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Between carbs and calories, love handles and hips, there are lots of words that you think of when it comes to your weight—but there’s something else you may not have considered, and that’s your liver.
Your liver is the ultimate master of multitasking. It’s a filter that removes toxins and nutrient byproducts from the blood; it produces bile to aid digestion, helps break down fat and absorb fat-soluble vitamins; it plays a part in regulation of glucose (balancing blood sugar levels) and hormone balance; it fortifies your immune system. All of these things together means it also plays a big part in your weight.
In fact, there’s probably nothing you can do to control your weight that’s as important as keeping your liver healthy. The more your liver is bogged down with common stressors like caffeine, sugar, alcohol, trans fats, medications, chemicals and toxins, the less likely it is to perform properly. A sluggish, overloaded liver not only blocks your weight loss efforts, it affects every organ in your body—wrecking havoc on critical functions like hormone secretion, blood pressure, blood sugar balance and immunity.
To better understand how to protect your liver, it’s important to learn more about how it works. As the body’s largest internal organ (second only to the skin in size), the liver is Grand Central Station of digestion—everything that enters your body gets broken down by the liver, from the healthiest bite of fresh produce to the artificial ingredients in your vending machine snack. With everything that comes in, it is your liver’s job to distinguish between the nutrients you need to absorb, and the toxins that need to be filtered out of your bloodstream.
This process happens in two intricate phases: in the first phase, your liver activates nearly 100 enzymes that bind with toxins and begin to oxidize them, breaking them down. Through that process, some of the toxins are neutralized or changed to a less toxic form and are eliminated from the body. This oxidation can, however, change the original toxin into a different form of toxin. These “new” toxic compounds—also called intermediate toxic compounds—have to be broken down further in phase 2, where the liver alters them once again by binding them to an amino acid or other nutrient.
The liver is juggling toxins and that puts it at high risk. One danger is that the intermediate toxic compounds create free radicals—irregular molecules that are missing one or more electrons. Free radicals are a threat because they wield a powerful pull on electrons that can damage healthy cells. (You’ve heard the saying “one bad apple ruins the bunch,” and free radicals are a prime example!) In a catch 22, the harder your liver works to break down toxins, the more toxins are produced which is why antioxidants and liver supporting foods or supplements are important.
Which leads us to the biggest risk your liver faces: if it doesn’t have the support it needs to finish phase 2 of detox, these intermediate compounds get filed away, unprocessed. These “stored” toxins get lodged in your body and—badda bing—you’ve got weight gain. (Imagine if the traffic lights went out at 5:00— big time back up.)
So, how does the liver do it? Isn’t it allowed a side kick? Yes! The liver, amongst all the other functions, also produces bile. One of bile’s main duties is to help break down the fats we need, as well as assimilating nutrients. This digestive fluid lubricates our intestines and works with fiber to prevent constipation, and also gives the liver a place to send the ‘rejected’ toxins from phase 1 to be eliminated from the body. Too many toxins are problematic in this stage because bile, like the liver, can be overloaded. It becomes congested and thick, losing the ability to breakdown fat efficiently and weight gain occurs.
Are you a lover of your liver yet? There are some simple things you can do to ensure the master multitasker stays in tip-top shape! To start with, limiting processed foods, increasing liver nurturing foods, and even supplementation can all help. (Get more ideas with the Best Ways to Love Your Liver.)