Heart, brain, lungs are all vital to survival, but so is another organ: the liver (and hormones depend on it too). With more than 500 critical jobs, your liver is busy working all the time to keep you well. Along with making sure the body has what it needs, the liver also is a star player in the state of your hormones.
About the liver
The liver sits in your upper right abdomen. It weighs about three pounds. Even though it doesn’t get much thought, it’s an organ we can’t live without. A few of its jobs: it monitors levels of chemicals in the blood and breaks down harmful substances for removal. It also:
- Makes proteins that help with clotting
- Stores iron
- Creates bile to break down fats and get rid of waste
- Makes cholesterol
- Turns glucose into glycogen to be stored for energy as needed
- Is involved in a healthy immune system
- And much more
Your liver and hormones: how they’re connected
Having a well-functioning liver is necessary for overall health and hormone balance. Your liver doesn’t actually produce your hormones, but it does metabolize them.
Estrogen: estrogen dominance, endometriosis
Excess estrogen in the body is sent to the liver to be metabolized. The liver’s job is to convert it into inactive metabolites, which can be sent out of the body through the urine or stool. Without proper liver function, estrogen may make its way back into circulation.
Thyroid hormones are integral to energy and metabolism. They affect every single cell in the body. Changes in thyroid hormone levels may alter your liver’s ability to metabolize and clear bilirubin. (Bilirubin is made from old blood cells and can be toxic in high levels.) Also, liver issues may also increase conversion of T4 (inactive thyroid hormones) into reverse T3, which can worsen hypothyroidism.
With insulin resistance, your cells stop responding to insulin. As a result, the levels of insulin in circulation rise and can cause issues like type 2 diabetes, increased risk for heart disease, and an elevated level of free fatty acids in the blood. Those fatty acids can make their way to liver cells and create inflammation and damage to liver tissue.
Too much cortisol can raise blood glucose levels and lead to fatty liver disease. Reducing stress and stress responses help lower cortisol. However, liver health is also important to maintaining optimal cortisol levels. The liver processes cortisol through three reactions, creating water-soluble metabolites that can be eliminated through urine.
The adrenal gland produces a hormone called aldosterone. It helps your body maintain the right amount of sodium and potassium in the blood. The liver helps regulate levels and breaks down excess aldosterone. If the liver isn’t working well, aldosterone levels could raise and cause fluid retention.
Signs your liver isn’t working well
Liver damage can occur from conditions like Hepatitis B or C or from prolonged overuse of alcohol. Many prescription medications are processed by the liver and also have the potential to affect liver health. While most people think of all kinds of supplements as good for you, any wellness-related product you’re considering should be talked over with a provider. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, approximately 20% of liver damage in the United States can be credited to supplements.
If your liver isn’t performing optimally, you may notice:
- Digestive discomfort (nausea, bloating, constipation, loose stools)
- Alcohol intolerance
- Weight gain
- Estrogen dominance
- High testosterone
- More extreme: jaundice, vomiting, itchiness
Natural ways to support your liver and hormones
The best natural way to support your liver? Consistently make good choices. Here are a few that go a long way toward liver health.
Get more fiber
Fiber binds to hormones and other toxins. This helps your body eliminate them quickly and efficiently. Look to include good sources of soluble fiber in your diet. Some options are oats, apples, bran, peas, and beans.
Wash produce (and go for organic foods if you can)
There’s no shortage of pesticides used to grow conventional vegetables, wheat, fruits, and rice. Your liver has to filter all of those toxins out of your body. Never eat an apple or other produce without washing it well. This helps reduce your pesticide exposure. However, organic foods may do a better job at reducing the amount of toxins you ingest.
Drink plenty of filtered water and some coffee
Water intake can help with constipation and sending waste products through for elimination. And coffee is good for your liver, too. Drinking it black may offer some protection against fibrosis. Fibrosis is scarring that’s caused by liver damage (late-stage fibrosis is cirrhosis).
Because everyone’s different, it’s hard to know how much alcohol is too much for your body. As a general rule, women shouldn’t consume any more than two drinks per day. However, that may be too much for some women.
Spice things up
Whatever you’re cooking, don’t forget to reach for spices. Turmeric has beta-carotene and may have a protective effect on the liver. Ginger helps liver function, too. One study showed ginger supplementation lowered levels of inflammation.
Regular exercise gets blood flowing and helps with gut motility, moving waste products through your body more quickly. Also, being active helps you maintain a healthy weight. When you’re at a good weight for your body, less fat accumulates around the liver. (Fatty liver can cause inflammation.)
Cook with organic olive oil
Skip butter or margarine. Incorporate organic extra virgin olive oil into your cooking instead. It prevents cellular inflammation and may also help resolve liver damage.
Support overall gut health
Help your body maintain its balance of good bacteria in the gut. An imbalance of microbiome has been linked to the development and progression of liver disease. To build your gut flora, vary your diet. Get a variety of whole, unprocessed foods. Also, include fermented options, like kefir. For more on ways to support gut health, check out Dr. Lewis’ advice.