Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Top To Toe -The Digestive System- Liver Disease.

Smorgasbord Health 2017 Last time I looked at the structure and basic function of the liver and in this post I want to cover some of the conditions that can effect this major organ.

Because the liver is such a complex organ there are over 100 diseases that can affect its health.

We tend to associate liver damage with conditions resulting from drinking to much, such as alcoholic hepatitis or the viral infections, Hepatitis A and the more dangerous serum Hepatitis B. Hep A is transmitted from contaminated food and water, and Hep B from sexual contact, infected needles or contaminated blood products. Some diseases of the liver are hereditary and are usually diagnosed in a baby or young toddler. These include Alagille syndrome, Alpha 1-Antitrypsin deficiency, autoimmune hepatitis, the result of an abnormal immune system at birth, Galactosemia, Wilson’s disease – the abnormal storage of copper – and Haemochromatosis – the abnormal storage of iron.

There are also the dangers of long term medication. As with everything else we ingest, the medication also needs to go through the liver to be processed. This also applies to extensive exposure to chemicals in a home or work environment. Both are likely to overwork the liver and cause damage.

It is obvious that hereditary conditions and viral infections require treatment by medical experts. What we are concerned with is the general health of the liver to prevent damage and to improve function by making some adjustments to our lifestyles.

What is cirrhosis of the liver?

Cirrhosis occurs when scar tissue replaces dead or injured liver cells. It is caused by disease, or more commonly alcoholism and increasingly the ingestion of processed foods and drinks containing high levels of refined sugars. The scarring distorts the normal structure and re-growth of liver cells and the flow of blood through the liver, from the intestines, is blocked. This restricts the functions carried out by the liver, such as processing proteins or toxins.

This in turn can lead to other medical problems such as gallstones, toxicity and fluid retention in the legs and abdomen. Because the liver produces proteins that help clot the blood, damage can lead to excessive or prolonged bleeding – both internally and from cuts and injuries.

There is no cure for cirrhosis but the spread of the scarring can be stopped, and improvement in the health of the liver achieved in most cases, if the original cause of the damage is removed: – For example, by stopping drinking alcohol, reducing drastically the consumption of processed drinks and foods and eating a natural unprocessed diet of healthy fats, vegetables and fruits.

We also associate severe liver problems with older people who have spent a lifetime indulging across the board. However, more and more teenagers and young adults are presenting with liver damage. The cause is not excessive alcohol but excessive consumption of soft drinks containing sugars, acid and artificial sweeteners and a reliance on the ‘white diet’. White carbohydrates, unhealthy manufactured fats and refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup.

How do we help the liver cope with everyday pressures?

So whilst alcohol certainly plays a role in the development of cirrhosis you do not have to be a chronic alcoholic to get the disease. The good news is that alcoholic hepatitis does not necessarily lead to cirrhosis of the liver, and certainly not to the extent where a transplant is required. It can take many years of dedicated drinking to reach that stage, but that will depend on the person.

No one person is the same and I often quote the saying “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”. We are all unique and this applies to our internal operating systems as well. I am sure that we have been to parties and watched one person have two glasses of wine and be as drunk as a lord and someone else down drink after drink without any apparent affect. That is to say that from the outside they look okay but of course their liver may be telling a different story.

As we get older we understand that the aftermath of a drinking session is unpleasant in the extreme and the effects can last a couple of days – unfortunately some of the remedies add to the strain on the liver- especially frequent use of over the counter pain medication. Hopefully most of us adapt to a more moderate approach.

Unfortunately that is not at times with the young.  Like the latest online drinking craze –Neknomination – which has already resulted in the death of at least five young people in the UK.  Alcohol poisoning is not a game.  Commonly, patients requiring treatment for liver disease were in their 50’s and 60’s.  There are now people in their 20’s and 30’s being diagnosed with chronic liver damage and some are on the transplant list!

How can we help ourselves?

Like many internal organs, the liver has a primary purpose in life and that is for the host body to survive. It will struggle daily to cope with excessive stress and harmful contaminants and it is often only when it is in the final stages of disease that we see the external evidence for ourselves.  The early symptoms can be hard to spot but generally there will be consistent nausea, intestinal upsets, fatigue and loss of appetite.  If these symptoms are ignored then more dangerous symptoms will develop including signs of jaundice which results in yellowing of the whites of the eyes and a yellow tint to the skin.

Also bloated abdomen, confusion leading to coma and possible death.  If you are experiencing any of the early signs then do go and get checked out by your doctor.

Generally speaking, drinking more than two or three drinks per day is going to affect your liver to some degree. Binge drinking at the weekend is something we are all guilty of from time to time. We do not have a drink all week and then on the weekend we go out for a meal or have friends around enjoying pre-dinner drinks and a few glasses of wine followed by a couple or more liqueurs. This is a binge as far as your liver is concerned, particularly if it is accompanied by a rich meal full of fats and proteins that require processing.

As I have already stated, soft drinks have their dangers – and certainly there has been a worrying increase in the number of teenagers from as early at 11 years old exhibiting signs of liver damage. In America where you have been able to buy 24oz fizzy drinks – or receive them free as part of a fast food meal – this trend is more than worrying. The main culprit is high fructose corn syrup the main component of soft drinks.

I am not going to go into detail as there is an interesting and thought provoking article that every parent should read and if not a parent then those of you who are consuming even moderate amounts of certain soft drinks and eating processed foods.

The liver, like the rest of the body, needs antioxidants to prevent oxidative damage. A diet high in processed foods is not only going to give the liver even more work to do, processing additives and excess chemicals such as phosphorus, but is also not going to give it the raw materials it requires for its own health.

I am afraid that we women are more likely to suffer liver damage, as we tend to have a higher concentration of alcohol in our blood. We have more body fat and less water than a man does so we handle booze differently. Even if we do not drink we can still cause damage to our liver by having a very high-fat diet. The liver again is overworked and whilst a moderate intake of fats is necessary for the nutrients it contains, it needs to be part of a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit and wholegrains that all work with the fat in harmony.

I often caution against deleting a food group from our diet as we are programmed to take the essential nutrients from across the board. Carbohydrates have their role in this but white, high fat and sugary processed foods are not carbohydrates they are cardboard. Eat whole grains every day – if you have a gluten intolerance or find wheat hard to digest then brown rice, corn and organic oats may suit you.

So whilst many of us focus on our heart health – that organ is affected by the health of the liver which removes toxins from our body to prevent the storage of these poisons in every  cell including those in the heart.

Other posts in the Top to Toe series can be found here:



Candida Albicans – Alcohol and Sugars – Your liver’s health comes first.

Today a brief summary of the sugars in our diet and the similarity between sugar’s effect on the body, and that of ethanol, the active ingredient in alcohol beverages. Candida is a yeast and thrives on sugars – but the worst offenders are not natural sugars but those contained within our processed foods. To understand the role of these sugars you need to become aware of the impact of every mouthful you ingest on one of the most important organs of the body including the liver which is the guardian of our health.

I have mentioned the liver before in relation to cholesterol but it is very important that you develop an understanding of the vital role it plays in maintaining your health and learn to respect it.

We tend to eat and drink mindlessly – it is all about the taste and the immediate gratification or even high. When we are young we rarely think of long-term consequences of our actions. However, our over consumption of sugars in our daily diet and the current binge drinking culture in some of our countries, is going to manifest in a great many health problems. Not just those in middle to old age, but for a younger and younger generation.

I am talking about 10 and 11 year olds who regularly consume 16oz or 24oz fizzy drinks showing signs of liver disease, normally associated with alcoholics. Young people buying cheap spirits to drink before heading out for a night out resulting in high levels of hospital admissions for serious liver disease. Add in the rapid rise in obesity, heart disease, dementia and other related lifestyle related health issues, and we have the potential for a perfect storm.

Liver in Torso

Why is your liver so important?

The liver is the largest and heaviest gland in the body weighing around 1.5kg. It is a multitasking organ that is capable of around 500 functions. It is also the only organ in the body capable of regenerating itself provided it has been taken care of.

However, since we live in a modern age with a diet full of preservatives in our food, toxins in the food chain, excess sugar, alcohol and lousy fats, keeping our liver functioning well requires attention to both diet and lifestyle.

Without this firewall in your body you would die very quickly. Here are just a few of its many tasks that it carries out every single moment of the day.

  • It stores extra blood in case you need it in an emergency.
  • Stores Vitamins, minerals and sugars that are timed released.
  • It maintains the electrolyte balance in your blood so that minerals, such as calcium and potassium, maintain a healthy heart beat.
  • It processes fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E.
  • Helps maintain a healthy hormone balance. Too much sugar causes a sex hormone binding globulin to shut down causing an imbalance leading to skin problems, infertility, impotence and heart disease.
  • The liver is part of the bile management system that helps break down fats that your consume.
  • Waste removal from the body is crucial otherwise toxins accumulate in the system leading to disease and death.
  • If you liver is not functioning you will be more prone to infections and recovery time will be impaired.

If your liver develops scarring resulting from cirrhosis a common outcome of heavy drinking, all of the above functions with be severely compromised and you are likely to suffer from an earlier death than you had hoped. One of the devastating effects is on the brain, plaque in the blood vessels resulting in vascular dementia.

What happens to the liver when you consume either ethanol or sugar?

Studies have shown that the liver reacts in a very similar way to Ethanol (Alcohol consumption) and Fructose (sugars)

A major role of the liver is to keep blood sugar stable. Without the liver you could suffer from Diabetes. Even one fizzy drink a day can raise your risk of developing diabetes by 1%.

Sugar is composed of two molecules … glucose and fructose.

Glucose can be metabolized by all the cells of the body but the only organ that can process fructose is the liver. It turns any excess into glycogen which is stored until needed.

Unfortunately today with the high level of sugars we are consuming most of our livers are full of glycogen and unless you are extremely active and are utilising the stores, any fructose will be turned into fat – hence our epidemic obesity rates.

The fat that is released into the blood stream is in the form of triglycerides – but some remains in the organ contributing to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This results in inflammation within the organ and if not reversed by changes in diet and lifestyle can lead to fibrosis causing early signs of scarring. Further into the cycle and you will develop full blown cirrhosis with excess scarring and the real danger of liver failure. The liver cannot regenerate scarred tissue at that point and even changes in diet and lifestyle will not be effective.

At some point if not reversed your liver will also become insulin resistant – levels of insulin rise all over your body resulting in the pancreas failing to secrete enough insulin to drive blood glucose into the cells, causing high blood sugar levels and diabetes.

Should you eat fruit and drink alcohol if you have an overgrowth of Candida?

There is little evidence to suggest that natural fructose in the form of fruit, eaten as part of a balanced diet is going to cause you problems with your liver.

However, if you have a Candida overgrowth, I do suggest that you limit your intake of fruit to two pieces a day of the lowest fructose content. This way you will obtain all the benefits for your immune system without giving too much to the fungus. Increase your vegetable intake instead, particularly of dark green varieties such as broccoli and spinach.

Certain fruits have lower fructose content and here are some suggestions:-

lemons and limesLime and Lemons (great with hot water first thing in the morning) – cranberries (on your cereal) – Slice of Cantaloupe melon – raspberries, blackberries, kiwi, strawberries, grapefruit.

I firmly believe that even the higher fructose fruits must play a part in our recovery from a severe overgrowth but I tend to recommend that you introduce a couple of bananas a week by week three and also some citrus in the form of mandarins or a medium orange.

If you are not taking in any other sugars in processed foods in the form of cakes, sweets, chocolate and biscuits, please do not exclude fruit from your diet.

When you have reduced your levels of the overgrowth then maintaining that level is important – eating the occasional piece of dark chocolate and enjoying all fruits is healthy.

As to alcohol – if you have a severe overgrowth, I do recommend that you give up drinking for at least six weeks to give your liver a chance to recuperate and, if not under daily pressure, it will regenerate areas that are not scarred.

If and when you start drinking again – it is better to have one glass of good quality wine, spirit or beer (Guinness for example) per day rather than save it all up for the weekend and consume a bottle or several. That will simply overwhelm your liver and result in several days of feeling hung over and open to infections.

If you feel that your alcohol consumption is currently more than two glasses every day then you might think about the serious impact not just on your liver, but your long term health. If you feel that you cannot reduce your intake on your own then talk to your doctor as there are some counselling services that will work with you.

I have seen the devastation to body and mind that excess alcohol can deliver, including vascular dementia a subject for another day, and also the increasing pervasive nature of refined sugar in our processed diet. Please ask for help if you need it.

If you are the person who is shopping and cooking for others, then please take a long hard look at your shopping trolley and estimate the levels of processed sugars you are about to give them. Children in particular, will eat anything put in front of them and the younger you can re-educate their palate away from excess sugars the better.

The previous posts in the sugars and Candida series can be found here.

If you have any questions please put into the comments section or if you prefer you can contact me privately via the email in ‘about me’ – I do not charge fees and am more than happy to help in any way that I can if you have a health issue that is related.



Health Bite of the Day – Are you feeling a little liverish this monday morning?

We have now moved down the body and having looked at the digestive system in the last week or so, I am going to cover major organs within that system that also have other roles in our body’s health.  The liver and the kidneys.  I will be covering those this week as I received a number of questions on liver health – some from concerned parents who are worried about teenage drinking.  Alcohol is dangerous in the wrong hands there is no doubt but diet and other lifestyle issues also play a major role in keeping the liver healthy and functioning.

I remember a teenage client who wondered what all the fuss was about – you could get a transplant couldn’t you?  I set him the task of researching the actual operation, first hand accounts of those who had undergone this major operation and the long lasting implications and side effects.  Hasten to say he was a lot less cocky about the process on his next appointment.

I have met people who believe that as long as you give up smoking and drinking before you are 40 you will be absolutely fine!  Yes, there are individuals who drink like a fish and live to 95 and some of them even smoked too.  They also did not have the benefit of our high sugar modern diet and lack of exercise!  I also would be tempted to ask them to pick my lottery numbers each week because they are the fortunate ones.

For the rest of us, the earlier we put some thought into the long term care of our major organs the better.  I will admit that I was in my late 30’s before I woke up to this fact when given some rather indigestible truths about my prognosis.  But better late than never.  Part of that care comes from understanding the how, what and where an organ’s role is in our body and health.  So here is the Liver – the guardian of our health.  Here is the positioning of the liver – higher up in the chest than people imagine which is important when determining symptoms such as pain.


Eventually, everything that we put into our bodies, from scrambled eggs to toxins, goes through this vital organ and overwhelm is not a strong enough word to use for the effects on the liver over a relatively short period of time. One of the outcomes for example of this latest online drinking craze Neknomination is the high risk of liver damage and in some cases death.

There are entire books on the subject of this vital organ that is the guardian of our body, so this is merely an overview. We often regard our heart as the most important organ but for me the liver is very high up on the list of reasons to stay healthy.

Where is the liver?

The liver sits in the right upper part of the abdomen where it stretches halfway across the left upper abdomen. It is the largest internal organ of the body, weighing between 3 and 4 lbs. It is roughly triangular in shape and rests under the right diaphragm and the right lung. Beneath the liver is the gall bladder, attached by the bile duct, and there are blood vessels entering above the liver from the heart called the supra hepatic vena cava carrying oxygen rich blood from the heart. It contains veins called the portal system, which take the blood from the intestines to the liver before sending the blood back to the rest of the body.

What is the function of the liver?

The liver has two essential roles, making or processing chemicals and eliminating toxins and waste. Without the portal system none of the nutrients that we have carefully processed and passed into the intestines could be carried in the blood, through the liver, to nourish the body and provide us with energy.

It is not really the liver that does all the work but the millions and millions of cells within the liver that maintain the critical life processes. Specialist cells called hepatocytes deal with the raw materials our body runs on – proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

We are made of protein and we need to consume protein to renew cells and create new ones. It is necessary for the formation of hormones, which are the body’s chemical messengers, and also for making enzymes. Unfortunately the body does not necessarily accept all the protein that we consume and it needs to be changed to a format that is usable.

The liver will break down the consumed product and transform it into a protein that the body does recognise and can use efficiently. The process involves the raw material being absorbed from the blood in the portal veins into the surrounding hepatocytes where it is synthesised by the enzymes and passed back into the blood. Any waste however is not re-absorbed into the bloodstream but prepared for elimination.

Carbohydrates are formed from the three essential elements of life, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are most commonly in the form of sugars, which provide us with energy. Our muscles are designed to burn sugar, or sugar like substances, whenever they work. The liver plays a vital role in the process of converting carbohydrates into the appropriate fuels that can be easily accessed by the muscles.

It does this by converting carbohydrates into two forms very similar to pure sugar. One is used for a quick fix and the other is put into storage for later use. The instant energy comes from glucose and the stored glycogen. A lack of sugar as fuel can lead to brain damage. The body being the survivor it is, makes sure that there is sufficient stored to provide us with energy when we need it, such as in the case of running from a rampaging bull or if we are faced with starvation.

The balance is critical, and a healthy liver will ensure that there is just enough sugar in the blood at all times.

Fats are not always the bad guys. We know that there are good fats and bad fats but the body does need fat for insulation and as a shock absorber to surround major organs. The liver turns the fat we eat into forms that can be built into or renew existing fatty tissue. Some of us have a little more of that than we might wish but it is our storehouse and vital to our wellbeing.

Finally, the liver ensures that waste products, both in the form of toxins that have found their way into the body and from by-products resulting from the thousands of chemical processes that are taking place throughout the body every minute of the day, are disposed of correctly

The waste disposal cells are called Kuppfer cells, after the man who discovered them. They are the Dyson’s of the cell fraternity, sucking up bacteria and toxins before handing them over to the hepatocytes for processing.

In the chapter on the respiratory system I looked at both the common cold and influenza and the liver works as part of the immune system to weaken or destroy these harmful germs. This is why following a healthy liver programme can have such a tremendous effect on your general health, particularly in the winter months when there are so many more infections around.

An example of a toxic by-product is the ammonia produced during the breakdown of protein. It is poisonous, and the liver cells neutralise it sending the harmless waste, in the form of urea, back into the bloodstream. This applies to alcohol, medication or drugs so it is vitally important that your liver is functioning at an optimum level for your health and survival.

What other roles does the liver carry out?

The liver stores iron as well as other vitamins and minerals that you need, such as Vitamin B12.

Bilirubin is an orange-yellow waste product of red blood cells that can be toxic in large amounts in your body and can cause conditions like yellow jaundice. The liver excretes this bilirubin into the small bowel where bacteria can change it into the safer green coloured biliverdin.

The liver also makes clotting factors that stop bleeding after injury, and without which you could bleed to death.

The liver helps manage the cholesterol in our body – and the body needs cholesterol – but like anything in excess it can do more harm than good. It forms the base molecule for hormones like oestrogen and testosterone, and it is also the base for bile acids that are used to emulsify fat in the small bowel so that fat and fat soluble vitamins like E and K can be absorbed.

Do diet and lifestyle play that much of a role in liver health?

Well, think about everything that you put into your mouth and the changes it will go through before eventually leaving your body. I think of the liver as the guardian of my health because of all the complex processes it is in charge of, that ensure that I am not only nourished but am also protected from germs and toxins.

The saying “We are what we eat” is never more true as is “You are only as good as what you eat”. If you have adopted a diet strategy which involves eating high fat, processed, sugar laden and nutritionally sterile foods, you cannot expect your liver to transform it into the ultimate wonder diet. It can only work with what you give it and if you add excessive alcohol consumption into the equation, you will find that the liver can become overwhelmed, and will suffer damage.

The good news is that the liver regenerates extremely quickly provided it does not have scarred tissue. Within a matter of 6 weeks you can improve your liver health and therefore you general health quite dramatically.

In the next blog I will focus the disease cirrhosis, which is a general term for liver damage. I will look at some of the other reasons for liver damage but the main theme is about how our diet affects this major organ.

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