Basic Liver Function – Gross Effects of Toxins on Your Metabolism

The liver is a gift, there is no price tag for it. Just for reference, however, it costs an average of $577,100 for a liver transplant in the US. That being said, a healthy liver is worth the hefty price tag with all of the life sustaining processes it performs every single day. Like a multidisciplinary organization, the liver has numerous functions in a number of diverse activities across the body. These range from the distribution and storage of glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate), triglycerides, and amino acids. Cholesterol is formed in the liver and used to transport lipoproteins and triglycerides through the blood to various target tissues as needed to sustain specific cellular functions. One of the main actions of the liver, and the main focus of the remainder of this blog post is detoxification of the blood. 

Often, the liver is viewed as a filter of the blood, but this description is an oversimplification of liver function. The liver is a selfless organ that takes the punishment of all the toxins eaten, drank, inhaled, absorbed through the skin, injected, or otherwise inserted into the body and destroys them, processes them into less dangerous substances, and otherwise prepares them for excretion from the body in either urine or feces. Toxins can take many forms, from food borne and herbal toxins, to prescription medications and alcohol. Unfortunately for us in modern society, there are also a number of environmental toxins to worry about including the quality of our food and water, as well as the beauty products that we use. 

It is important to understand that we cannot eradicate toxic exposure entirely. What we can do is attempt to combat toxicity by making changes in our lifestyle. Environmental toxins include metals, chemicals (inorganic, organic, or persistent), microbial (bacteria or mold), and radiation. The first step in combatting toxicity is prevention.  

 Avoid consuming larger fish. Most of the mercury found in the body is coming from organic sources like tuna, seabass, sailfish, and Swordfish. We recommend eating eel, mackerel, and everyone’s favorite … sardines!  Wild caught salmon is also a great option. 

 Aluminum is incorporated in antiperspirant. We know you love your strong-smelling deodorant, but switching to an aluminum-free and parabenfree deodorant will reduce your toxic load, particularly since it’s something you apply to your skin every day! 

 Plastics are a notorious source of harmful chemicals.  It’s recommended that you limit the amount of food that is stored in plastic Tupperware, and you should definitely NEVER heat up your food in the microwave if it’s in a plastic container. 

 And then there’s the process of detoxification, which also takes a toll on the liver. Processing toxins releases free radicals that can deplete endogenous antioxidants within the liver over time, particularly when not eating an antioxidant rich diet. Over time, this depletion of antioxidants can lead to lipid peroxidation (breakdown of cell membranes) that can lead to significant liver damage. Hepatitis, fibrosis of the liver, and liver cirrhosis are all possible outcomes from an overly toxic liver. Mitochondrial damage can also occur, and this has a direct impact on metabolism. 

Structural damage to the liver, like cirrhosis, impairs the ability of the liver to distribute glycogen and fatty acids to peripheral tissues and can lead to toxic buildups of triglycerides leading to potentially fatal fatty liver disease. Mitochondrial impairment directly impacts metabolism and the ability to produce energy to perform work. Combined, these two factors can dramatically inhibit physical performance and lead to a negative spiral effect where decreased activity leads to increased toxicity in the liver. 

One very practical tip when it comes to helping maintain liver health is to drink coffee.  Yes, that’s right.  Coffee is good for your liver.  Dr. Ibrahim Hanouneh is one of the leading hepatologists in the United States and regularly treats patients with fatty liver disease, and one of the first things he recommends in the treatment of fatty liver is to drink 2-3 cups of black coffee per day.  So not only does it taste delicious and make you feel good, but it can be a health beverage! 

To wrap up, here is the moral of the story: protect your liver by limiting toxins and you will feel better, perform better, and live longer.