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 living 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. We will discuss in greater depth what to look out for specifically in the future. For now, look at removing processed foods, adding trace minerals back into your water, and cutting back on the number of chemicals you put on your skin and hair.
The process of detoxification 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.
The moral of the story: protect your liver by limiting toxins and you will feel better, perform better, and live longer.