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The Liver: The Most Under-Appreciated Organ

by Brenda Watson

Environmental pollution, prescription drugs, chemical food additives, water chlorination, household chemicals, and pesticides head the list of toxins that pose a daily challenge to your liver. We abuse our livers almost continuously, causing chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, irritable bowel syndrome, brain fog, chronic indigestion or any number of other problems. With Americans spending over $75 billion annually on prescription and non-prescription drugs, it is clear that our society’s most common response to these symptoms is to take drugs that further limit the liver’s ability to function.

The word “liver” comes from the Old English word for “life”. The length and quality of life depend on how well the liver functions. The typical four-pound liver performs more than 500 unique bodily functions that are critical to life and well being. Six are primary functions:


  • Manufactures bile for the emulsion of fat for digestion 

  • Makes and breaks down hormones, including cholesterol, testosterone, and estrogen

  • Controls regulation of blood

  • Filters all food, nutrients, drugs, alcohol, and materials in the blood

  • Detoxifies all endotoxins (internally produced) and exotoxins (environmental)

  • Contains part of the immune system (Kupfer cells they alert the body to the presence of pathogenic microbes and other toxins)

  • Dysfunctions

The American Liver Foundation reports that more than 25 million people are afflicted with liver and gallbladder disease each year. Over 27,000 Americans die from cirrhosis annually, making it the country’s third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 25 and 59, and the seventh leading cause of death overall.

Symptoms of liver dysfunction include jaundice; pale stools; pain in the right side; depressed appetite; metallic taste in the mouth; headaches; fatigue; PMS; emotional excess; allergies; weak tendons, ligaments, and muscles; chemical sensitivities; discoloration of the whites of the eyes; pain under the right shoulder blade; digestive complaints; poor tolerance to fatty foods; drowsiness after eating; constipation and skin problems. When the liver is overburdened with toxins, some are stored for later detoxification and elimination. Toxins may also be passed to other organs of elimination ( colon, skin, kidneys, and lungs). If these back-up organs fail to neutralize them, toxins may be stored in fatty tissues of the body, leading to the development of degenerative diseases, including hepatitis and cirrhosis.

The liver is limited in its capability to neutralize an overload of toxins. Those that are not stored are recycled. This recycling of toxins has been termed the “toxic stress cycle”, which begins when an overload of toxins is passed from organ to organ in the body until either detoxification occurs or degeneration sets in. The digestive system is the starting point in the toxic stress cycle. When food is not properly digested, toxins are produced in the bowel. These toxins then travel to the liver via the portal vein. The liver, stressed and congested from toxic overload and nutrient deficiency, is incapable of managing the toxins and so passes them through the hepatic veins into systemic circulation. A portion of the toxins may be secreted through the skin, kidneys and lungs as the toxin-laden blood reaches these organs. The remainder of the toxins are stored in the bones, hair, muscles, lymphatic tissue or fat. These toxins greatly affect energy production and hormone and enzyme function that controls free radical production. When these cellular functions are impaired, the body suffers and gradually becomes diseased.


Alcohol consumption greatly increases the risk of cirrhosis. Large amounts of acetaminophen (Tylenol and other non-aspirin pain relievers) are toxic to the liver, and consuming acetaminophen and alcohol together can cause severe liver damage. It is also important to avoid exposure to pollutants and chemicals as much as possible.

Also essential for maintaining liver health is following a nutritionally-balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains and lean meats. Foods with high salt, sugar or fat content such as cheese, pickles, fast and processed foods, should be avoided. A healthy balance of protein in the diet is key because too much protein can stress the liver and digestive system.

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