Eight Common Signs of Liver Dysfunction
BySarah Axtell, ND •July 11, 2014
There’s no doubt that we live in a toxic environment. Chemicals are found in house-hold cleaners, pesticides and fungicides, tap water, car exhaust fumes, pharmaceuticals, beauty products, and cigarette smoke. This places an incredible burden on our bodies, especially the liver, our main organ of detoxification. The accumulation of toxins and toxic by-products in our organs and tissues can have profound detrimental effects on our physiology. You do not have to have cirrhosis of the liver or frank pathology of the liver to experience the effects below. This is where improper functioning of the liver comes in. In those with liver dysfunction, routine blood tests are generally normal. Liver dysfunction can lead to other common organ system dysfunction.
Common Signs of Liver Dysfunction
1. Hormone Imbalance
The liver metabolizes and clears hormones. For example, in PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Disease), it is the liver’s inability to clear testosterone and inability to regulate blood sugar (see below). The solution with PCOS is not birth control pills. The solution is support the liver’s ability to detoxify excess hormones, such as testosterone, and to regulate blood sugar. The liver also plays a role in regulating levels of estrogen. Excess estrogen in the body results in PMS, bloating, fibroids, fibrocystic breasts, mood swings, cramps and irregular menses. This can be addressed by supporting the liver.
2. Blood Sugar Imbalances
Liver dysfunction can cause blood sugar problems, either hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. It is the liver’s role to maintain blood sugar levels by glycogenolysis or gluconeogenesis (synthesis of glucose). The liver is also a key regulator of insulin. Glucose regulation problems and insulin resistance are greatly increased in people with chronic liver disease.
3. Abnormal Metabolism of Lipids
When the liver does not function properly, there are a series of metabolic disturbances:
- “Bad” cholesterol, LDL, increases
- “Good” cholesterol, HDL, decreases
- Triglycerides (fats circulating in the blood) increase
4. Poor Digestion
The liver makes bile, which gives stools its brown color. The liver can make 1-1.5 quarts of bile per day. If the liver is backed up and thus biliary stasis is present, insufficient bile production can lead to:
- Light colored stools
- Poor digestion of fatty food
- Decreased appetite
Acne can be a sign of poor liver detoxification. It is the liver’s role to detoxify and cleanse the blood, but when it is congested and not working properly, the body relies on a secondary route of elimination, the skin, to push out toxins. This results in acne. If acne is locates on the jawline or around the mouth, this can be indicative of hormonal-induced acne. As stated above, when hormones are imbalanced, the underlying issue is often liver dysfunction.
In Chinese medicine, each organ system has an emotion associated with it. The liver is associated with anger and irritability.
In Chinese medicine, certain hours of the day correspond to different organ systems. If you wake nightly between 1-3 am, your liver may need some assistance.
If your headaches are triggered by walking down the detergent aisle of the grocery store, Chinese food (MSG), cigarette smoke, the smell of new paint, or alcohol, this can be indicative of poor liver detoxification. Hypersensitivity to chemicals warrants liver support.
Natural Ways to Support Your Liver
UNDAs- This is a European form of homeopathy, also known as biotherapeutic drainage. It is a means to detoxify or eliminate wastes intracellularly (inside the cell). I have found this to be an invaluable part of my practice to encourage optimal liver function.
Milk thistle– This herb has the ability to repair damaged liver cells and restore function to a dysfunctional liver.
Dandelion- This is a very bitter herb that can be taken as a capsule, consumed in the form of a tea, or the greens can be eaten as part of a salad. Herbs with a bitter quality promote good digestion and detoxification.
Artichokes, Beets, Cilantro- These are foods that love the liver. When you eat beets, be sure to keep the greens, which are a potent detoxifier. Beet greens can be chopped and sauteed with some onions and garlic. Cilantro has the ability to chelate (or bind) heavy metals and eliminate them.
Green Tea- Review of clinical trials shows that green tea consumption consistently leads to a significant increase in the antioxidant capacity of the blood. Antioxidants repair oxidative damage to the liver. Aim for 2-3 cups of green tea daily.
Selenium- You can take a supplement of selenium or eat brazil nuts, which are the best dietary form of this liver-loving mineral. Selenium is a vital part of the liver detoxification pathways.
Alpha lipoic acid- Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) plus selenium plus milk thistle has been shown to reduce elevated liver enzymes by 60%.
Glutathione- Glutathione is a substance produced naturally by the liver. It is an excellent detoxifier. It if often poorly absorbed when taken orally so you can take the precursor to glutathione, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), to promote detoxification.
Castor oil packs-Castor oil can be applied topically to the liver to increase circulation, promote the flow of bile and the movement of lymph. This can be something that you do on a daily basis to support your liver.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.