By Naturopath Kasey Willson
Learn more about my hormone, preconception and pregnancy health support mentioned throughout this episode here.
Do you love celebrating?
Whether it's through fine dining, a lavish home cooked spread or just one too many sugary or alcoholic beverages, your liver is working hard to process it all and likely feeling a little stressed to carry out other important daily functions.
Let's not forget the daily toxin exposures that your liver is bombarded with, such as pollution through the air your breathe, environmental concerns such as wide spread herbicide and pesticide use as well as toxic products you may place on your body. You can get my list of ingredients to avoid, right here.
If you're in amongst a full schedule of social gatherings, striving for hormone balance, getting your body ready for your preconception care or attempting to overcome dreaded pregnancy nausea, your liver will need some loving.
So what does your liver do?
Your liver is an important player within your digestive system, where it helps to digest fats from your diet and allow them to be absorbed into your bloodstream. Your liver does this through the secretion of a green substance called bile. Bile is made up of cholesterol, water, bile acids and phospholipids and is sent to your gallbladder where it is released into your small intestine after you've consumed fat rich foods.
As fats don't dissolve well in water and water based solutions, this bile is able to break down large fat globules into smaller ones, through a process called emulsification. The bile coats the smaller fat droplets and prepares them for further digestion from the digestive enzyme lipase and allows them to be easily absorbed through the small intestine.
When your liver is stressed, it may struggle with the secretion of bile and you may feel discomfort after fatty foods- even the nourishing ones. Your ability to absorb and utilise fat soluble vitamins (A,D, E and K ), which are absorbed alongside bile and lipids, will also be compromised. The inactive betacarotene also requires bile to be converted into true vitamin A- a crucial nutrient for reproductive health.
If your digestion is in tip top condition, this will help out your liver. Just remember your liver is the filter of your blood. Any toxins such as undigested foods, bacteria and bacterial products (also known as lipopolysaccharides, or endotoxins), which prematurely cross a leaky small intestinal wall in the condition of leaky gut (larger holes in the small intestine), will place a greater pressure on the liver. Promoting good gut health, starting with strong stomach acid will therefore give your liver a well deserved christmas break.
Speaking of toxins, let's chat about the next function of your liver.
Your liver also has the job of breaking down toxins and chemicals consumed orally through your foods, as well as filtering your blood stream from toxins. Those which have been absorbed through your skin, breathed in and as I just mentioned, those absorbed across a leaky gut.
Toxins are bound in the liver with bile, which enables their safe elimination from your body.
Your liver is also crucial for hormone balance within your body. It has the job of metabolising your hormones to allow excess levels to be safely removed from your body. Once hormones, like oestrogen have been metabolised in your liver, they are ready for excretion from your body, through your bile.
If the detoxification processes in your liver are overwhelmed with filtering toxins, your hormone health metabolism may be compromised. This is a classic contributor of oestrogen dominance (overload). More on this in episode 10.
The liver also contributes to hormone health by producing cholesterol. All sex hormones are derived initially from cholesterol, which is your hormone building block. This cholesterol is converted into your mother hormone pregnenolone and from there, feeds the production of your hormones, including progesterone, and adrenal hormones.
The conversion of your thyroid hormone T4, into the active form T3, also occurs in and relies on a healthy liver function. If this is impaired, symptoms of hypothyroidism (under active thyroid) will occur, such as fatigue. You can read more about thyroid health across in episode 9.
And that's not it. Your liver also keeps your blood sugar levels stable, over the day and night. When a high level of glucose is absorbed from your digestive system after a meal, your liver can convert this into a stored form, called glycogen. Once your blood sugar levels drop and in the event of fasting, this glycogen can be converted back into glucose, to stabilise your blood sugar levels. Along with storing glucose in the form of glycogen, the liver also stores other nutrients such as B12, iron and fat soluble vitamins.
So now you have an idea of just how important your liver is in digesting your foods, absorbing your nutrients, eliminating toxins, balancing your blood sugar levels and promoting healthy hormones. Let's explore how to take good care of it.
Along with staying hydrated with filtered water, here are my top ways to use foods to promote a healthy and happy liver and support your hormone health, especially through times of celebration.
Prevent post meal bloat by starting your meals with either juice 1/2 lemon or 1 teaspoon up to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, in warm water (some boiling, the rest room temp). This promotes healthy stomach acid secretion which allows efficient break down of your foods, particularly protein and absorption of amino acids and minerals which need the acidic environment. This all helps out your liver.
Note: to protect your teeth, drink this through a straw, or swish your mouth out with a mouthful of water afterwards. The other option is to use lemon and apple cider vinegars in homemade dressings, drizzled overtop meals like salads and cooked seafood.
Consuming a couple of tablespoons of sauerkraut and/or sauerkraut juice will prepare your stomach for the food to come, by stimulating the release of stomach acid. Warmed bone broth acts in the same way and is a nourishing way to begin or add to a meal.
Otherwise, the addition of fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut to your meals can help to supply gut friendly enzymes and beneficial bacteria, which will work to digest your foods.
You could also start the day the day with a lighter breakfast with some seasonal fruits, nuts, seeds and a dollop of coconut yoghurt, or add coconut yoghurt and coconut water kefir and to your favourite smoothie.
The rights fats can be nourishing to you and your hormones. Just not the industrial seed oils such as vegetable, canola, corn, safflower and soy as well as food products containing trans fats, such as margarine, bakery goods, deep fried foods and long life food items. These are inflammatory forming and in most cases a toxic exposure of pesticides and herbicides, both putting greater strain on your body's filter of the blood- your liver.
Nourishing fats, like those from fish and animal products, coconut products, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, avocado and some nuts and seeds, help to nourish your gut and keep your blood sugar levels stable across the day. This helps to prevent insulin spikes and unwanted inflammation production.
If roast is on the menu, leave the trans fat-laden packet gravy mix on the shelf and make up a real gravy from the roast juices and nourishing fats. Mix in a small amount of arrowroot starch and seaweed salt and stir until you’ve reached a desired consistency, adding some boiled water or warmed bone broth if needed. Yummy!
Don’t forget to keep aside any roast carcass’ or bones from fish, chicken, lamb or beef dishes. You can add them to the freezer and make up a batch of broth when you have time later on. You can get my recipe here.
Give your digestive tract (and liver) a break, by increasing the time from your last meal at night, to your first meal of the day. This takes pressure off of your liver and allows it to do it's job of detoxification at night, rather than being distracted with digestive errands.
Skipping meals is not recommended however in pregnancy - more frequent eating may actually prevent any morning sickness by avoiding swings in your blood sugar levels.
As introduced above, the liver has 2 phases of detoxification. The second phase is where toxins and hormones are broken down into water soluble substances, safe for elimination from the body via urine or faeces. This phase requires certain nutrients for proper enzyme function, including sulphur containing amino acids (taurine, cysteine) as well as glycine, B vitamins, inositol, choline, magnesium, selenium and glutathione. Foods rich in this nutrients will help to support your liver function.
These vegetables are high in the sulphur containing amino acids, supporting phase 2 liver detoxification. Fill your plate with cauliflower, broccoli, watercress, bok choy, kale, brussels sprouts and cabbage, to get the biliary benefits. Just be sure to cook or ferment them to prevent any disruption to your thyroid health.
You can get my roasted broccoli bites here.
Hopping into greens will also give your liver a helping hand. Kale, spinach, rocket, swiss chard and lettuce varieties are high in your B group vitamins, vital for supporting an important process involved in phase 2 liver detox, called methylation.
Start your day with liver cleansing greens by whizzing up a quick green smoothie or juice, serve a big fresh salad containing your fav greens and cook up a plate full of greens each day.
My fav thing about summer is growing fresh basil, to whip up batches of pesto, to drizzle over meals and add flavour. You can hide loads of greens in here, depending on what's in season where you live- basil, coriander and/or parsley are particularly detox savvy.
You can also get super doses of B vitamins in consuming organic organ meat, such as a liver pate. If you want to try my nourishing chicken liver pate recipe, head over here.
Beetroot offers important liver support and encourages healthy bowel movements. It is rich in betaine, a substance which encourages your liver to process toxins, provides protection to the liver and bile ducts (encouraging healthy bowel movements) and has healing benefits for the liver. Get your beetroot dose while entertaining, through my yummy Beetroot Dip or my Veggie Juice For Healthy Hormones.
A safe, simple but effective way to start detoxing is through vegetable juicing. Vegetable juicing supports detoxification, by stimulating the function of your bowels, liver and kidneys. The raw vegetables enzymes which help improve digestion, break down inflammation and increase energy producing body’s cells.
Juicing helps you absorb more nutrients from the vegetables as the process removes the fibre, main the contents of the fresh juice much easier to absorb. Your body doesn’t have to use energy to break the break so it is a quick source of nutrients. Through enhancing your daily nutritional intake veg also improves concentration and memory, immunity and your skin health.
Veggie Juice For Healthy Hormones
What you’ll need:
4 x celery stalks, around 20 cm long (celery helps to reduce any fluid retention)
1⁄4 beetroot (beetroot has liver detoxing properties)
1 small carrot (to sweeten, alternatively you could use 1/2 apple)
Handful cos (romaine) lettuce (a folate hit for a healthy liver)
Juice 1⁄2 lemon (vitamin C rich lemon also provides liver support)
1cm sq chunk of ginger and turmeric (optional extras for your liver health)
What you’ll need to do:
To ensure you are getting maximum nutrients and enzymes from your juice, you should consume one hour of being prepared. If this is not possible, ensure you store it in an airtight glass bottle or jar and keep refrigerated.
Another liver healthy addition to your cooked dishes is the fragrant herb rosemary. It provides anti-inflammatory actions and encourages binding of oestrogen to the protective oestrogen ER-beta receptor activity (as oppose to the dangerous ER-alpha receptor). Rosemary particularly promotes healthy 2 hydroxylation oestrogen metabolism in phase 1 of liver detoxification, in turn preventing 4 hydroxylation metabolism. 4 hydroxy-oeftrone metabolites have the potential to bind to and damage DNA and lead to breast cancer development. More info on this topic in my book: Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones and across in episode 10.
Fresh ginger and turmeric, added into drinks and cooking, also provide liver protective properties. You could start the day with my Sunshine Milk Smoothie or end the night with a soothing anti-inflammatory Turmeric Milk.
The nutrients in dandelion root tea can help to cleanse the liver and encourage healthy bile flow for your fat digestion. Aim to drink 1-3 cups per day, especially during times of celebrations.You can also benefit from eating dandelion greens by chopping them and adding into a salad or cooking them (to reduce their bitter taste).
When fructose is consumed, it must be transported from your small intestine into the liver, to be metabolised. Where the body can use glucose as fuel, it stores fructose in the liver. When fructose reaches your liver, it is converted into triglycerides (fat) and transported around the body for storage. Insulin levels also soar when fructose is delivered to the liver and overtime, contributes to a condition of insulin resistance.
Garry Taubes summed it up well in his informative book Good Calories, Bad Calories.
“...it is fructose, not saturated fats, that contribute to high insulin levels and insulin resistance, promoting adipocyte formation around the liver and midsection, and increasing insulin and leptin levels, all factors associated with premature ageing.”
Among many other health implications, fructose blocks the metabolism of glucose in the liver and the conversion of glucose into its stored form, called glycogen. This contributes to ongoing elevated glucose in your bloodstream and leads onto a condition of type 2 diabetes.
Healthy Swaps To Minimise Fructose:
Whether you're in celebration mode, preparing your body for pregnancy, or striving for balanced hormones, Along with hydrating your body there are ways you can support your liver through your foods.
Help out your digestion, through including lemon, apple cider vinegar, fermented foods, drinks and nourishing bone broth into your daily diet.
Include a combination of gut healthy foods with cruciferous and leafy green vegetables, beetroot and liver protective herbs of rosemary, turmeric and ginger.
Incorporate fresh veggie juicing into your diet regularly, particularly those with celery, beetroot and lemon.
Avoid an inflammatory cascade through limiting industrial seed oils, products containing transfats, as well as foods and drinks containing high levels of fructose, such as soft drink and sauces containing high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, agave and refined sugar.
Supporting your liver and overcoming pregnancy nausea is found within my updated digital course, Path To Glowing Mumma. You can join the wait list here, so you're first to gain access when doors open early 2021.