Keeping your liver in optimal health is absolutely essential to your overall well-being.
This is because the liver is the organ primarily responsible for cleansing our bodies of any toxins that may enter. Thus, a healthy liver is important for the proper functioning of our other systems as well; if any of our organs are rife with toxins, they cannot operate as they should.
In the Western world, we tend to put a lot of stress on our liver with the vast amounts of unhealthy foods we eat. Fast food items and processed foods contain an array of synthetic ingredients and chemical preservatives that make the liver work overtime. Combine this with the effect of pollutants in our air, and chemicals in our household and personal products entering through the skin, and you’ve got a recipe for liver overload.
As a general rule, whole foods from the Earth support liver function, while manufactured, chemical items do quite the opposite. Many ingredients used in processed foods are bad for the liver, however, there are two that stand out: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and trans fats. Individually, and especially in combination, these two villains can wreak havoc on your liver.
A 2010 study performed by researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center highlighted the hazards on the liver caused by ingesting a combination of fructose and trans fats.
During the course of the 16-week study, researchers fed mice either a normal diet or a diet which included trans fat solids as well as drinking water mixed with fructose and sucrose (in equal ratios, fructose and sucrose combine to form glucose: which is just plain sugar).
After analyzing the mice at the end of the 16-week period, the researchers found that while the normally fed mice did not have fatty liver disease, the mice fed trans fats, fructose and sucrose were found to have fatty liver disease, and had become obese. The researchers also found scar tissue on the livers of these mice.
Fatty liver disease is characterized by fat deposits accumulating in the liver, leading to chronic inflammation. It can also lead to scarring of the liver, and if left unchecked, can progress to liver failure. This condition has also been found to be a stepping stone to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even some forms of cancer.
Dr. Rohit Kohli, the main author of the study, and a gastroenterologist at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, comments:
“Interestingly, it was only the group fed the combination of trans-fat and high fructose which developed the advanced fatty liver disease which had fibrosis. This same group also had increased oxidative stress in the liver, increased inflammatory cells, and increased levels of plasma oxidative stress markers.”
What is most disturbing about many processed foods is that they often contain both high fructose corn syrup and trans fats. However, even on their own, these two culprits can do a lot of damage. The following is a look at some of the dangers of each of these ingredients.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
While fructose is a natural sugar found in many fruits and vegetables, it is only found in minimal amounts in these sources. Also, fruits and veggies contain a high amount of fiber, which aids the body in processing the fructose. You would have to eat an extremely large quantity of fruits and vegetables, even high-sugar ones, in order to ingest a damaging amount of fructose.
High fructose corn syrup, however, is an isolated, chemically processed type of sugar, in which the ratio of fructose to glucose, which is equal in regular sugar, is unbalanced, with a higher percentage of fructose content.
The molecular structure of HFCS sends the fructose directly to the liver. When fructose is consumed and cannot immediately be used by the body for energy, the liver stores it as fat.
High fructose corn syrup also spikes blood sugar quickly, contributing to insulin resistance, and can encourage fatty liver disease even more than regular sugar. It has been found by a significant body of research to be a primary player in America’s growing obesity epidemic, and is a factor in many chronic illnesses, as well, due to its contribution to chronic, system-wide inflammation.
Dr. Kohli states:
“Fructose consumption accounts for approximately 10.2 percent of calories in the average diet in the United States and has been linked to many health problems, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and liver disease.”
High fructose corn syrup appears in many foods on the market today, even those that are not sweet. Besides its obvious presence in sodas and many sweetened beverages, it can be found in soups, salad dressings, cheese products, condiments and microwave popcorns, to name only a few. Also, over 40 percent of the non-calorie sweeteners used in the US are derived from high fructose corn syrup.
A 2014 study, performed at the University of Naples in Italy, found that even short-term intake of the typical Western diet, which includes high fructose content, was much worse for the liver than a high fat diet without the fructose.
The study was performed on adult rats, who were fed either a low-fat diet, a high-fat diet or a diet containing both high-fat content and high fructose content, for two weeks. Results showed that the rats fed both high fat content and fructose led to fat build up in the liver, and a decrease in “liver insulin sensitivity.”
Study leader Dr. Susanna Iossa states: “This result points to the harmful effect of adding fructose to the usual western, high-fat diet and, together with other related findings, should stimulate the discussion on the use of fructose and fructose-containing sweeteners in beverages and packaged foods.”
On top of that, high fructose corn syrup is usually made from genetically modified corn and has been found to contain contaminants including mercury. The presence of these contaminants places further stress on your liver. HFCS is also highly addictive, making you crave more and more of this dangerous substance. In fact, its addictive nature has been equated to that of cocaine.
Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, are synthetic fats that deserve no place in a healthy diet. They are formed through a processing method known as hydrogenation, in which vegetable oils are hardened to form margarine or shortening. These fats are also found in many baked goods, fried foods and a variety of other processed foods.
FACT: About 80 percent of trans fats in the Western diet come from processed food items.
These imposter fats are well-connected to raising LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, lowering HDL ‘good’ cholesterol levels, and thereby contributing to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Research has also found a connection between trans fat intake and Alzheimer’s disease, infertility, and certain cancers.
Due to the way they are processed, and their synthetic nature, the liver has a very hard time metabolizing trans fats, and therefore consuming them, especially in high amounts, can contribute to liver disease. In fact, many health experts are in complete agreement that there are no safe levels of trans fats.
Aside from their many physical health detriments, trans fats have also been linked to behavioral changes, namely, aggressive behavior. A 2012 study performed at the University of California analyzed the trans fat intake of 945 men and women and compared it to their aggression levels. When other factors, including age and alcohol use, were adjusted for, the researchers found a significant association between high trans fat levels and aggressive behavior.
The study’s lead author, Beatrice Golumb, states: “We found that greater trans fatty acids were associated with greater aggression. This adds further rationale to recommendations to avoiding eating trans fats as their detrimental effects may extend beyond the person who consumes them.”
The researchers hypothesize that trans fats may lead to aggression by interfering with the body’s ability to metabolize omega-3 fatty acids. Not only are omega-3′s essential for heart and brain health, a lack of them has been linked to depression and antisocial behaviors. The Western diet is already often low in omega-3′s, and consuming trans fats just adds insult to injury.
The frightening thing about trans fats is that if a certain food contains less than 0.5 grams of them, they do not have to be listed on a label. Even though this may seem like a small amount, they can quickly accumulate. If you see the terms “hydrogenated” or “partially-hydrogenated” on an ingredients list, that means trans fat is lurking inside.
Ways to support your liver
The most important step to keeping your liver healthy is to eat a clean diet of whole, nutritious foods (organic whenever possible), and avoid processed and fast foods like the plague. Along with high fructose corn syrup and trans fats, processed foods contain many other chemicals that are very difficult for the liver to process. Additionally, quitting smoking if you still smoke, and limiting your alcohol content to one or two drinks per day, can do a great deal of good.
The following are some healthy foods and beverages to add to your diet to support the health of your precious liver:
Lemon water: Drinking a glass of warm water with lemon every morning can give a wonderful boost to your liver. Lemons have been found to help the liver produce more enzymes, and also contribute to detoxification. Simply heat a cup of distilled water, squeeze in a fresh, organic lemon, and drink. Add a bit of raw honey for sweetness if you wish.
Coffee: Good news for coffee drinkers: this popular beverage is actually quite beneficial to liver health. A 2014 study published in the journal Hepatology found that drinking two or more cups of coffee each day can reduce the risk of dying from liver cirrhosis by a whopping 66 percent. Drinking coffee has also been linked to a lower risk of developing liver cancer. Again, make sure to choose organic coffee, since the non-organic kind can have synthetic fertilizers and chemicals in it.
Artichokes: Artichokes have been used for hundreds of years in tonics to purify the blood and cleanse the liver. The liver-cleansing properties of these veggies may be attributed to the presence of two antioxidant compounds: cynarin and silymarin.
Cynarin aids the liver’s production of bile, which is important for digesting fats and ridding the body of toxins, and silymarin helps protect liver cells and cell membranes from damage. Both cynarin and silymarin also help to regenerate liver cells.
For these reasons, artichokes are a great addition to a liver detox plan. However, always talk to a health professional before beginning any detox program, to make a plan that is safe for your individual health.
Avocados: The healthy fats and antioxidants found in avocados can help to protect the liver from damage. A Japanese study found that these fruits helped to protect the liver from galactosamine, a toxin that is linked to causing liver damage which mirrors the damage done by viral hepatitis.
Garlic: The sulfur compounds found in garlic aid in activating liver enzymes. Additionally, garlic contains a substance known as allicin, which has potent antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties and can help in neutralizing dangerous toxins.
Turmeric: This yellow, fragrant spice, a star in Indian cuisine, can aid in protecting the liver from damage, regenerating liver cells, increasing bile production and keeping the body free of toxins. Turmeric also has antioxidant properties that help reduce system-wide inflammation, and may thereby reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses.
For a truly healthy life, make the health of your liver a top priority!