or because fructose is linked to the build-up of fat. Maybe it’s because we’re drowning in it. Fructose is not always found in “unhealthy” foods for the liver. After all, fructose is the sugar found in fruits, plants rich in antioxidants that your liver loves. It’s the sodas, sugary snacks, crackers, salad dressing, yogurt, breakfast cereals, and barbecue sauce that cause the damage.
Bottom line: It’s everywhere and often packaged as high fructose corn syrup. Here’s how to cut down on all sugars:
- Avoid foods that contain sugar among the first three ingredients.
- Limit the grams of sugar in any product to no more than 4 grams per serving.
- Exclude sugars from fruits, but limit your intake of dried fruits, which may contain too much concentrated sugar.
5. Adopt curry powder
Curry powder contains roots and spices that your liver is very excited about. It’s easy to find and even easier to use in cooking and seasoning. One ingredient in curry powder is particularly promising: turmeric. Its active ingredient is curcumin, a compound that may play a role in delaying damage from NAFLD and other liver conditions. However, studies have found that curcumin isn’t always well absorbed, so the real-life benefits may not always mimic what we see in the lab. This is why I prefer turmeric curry powder: it contains other spices (like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, mustard, nutmeg and pepper) which can also be beneficial for health. If you want to help your liver, give it as many resources as possible. Curry powder should be considered the best arsenal in your spice cabinet.
6. Fill up on omega-3s
All sources of omega-3 have shown benefits in strengthening our liver. This includes animal sources like wild salmon, trout, and sardines, as well as plant sources like chia, flax and hemp seeds, walnuts, tofu, and soybeans.
Finally, stop “cleaning” your liver with commercial products. Your liver is your detoxification organ. It does the job for you as long as you treat it right. Instead of spending your money on expensive cleanses and detox potions, spend it on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and a nice pair of walking shoes.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, is the Manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, and the author of “Skinny Liver”. Follow her on Twitter @KristinKirkpat. For more diet and fitness advice, subscribe to our A Little Thing Newsletter.