The liver is one of the hardest working organs in our body, playing a vital role in converting the food we eat into essential nutrients, aiding the digestive system, neutralising harmful toxins and helping to boost immunity. When our liver is not working as it should, however, toxins in the body can be pushed back into the blood stream damaging cells, leading to poor memory and immune function and enhancing fatigue.
For those of us with haemochromatosis the liver is also a depository for excess iron, which unaddressed can lead to serious and permanent complications. For this reason, when diagnosed with haemochromatosis it is sometimes necessary to undertake a liver function test (via a simple blood test) or liver biopsy to determine whether our liver has been impacted by excessive iron stores, and if so, the extent of damage and inflammation.
Cirrhosis of the liver is the most common side effect of haemochromatosis and occurs when healthy cells become hardened over time, resulting in a build up of scar tissue which inhibits blood flow in and out of the liver and ultimately leads to reduced liver function. As there is no cure for cirrhosis of the liver, any treatment prescribed by your GP will usually aim to manage the symptoms and slow the degenerative process and associated complications.
Cirrhosis of the liver is heightened in people with haemochromatosis due to the build up of iron in the liver. For this reason, there is also a greater risk of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) for people with haemochromatosis. Early diagnosis and removal of the malignant cells can increase the chances of recovery, which again reinforces the importance of not only early screening for inherited haemochromatosis but also taking ongoing responsibility for your disease (you can read more about this here).
I’ve been reading a little bit about Chinese medicine lately too and apparently it’s important to be kind to your liver as it also stores anger and resentment which plays out in insomnia, allergies, indigestion, neck and back pain, muscular pain, fatigue and skin and eye problems.
Whether you are a follower of western or eastern medicine (or both like me), our liver needs support to thrive and, whilst there is no “cure all”, thankfully there is much that we can do to keep it healthy and well balanced
Here is my “Top 10” for a happy liver:
- Beetroot – rich in antioxidants, cleansing and detoxifying, beetroot helps to thin bile and flush out the liver. Beetroots are jam packed full of phytonutrients called betalains which are powerful antioxidants and anti inflamatories. Beetroot is also a rich source of folate and manganese and contains thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, magnesium, potassium, copper, selenium and zinc, which is needed by the liver to break down alcohol into less toxic substances.
- Pumpkin, Sweet Potato and Carrots – pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots are high in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is converted into Vitamin A. Whilst high doses of Vitamin A can sometimes be harmful, Vitamin A converted from beta-carotene is non toxic to the liver if consumed in large amounts.
- Nuts – rich in antioxidants in addition to being high in protein and rich in B Vitamins, nuts contain magnesium, potassium, zinc and folic acid. Walnuts also have important anti inflammatory benefits due to the presence of some tannins and quinine which are not found in other foods.
- Bitters – the bitter taste of rocket, kale, mustard greens, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice all trigger a reaction in our stomach, pancreas and liver which leads to the secretion of what we know as “digestive juices” (bile), aiding in the breakdown of foods and absorption of nutrients.
- Sulphur Containing Foods – onions (including those foods in the same family such as garlic, spring onions and chives) contain sulphur compounds which protect the liver from damage and improve its ability to eliminate toxins. Other sulphur containing foods include brassica vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and eggs (this is an easy one to remember given the strong sulphur smell these foods produce when overcooked).
- Salad leaves – spinach, pak choi, all types of lettuce and watercress are good for boosting the immune system and contain high levels of folate, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, calcium and magnesium.
- Dandelion Root – this bitter herb is well known for improving digestion and helps to detoxify the body. Dandelion root granules are a tolerable alternative to coffee, however if that is not your “cup of tea” you can also buy dandelion root in tablet form from your local health food shop. Dandelion is also a natural diuretic and as such incredibly helpful in removing harmful toxins from the body.
- Turmeric – an absolute favourite on this blog, this spice has anti-inflammatory effects on the body, including the liver, and can help to boost bile production. Containing curcumin (the powerful compound which gives turmeric its bright yellow/orange colour) has also been said to fight liver cancer. You can read more about the health benefits of tumeric here.
- Green Tea – the benefits of green tea keep growing and research has shown the presence of antioxidants called catechins in green tea can greatly assist with overall liver function.
- Water! – we all know that drinking water and herbal tea helps to remove waste products and toxins from the liver.
When the weather turns cooler, it doesn’t mean we need to set aside liver cleansing salads. On the contrary, there are any number of warm salads which are packed with delicious ingredients to not only help us feel nourished and satiated, but which are also beneficial for liver health – just like my Warm Lentil and Roasted Vegetable Salad. It is truly delicious and just as good for lunch the next day. Enjoy!
- 1 bunch baby carrots, trimmed and halved (I used heirloom carrots)
- 8 baby beetroots, trimmed and halved (I used a mix of purple and golden beets)
- 200g pumpkin, peeled and chopped into 3cm pieces
- Coconut oil spray
- 1 cup French lentils
- 3 cups water
- 1 red onion, peeled and sliced into slivers lengthwise
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced into thin slivers
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp red wine or apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 100g baby spinach leaves
- 1 cup parsley, chopped roughly
- 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
- 1/4 cup pepita seeds, toasted
- Labne (or goats cheese) and dukkah to serve
- Salt to taste
- 1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
- 2. Line a large baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Arrange the beetroots, carrots and pumpkin on the tray. Spray with coconut oil and season with salt. Roast for 35-40 mins until golden and tender. You may need to remove the carrots and beetroots earlier than the pumpkin.
- 3. Place walnuts and pepita seeds in the oven and toast for 5-8 mins (keeping an eye on them).
- 4. Rinse lentils in cold water and remove any discoloured pulses. Place in a medium saucepan with 3 cups of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and set aside in a bowl.
- 5. Meanwhile, add 2 tbsp olive oil to a small frypan and heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté 3-5 minutes or until translucent. Remove from heat and add to the lentils.
- 6. For the dressing, place the vinegar, honey and oil in a jar and shake until combined. Pour over the lentils, onion and garlic and stir to combine.
- 7. Just before serving, add the spinach, parsley and roasted carrots, beetroot and pumpkin to the bowl, and toss to combine.
- 8. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle over walnuts, pepita seeds, labne and dukkah.
- 9. Season to taste and serve.