Many people are completely unaware of the vital role the liver plays in supporting optimal health. Most of us probably think back to high-school when we were taught how excess alcohol consumption can damage the liver. This is true, however, in today’s day and age, our liver is being assaulted from every direction imaginable. From toxin exposure in our food, air and water, to heavy metals, the liver is constantly being challenged (1). When the liver is challenged, you are challenged, mentally and physically. It is no surprise why it’s called the ‘liver’ - because we really can’t live without it! Although many regard the liver as simply our detox organ, its capacity and duties go far beyond this. In this article, an understanding of the key functions performed by the liver will be explored. In addition, an analysis of the key ways in which the liver supports energy levels will be uncovered. A deep-dive understanding of how liver function is compromised in today’s life will also be presented. Finally, a comprehensive list of strategies to support liver function will be explained, so that you can take full control of your health and energy levels!
What Is The Liver?
The liver is the largest internal organ found within the human body. It is about the size of a football and is located mainly in the upper right portion of your abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and above your stomach. The human adult liver weighs about 1.4 kg (3).
The liver is a critical organ in the human body. It performs an array of functions that help support metabolism, immunity, digestion, detoxification, vitamin storage among other functions. It comprises around 2% of an adult's body weight. The liver is a unique organ due to its dual blood supply from the portal vein (approximately 75%) and the hepatic artery (approximately 25%). It is intertwined with nearly every system in the body, hence, it is prone to a variety of pathologies (2).
Why Humans Have A Liver
The liver is one of the major organs in the body that supports the metabolism and elimination of various toxic substances in the body (4). From drugs and alcohol to unknown foreign substances, the liver helps to filter and detoxify the materials not meant to be in our body. Think of your liver like the program on your computer that scans for viruses and suspicious activity.
Ensuring toxins are safely removed from your blood is one of the liver’s most critical jobs. The first step uses enzymes and oxygen to burn toxins, especially fatty ones.
The second detox step combines toxins with amino acids so they can be removed from the liver through bile or urine (6).
Specific external toxins: certain medications, food additives, preservatives, food colorings, sweeteners, flavor enhancers, chemicals used in agriculture, alcohols, volatile organic compounds, fumes, air pollution and many other factors (6).
It is also fascinating to see how Traditional Chinese Medicine views the Liver.
They consider this organ to be:
Responsible for the smooth flow of Qi and blood in the body. It controls the volume and smooth flow of blood in the vessels and also stores the blood.
The eyes are the sensory organ related to the Liver. If one has any eye issues, including blurry vision, red or dry eyes, itchy eyes, it may be a sign deep down that the Liver is not functioning smoothly.
Anger is the primary emotion associated with the Liver. If you are often irritable, get angry easily, have trouble unwinding from the day’s activities, have trouble reasoning or going with the flow and letting things go, you are experiencing a Liver function problem. Experiencing these emotions chronically or excessively can seriously unbalance the function of your Liver (7).
The liver plays a central role in all metabolic processes in the body. In fat metabolism, the liver cells break down fats and produce energy. They also produce about 800 to 1,000 ml of bile per day. This yellow, brownish or olive green liquid is collected in small ducts and then passed on to the main bile duct, which carries the bile to a part of the small intestine called the duodenum. Bile is important for the breakdown and absorption of fats (3).
In the metabolism of carbohydrates, the liver helps to ensure that the level of sugar in your blood (blood glucose) stays constant. If your blood sugar levels increase, for example after a meal, the liver removes sugar from blood supplied by the portal vein and stores it in the form of glycogen. If someone’s blood sugar levels are too low, the liver breaks down glycogen and releases sugar into the blood. As well as sugar, the liver also stores vitamins and minerals (iron and copper), and releases them into the blood when needed (3).
The liver also plays an important role in the metabolism of proteins: liver cells change amino acids in foods so that they can be used to produce energy, or make carbohydrates or fats. A toxic substance called ammonia is a by-product of this process. The liver cells convert ammonia to a much less toxic substance called urea, which is released into the blood. Urea is then transported to the kidneys and passes out of the body in urine (3).
Key Functions of The Liver
The Liver converts the nutrients in our diets into substances that the body can use, stores these substances, and supplies cells with them when needed (8).
The liver's role in detoxification is to take toxins, many of which are fat-soluble, and make them able to be excreted. Sometimes, this means that they need to change the toxin so it is water-soluble. Once it is water-soluble, the kidneys are called to action (5).
It also takes up toxic substances and converts them into harmless substances or makes sure they are released from the body (3).
But let’s explore the various detoxification channels within the liver:
- The Glycine pathway
Using Glycine at a dosage of 500-3000mg per day can support this process.
Dietary glycine is rate-limiting for glutathione synthesis. These foods are particularly rich in Glycine: Meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes and gelatin.
- The Taurine pathway
Using Taurine at a dosage range of 500-3000mg per day, with meals, which can support this process (9). In addition, various foods such as seafood and meats are particularly abundant in this amino acid.
- The Glutathione pathway
Using NAC or Glutathione supplements. In addition, various brassica vegetables can also upregulate the synthesis of glutathione in the body (10).
- The Sulphation (sulfation) pathway
Eating sulfur-rich foods such as garlic, onions and leeks (11).
- The Methylation pathway
Consuming sufficient amounts of B6, B9 and B12. Or utilising Betaine anhydrous. Good food sources include Chicken liver, green leafy vegetables (12).
- The Glucoronidation pathway
Eating foods rich in Glucaric acid, such as apples and oranges. Otherwise, supplementation of Calcium D-Glucarate can be useful too (13).
- The Acetylation pathway
Supplements such as ALCAR can help to donate an acetyl group and thus help with this process.
As seen above, we need to supply the ‘special conjugation substances’ via our diet to keep this process running smoothly, otherwise, the entire production line come to a halt. If one conveyor belt stops because it is missing its ‘special substance’, the other conveyor belts are equipped to deal with some of these jammed items that need conjugation. But certain compounds are restricted to only go down a specific pathway and production must wait until more of the ‘special substance’ is provided.
How The Liver Supports Energy Production
The liver is a key metabolic organ which governs body energy metabolism.
Did you know that the liver is actually a major player in Vitamin D formation in the body?
Endogenous vitamin D synthesis occurs primarily through sunlight exposure which produces pre-vitamin D3. It is hydroxylated in the liver and then in the kidney, producing 1,25D (1,25 dihyroxyvitamin D), the physiologically active form of vitamin D which acts in target sites in bone and immune cells, as well as liver cells (15).
By now you should be aware of the importance of Vitamin D sufficiency for proper production of the energising neurotransmitters such as dopamine and orexin (16).
But if we neglected the pivotal role in carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism, it would be a disappointing act.
1. Carbohydrate Metabolism
It is critical for all animals to maintain concentrations of glucose in blood within a narrow, normal range. Maintenance of normal blood glucose levels over both short (hours) and long (days to weeks) periods of time is one particularly important function of the liver.
Excess glucose entering the blood after a meal is rapidly taken up by the liver and sequestered as the large polymer, glycogen (a process called glycogenesis). Later, when blood concentrations of glucose begin to decline, the liver activates other pathways which lead to depolymerization of glycogen (glycogenolysis) and export of glucose back into the blood for transport to all other tissues (17).
When hepatic glycogen reserves become exhausted, as occurs when an animal has not eaten for several hours, do the hepatocytes give up? No! They recognize the problem and activate additional groups of enzymes that begin synthesizing glucose out of such things as amino acids and non-hexose carbohydrates (gluconeogenesis). The ability of the liver to synthesize this "new" glucose is of monumental importance to carnivores, which, at least in the wild, have diets virtually devoid of starch (17).
2. Fat Metabolism
Few aspects of lipid metabolism are unique to the liver, but many are carried out predominantly by the liver. Major examples of the role of the liver in fat metabolism include:
The liver is extremely active in oxidizing triglycerides to produce energy. The liver breaks down many more fatty acids that the hepatocytes need, and exports large quantities of acetoacetate into blood where it can be picked up and readily metabolized by other tissues (17).
A bulk of the lipoproteins are synthesized in the liver.
The liver is the major site for converting excess carbohydrates and proteins into fatty acids and triglyceride, which are then exported and stored in adipose tissue.
The liver synthesizes large quantities of cholesterol and phospholipids. Some of this is packaged with lipoproteins and made available to the rest of the body. The remainder is excreted in bile as cholesterol or after conversion to bile acids (17).
3. Protein Metabolism
The most critical aspects of protein metabolism that occur in the liver are:
Deamination and transamination of amino acids, followed by conversion of the non-nitrogenous part of those molecules to glucose or lipids. Several of the enzymes used in these pathways (for example, alanine and aspartate aminotransferases) are commonly assayed in serum to assess liver damage (17).
Removal of ammonia from the body by the synthesis of urea. Ammonia is very toxic and if not rapidly and efficiently removed from the circulation, will result in central nervous system disease. A frequent cause of such hepatic encephalopathy in dogs and cats are malformations of the blood supply to the liver called portosystemic shunts.
Synthesis of non-essential amino acids (17).
Hepatocytes are responsible for the synthesis of most of the plasma proteins. Albumin, the major plasma protein, is synthesized almost exclusively by the liver. Also, the liver synthesizes many of the clotting factors necessary for blood coagulation (17).
How Is Liver Function Compromised
Toxins are ubiquitous in our environment and we are constantly exposed. They are ingested, inhaled and dermally absorbed (absorbed through our skin). We also create toxins internally due to normal metabolic processes.
Your level of exposure to environmental and lifestyle generated toxins. For example, work-related toxins like chemicals, heavy metals, cleaning products, pesticides, pollution. Or lifestyle toxins such as cigarettes, alcohol, recreational drugs, prescription drugs and toxins found in make-up.
Within food there are toxins too, such as preservatives and food additives, and also hidden food allergies can create a more toxic environment within the body too.
A common toxin that many people are using frequently, is alcohol. There is no safe dosage of alcohol for humans.
Each of these toxins above can impact liver function, and thus impair your overall hormone metabolism, energy levels and vitality.
Strategies To Support Liver Health
What makes this strategy effective and useful:
Hydration is paramount for maintaining optimal lymphatic flow, which works directly alongside the liver to excrete and eliminate stored toxins in the body. Without sufficient hydration, the body re-shifts its priorities to other processes in the body, thereby increasing the toxic load on the body. Hydration is a way of cleansing the liver and kidneys, but be sure to hydrate with sufficient electrolytes too, as altered electrolyte balance can also impair ATP (energy) production in the body.
2. Reishi Mushroom
What makes this strategy effective and useful:
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Reishi mushroom is considered a premier liver tonic, that helps regenerate the liver and increase it’s resilience. This is most likely due to it’s potent ability to restore adequate levels of Glutathione, which is the master anti-oxidant of the body (18). The triterpenoids present in Reishi have hepatoprotective effects on ?-AMA-induced liver injury which be the result of their antioxidative and radical scavenging activities and their inhibition of apoptosis.
What makes this strategy effective and useful:
Curcumin is a well known liver supportive herb. Curcumin is one of the most commonly used indigenous molecules endowed by various shielding functionalities that protects the liver. Curcumin is a well known powerhouse when it comes to corrective various liver dysfunctions. Curcumin is one of the most commonly used indigenous molecules endowed by various shielding functionalities that protects the liver. Those mechanisms include suppressing the pro-inflammatory cytokines, lipid peroxidation products, PI3K/Akt and hepatic stellate cells activation, as well as ameliorating cellular responses to oxidative stress such as the expression of Nrf2, SOD, CAT, GSH, GPx and GR (19).
4. Betaine Anhydrous (TMG)
What makes this strategy effective and useful:
Betaine is a stable and nontoxic natural substance. Because it looks like a glycine with three extra methyl groups, betaine is also called trimethylglycine. Betaine is safe at a daily intake of 9–15 g for human and distributes primarily to the kidneys and liver (20).
a pilot study of patients with NASH, betaine improved liver biochemistry and demonstrated an encouraging trend toward improvement in steatosis, necroinflammation, and fibrosis after 12 months of treatment (20).
Focusing on your health, body and mind should be a number one priority. Detoxifying can lead to many positive enhancements, such as an increase in energy levels. We all have those days where we just feel groggy and unmotivated. Drinking plenty of water and consuming the right foods can help increase your daily energy. Another way to go about this is to be aware of deficiencies we may have and provide our bodies with the right vitamins, minerals and advanced supplements.