Smorgasbord Health Column – Major Organs and Systems of the Body – The Digestive System Part Four -Liver Diseases


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 crazes such as Neknomination – which has already resulted in the death of several 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.

http://drhyman.com/blog/2011/05/13/5-reasons-high-fructose-corn-syrup-will-kill-you/

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 whole grains 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.

You can keep up to date with news on liver health in the UK: https://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/latest-news/

And in the US: https://www.sciencedaily.com/news/health_medicine/liver_disease/

The next stop on our journey through the digestive system is the intestines… I bet you can’t wait!!

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2019

My nutritional background

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction in ebooks you can find them here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2019/

As always delighted to get your feedback and questions. This is not intended to take the place of your doctor’s presence in your life. But, certainly in the UK, where you are allocated ten minutes for a consultation and time is of the essence; going in with some understanding of how your body works and is currently functioning can assist in making a correct diagnosis.

Some doctors believe that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. However, I believe that understanding our bodies, how it works, how we can help prevent health problems and knowing the language that doctors speak, makes a difference.  Taking responsibility for our bodies health is the first step to staying well.

Thanks for dropping in and please help spread the word by sharing..Sally.

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Smorgasbord Health Column – The Digestive System – The Pancreas, Gallbladder and Intestines.


We are reaching the end of our journey through the labyrinth that is our digestive system. Today the intestines, but also a couple of glands that are essential to the process itself. I hope you have enjoyed the trip and if you were new to the scenery, found it useful.

I shall continue next week with the series of posts on Candida Albicans and the healthy balance of bacteria in the intestines.

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The small intestine

The small intestine is made up of three parts, the duodenum at the entrance, the jejunum and the ileum.

The duodenum is joined to the stomach and receives the highly acidic mix that has now been produced by the gastric juices. There is a danger that the duodenum would be eaten away by this acid so it secretes a thick mucus to protect itself. Within the layers of the duodenum are also glands that produce an alkaline juice to neutralise the acid and provide the enzymes to continue the digestive process. Because of the corrosive effect of the hydrochloric acid in the food at this point, the cells in the mucus membrane replicate faster than anywhere else in the body. At this point bile and pancreatic juices join the mix and the food moves about 10 inches down into the jejunum where nutrients are absorbed into the blood stream before the remaining liquid is passed into the ileum and then onto the colon for excretion.

The pancreas

The pancreas is one of the largest glands in the body and its main role is the secretion of hormones including insulin (when there are raised sugar levels in the blood), glucagon (when there is lower sugar levels in the blood) which maintains a normal balance. Also pancreatic enzymes, which are vital for effective digestion.

It lies across the top of the abdomen, below the liver and tucked into the duodenum section of the small intestine.

The pancreas is made up of cells (acinar cells) that secrete into small ducts that connect together until they feed pancreatic juices into a main duct running through the centre of the gland which feeds directly into the duodenum. The pancreatic juice contains not only the enzymes needed to breakdown carbohydrates, proteins and fats but also sodium bicarbonate to help neutralise the acid.

Within the acinar cells are Alpha and Beta cells that produce insulin and glucagon respectively. These are taken from the pancreas via the Mesenteric vein into the blood stream where they will balance blood sugar levels.

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The gallbladder

The gallbladder is a small pear shaped muscular structure on the underside of the liver on the right of the abdomen. It is attached to the common bile duct, which connects the liver to the duodenum, by the sphincter of Oddi. Excess bile leaves the bile duct at the cystic duct and is then stored and concentrated in the gallbladder until needed. Bile is used in the digestion of fats as they pass through the duodenum and is then either excreted or absorbed back into the bloodstream.

Gallstones and other gallbladder problems can be painful, but they also impact the digestion of fats. If you have the following symptoms regularly then you should consult your doctor.

  • An excruciating pain across the chest below the sternum that lasts for 15 minutes or so.
  • Within an hour of eating a fatty meal including meats, cheese, rich sauces or having lashings of butter on bread or vegetables, you have an urgent need to visit the bathroom and you have cramps.
  • Your bowel movement is light tan in colour.
  • Some people may experience nausea

Apart from gallstones, a gallbladder can calcify with hundreds of very small stones inside. This prevents the drip feed of bile to digest the fat you have eaten. Instead there will be a rush of bile from the liver, resulting in the sudden need to get rid of anything in your intestines.

The colon

By the time the digested food (chyme) has reached the colon all the nutrients should have been absorbed leaving a mixture of insoluble fibre and assorted waste products from the body’s operating systems mixed with water.

The Colon is the last part of the 30 foot alimentary canal and is used to remove excess water and solidify waste products before they are excreted from the body. It is a muscular tube, which moves the waste in a series of movements similar in nature to a washing machine and piping bag. The contents are churned and then moved on mass by contractions whilst excess water is re absorbed into the body. As the faecal matter loses water it becomes more solid so the lining of the colon secretes mucous to ease its passage through to the rectum.

There is still a digestive role for the colon to play, as it is at this point that billions of bacteria in the colon synthesise the essential vitamins K as well as gases such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. Some of which make themselves more evident when we have consumed high fibre foods like beans.

Digestive process – timings.

From start to finish a normal and healthy digestive system will process the food you eat in approximately 12 to 24 hours. The longest period of digestion is in the colon where the process may take several days. Obviously what we eat will affect the timing of the process as harmful bacteria in food can cause the body to rush the elimination resulting in diarrhoea or the lack of fibre may result in constipation.

Ideally you should be eliminating food every 12 hours but certainly every 24 hours. As you will have seen there are many organs and processes involved and if only one of these is out of sync with the rest of the digestive system it can have a knock on affect that could potentially damage your overall health.

Eating a balanced diet is the best way to maintain a healthy digestive tract and so is some simple maintenance from time to time including dental care and detox programmes.

©Sally Georgina Cronin – Just Food For Health 1998 – 2018

A little bit about me nutritionally.

A little about me from a nutritional perspective. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago. I qualified as a nutritional therapist and practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as being a consultant for radio. My first centre was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Here are my health books including a men’s health manual and my anti-aging book.

All available in Ebook fromhttp://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

And Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

Comprehensive guide to the body, and the major organs and the nutrients needed to be healthy 360 pages, A4: http://www.moyhill.com/html/just_food_for_health.html

Thank you for dropping in and if you have any questions fire away.. If you would like to as a private question then my email is sally.cronin@moyhill.com. I am only too pleased to help in any way I can. thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Health Column – The Digestive System Part Three – The Liver – Largest waste organ inside the body.


 

In the last two posts, I have worked my way through the digestive system from the mouth, down the oesophagus and into the stomach, (not literally of course) but there are some important organs within that system that deserve some personal attention on the way. One of those is the Liver which carries out the important task of ridding our body of toxins and storing essential nutrients for our health.

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.

Where is the liver?

Liver in Torso

Surprisingly the liver is the largest of our internal organs and in fact it is the size of a large melon. Mainly in the upper right side of your abdomen it lies beneath the diaphragm just above your stomach. Higher up in the chest than people imagine which is important when determining symptoms such as pain.

What does the liver do?

The liver is a multi-tasking organ, capable of around 500 functions. Before you put rubbish in your mouth, think about the liver as your best friend. Is it going to be happy when this jumbo hotdog, salad cream, on a white bread roll with margarine, onions cooked in lard and the reconstituted chips with lots of salt and large blueberry muffin with a 16oz diet soda hits the system!! Everything you consume including all the preservatives, toxins, lousy fats, drugs, excess sugar will pass through this portal…..

Liver

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

The liver is the organ but the work horses are the millions and millions of cells it holds.

Specialist cells, hepatocytes deal with the raw materials our body runs on – proteins, carbohydrates and fats. We are made of protein and we need to consume high quality protein to renew our cells and create new ones – in its raw state some proteins are not accepted by the body and the role of the liver’s cells is to change the format so that it is usable. Any waste from the liver cell’s processes is not passed back into the blood stream but stored for elimination. Similarly with carbohydrates, the liver cells will convert the carbs into appropriate fuel that can be easily accessed by the body for energy.

Kuppfer cells

The waste disposal cells in the liver are called Kuppfer cells, after the man who discovered them – they are the Dysons of the cell fraternity, sucking up bacteria and toxins before handing over to the hepacytes for processing. This means that the liver is incredibly important for your immune system. The liver also stores iron as well as other vitamins and minerals you need such as B12 and the organ makes clotting factors that stop bleeding after injury.

One of the key roles of the liver in cholesterol management – In spite of an effort to demonise cholesterol it is very important to appreciate the vital roles that it performs in the body. Cholesterol is vital to our digestive system, in that it forms 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…

You can find more about cholesterol in the Health Column Directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/smorgasbord-health-column-news-nutrients-health-conditions-anti-aging/

I treat my liver as the guardian of my health and if you take care of this organ first you will find that will have a very beneficial effect on the optimum balance of LDL and HDL cholesterol in your blood.

Next time I will be looking at some of the major diseases of the liver.

©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2018

A little bit about me nutritionally.

A little about me from a nutritional perspective. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago. I qualified as a nutritional therapist and practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as being a consultant for radio. My first centre was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Here are my health books including a men’s health manual and my anti-aging book.

All available in Ebook from:  http://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

And Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

 

Thank you for dropping in and if you have any questions fire away.. If you would like to as a private question then my email is sally.cronin@moyhill.com. I am no longer in practice and only too pleased to help in any way I can. thanks Sally

The Medicine Woman’s Treasure Chest – Artichoke Extract and as a food.


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I used to find it very daunting when invited to dinner with friends to discover a wonderfully fresh and fragrant artichoke heart on a plate in front of me. It is one of those more fiddly  foods to eat and certainly it is a job for your fingers rather than your knife and fork. As a vegetable the artichoke is very nutritious and has been used since at least Roman times as a digestive aid. It was not however, until the 16th century that the therapeutic benefits for the liver and in particular jaundice were fully appreciated.

As doctors became more intrigued with the older herbal remedies they began to experiment with the bulb of the artichoke and other parts of plant that had not been eaten previously and used them to create extracts. The leaves of the artichoke were found to be particularly potent and they were prescribed for jaundice patients successfully. Since then the extract has been found to be effective for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels too.

It is understandable that today when we go to the doctor they are going to prescribe a pharmaceutical product rather than a bottle of herbal tincture… After all there are no patents available on plant medicine; you have to add a unique ingredient. However, most of our modern day medicines still use derivatives of plants for their manufacture and it is worth consulting a qualified herbalist to explore the original format as an option.

Artichoke is a phytopharmaceutical and has been the subject of quite extensive research with clinical effects being documented. It is recognised as an antioxidant that protects the liver, bile production and cholesterol lowering. It is entirely possible that the natural form of this plant may be just as or more effective than a synthesized product.

One of the main active components of the leaves has been identified as Cynarin and was the first to be extracted in the 1930s. It is only a trace element in the fresh leaves but undergoes significant changes as the leaves go through the drying and extraction process. The potency of the artichoke however, does not come from just one component and other elements such as chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant have been identified as being equally powerful.

The main use of the extract is to improve the digestive process and to enhance liver function and more recently as a natural way to lower high LDL cholesterol which is the more unhealthy type. Cholesterol has an important role to play in the body including hormone production and brain health but if our diet is unhealthy, the LDL or Low Density Lipoprotein becomes oxidised (usually from a high sugar diet) and its smaller particles attach to the walls of the arteries and form clumps that block blood flow. The dual effect of the artichoke extract is to not only act as an antioxidant preventing the oxidation by free radicals in the first place, but also to lower the level of the LDL.

The Liver

Our liver is the largest waste organ inside our body and as such comes under enormous pressure if we have a poor diet. We as humans are built to deal with many toxins. In the early part of human evolution we ate a lot of foods that were contaminated or possibly toxic; our livers are very proficient in removing these dangerous additives as quickly as possible. The digestive system is designed so that the stomach acid dissolves the food and as you will know if you have ever suffered from food poisoning there is usually a very quick response to contaminated food!

However, some of the toxin might still get through as far as the liver and it needs to be excreted from the body as effectively as possible. This is where bile enters the formula. It is manufactured in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. You may be surprised to learn that the liver produces around about 2 pints of bile per day and this is secreted into the small intestine where it processes the fats we have consumed and ensures that fat soluble vitamins are absorbed effectively. Bile is also essential for detoxing the liver as it carries the toxins away into the intestine to be eliminated from the body.

There are a number of clinical studies ongoing into the benefits of artichoke extract and it will be interesting to see the results of these in coming years.

In a nutshell.

Artichoke extract can be used to stimulate bile flow from the liver which may help reduce the symptoms of heartburn, protect the LDL cholesterol from oxidation and lower levels, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), improve kidney function, fluid retention, bladder infections and improve liver function.

Gallstones and gallbladder disease is not uncommon especially as we get older and have not had the best diet. It can also be a familial condition and we have it in our family. Artichoke may prevent the formation of gallstones and improve bile flow which is very important for the removal of toxins and long-term health.

Some cultures also use artichoke extract for lowering blood pressure and blood sugar or as a tonic.

As a food Artichokes contain many essential nutrients.

FOLATE: FOLIC ACID; Folic acid is a B vitamin essential for cell replication and growth. It helps form the building blocks of DNA the body’s genetic information which is why it is recommended prior to conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to ensure the rapidly growing and replicating cells of the foetus are normal. This helps prevent low birth weight and abnormalities such as Heart defects or lip and palate malformations. It also helps prevent complications during pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia

It is essential for transporting co-enzymes needed for amino acid metabolism in the body and is necessary for a functioning nervous system.

VITAMIN C: ASCORBIC ACID; An antioxidant that protects LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) from oxidative damage, leading to hardening of the arteries. May also protect against heart disease reducing the hardening of arteries and the tendency of platelets to clump together blocking them. Vitamin C is necessary to form collagen, which acts like glue strengthening parts of the body such as muscles and blood vessels. It aids with healing and is a natural anti-histamine.

It is essential for the action of the Immune system and plays a part in the actions of the white blood cells and anti-bodies. It protects other antioxidants A and E from free radical damage and is involved in the production of some adrenal hormones

VITAMIN K: PHYLLOQUINONE; Necessary for proper bone formation and blood clotting, preventing calcification in our blood vessels and maintaining a healthy neurological system including in the brain.

MANGANESE: Needed for healthy skin, bone and cartilage formation as well as glucose tolerance. Also forms part of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase, which helps prevent free radical damage. It is also needed for the efficient metabolism of cholesterol, amino acids and fatty acids. It may aid in weight loss as our body more efficiently processes the foods that we eat.

POTASSIUM: This is the main cation (positively charged electrolyte). It reacts with sodium and chloride to maintain a perfect working environment in and around each cell. It allows the transmission of nerve impulses and helps maintain the correct fluid balance in the body. It also regulates levels of acidity and alkalinity in the body. It is also required for carbohydrate and protein metabolism. It is connected to normal heart rhythms and to keep Blood Pressure within a healthy range.

So as you can see plenty of great reasons to eat artichokes at least once a week and if like me you find the preparation and eating of this nutritious vegetable a bit of a problem then here is a ‘How To’ from Youtube.

Thanks to Shadow of Juniper Hill

©sallygeorginacronin Just Food For Health 2009

You will find other posts in this series here.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/medicine-womans-treasure-chest-herbs-and-spices/

Thanks for dropping by and I am always delighted with your feedback and please feel free to share the information.

 

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.

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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.

To save you time when looking for specific health or other topics I have compiled a directory.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/complaints-to-the-management-lost-in-translation-and-space-blog-directory-by-subject/