Discover why poor liver health is deeply connected to immune system problems
(NaturalHealth365) Rates of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease – an accumulation of harmful fat in the liver of people with no history of alcoholism – have skyrocketed over the last few years. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this condition currently affects between 80 and 100 million adults in the United States – a shocking figure. But, even more relevant, is this scientific review which illustrates how liver health is linked to the immune system. And, how this relationship helps to protect us from outer threats.
As infectious diseases continue to plague many people throughout the world, the need for a strong immune system is obviously a “top priority.” So, let’s take a look at the many ways in which the liver works hand-in-glove with the immune system to protect our health.
Health ALERT: Over 300 life-sustaining functions depend on liver health
When it comes to performing body functions necessary for life, the liver is the original multitasker.
The major detoxifying organ of the body, the liver neutralizes toxins and sets them up to be flushed harmlessly away through excretions. A truly indispensable function – as we are being besieged as never before by a noxious assortment of environmental toxins, synthetic chemicals, potential carcinogens and pathogens.
This hardworking organ is also responsible for metabolizing fats and converting nutrients from food into energy. In addition, the liver produces proteins needed for blood clotting, assists in the production of bile to promote digestion and stores vitamins and minerals.
Plus, without the liver, blood sugar control would be impossible. In addition to removing excess glucose from the blood, the liver breaks down stored glucose when blood sugar levels begin to fall too low.
The liver serves as both “storehouse” and “factory” for immune cells
In a review published in 2016 in Cellular and Molecular Immunology, the authors highlighted the liver’s indispensable role in immune health.
The scientists noted that the liver contains the body’s largest supply of phagocytes – immune cells which engulf and destroy any harmful microbes in their path. It also stores lymphocytes, the immune cells that recognize foreign “invaders” and produce the antibodies needed to fight them. Natural killer cells, which help to detect cancer and defend against infected cells, are yet another type of disease-fighting lymphocyte stored in the liver.
In addition to storing immune cells, the liver creates them as well. In fact, liver cells are responsible for the production of 80 to 90 percent of all circulating immunity proteins in the body!
The liver also produces cytokines – molecules that help cells communicate with each other – and chemokines, a variety of cytokine that works to attract immune cells to the site of inflammation and infection.
It’s clear to see that the liver regulates the immune system like a “boss.” But what happens when the liver becomes damaged or diseased?
Warning: Liver damage seriously impacts the immune system, setting the stage for disease
It turns out that the liver is involved with two different types of immunity: innate and adaptive.
The innate immune system of the liver regulates immune cells during immune response – a delicate balance, as the organ must protect against pathogens and carcinogens while tolerating harmless compounds.
Adaptive immunity involves immune memory, which allows the T and B cells to “remember” threats the body has been exposed to in the past. When these systems go awry, consequences can be grave.
Research has shown that damaged liver function and immune deficiency trigger an increased susceptibility to bacterial infection, interfere with the ability of immune cells to scan for harmful compounds and alter their ability to destroy bacteria.
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of liver disease can include abdominal pain and swelling, itchy skin, persistent fatigue, nausea, dark-colored urine and yellowish tint to the skin or eyes (jaundice). If you think you may have liver disease, seek the advice of your doctor immediately.
Herbal therapies and supplements can help support liver and immune health
Milk thistle, the “go-to” natural treatment for liver ailments, is rich in silymarin. This antioxidant flavonoid has been shown in studies to decrease elevated liver enzymes and reduce scarring in patients with liver disease. It also helps liver cells to regenerate, while increasing the liver’s production of glutathione, the body’s most important disease-fighting antioxidant.
Surprisingly, artichokes have powerful liver-protective effects as well, and can prevent oxidative stress-induced liver toxicity. Like milk thistle, artichokes contain silymarin, along with immune system-boosting inulin and cynarin, a natural compound with detoxifying effects.
Turmeric can be a boon to both the immune system and the liver. Curcumin in turmeric has been shown to promote the disease-fighting activity of T cells, macrophages, natural killer cells and neutrophils. This powerful flavonoid also helps to decrease pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body and has been shown to reduce the risk of fatty liver disease.
Finally, N-acetylcysteine (NAC) can help the liver to produce glutathione, the body’s most important disease-fighting and immune-boosting antioxidant. It can also help to protect from liver damage, and is the treatment of choice in hospitals to treat acetaminophen-induced liver failure. NAC, which is made from cysteine, doesn’t occur naturally in food – but may be taken as a supplement.
Keep in mind, before adding any of these liver-nourishing supplements to your daily health routine, check with your integrative physician or health coach to determine what’s best for you.
Protect liver and immune health through natural techniques
You can support a healthy liver by eating an organic diet, free of preservatives, GMOs, highly processed foods, refined sugar and trans fats. And, don’t forget to load up on the cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
These beneficial foods contain a cancer-fighting compound known as sulforaphane, which supports liver detoxification and boosts antioxidant capacity. Natural health experts often recommend beetroot, dandelion leaves and rhubarb for their liver-protective capacities.
It is also wise to eliminate or sharply reduce alcohol consumption.
Medications, as well, can take a toll on liver health. In fact, acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose is the number one cause of acute liver failure in the nation. While you should never stop taking prescribed medications without first consulting your doctor, you could ask about the possibility of switching to more liver-friendly medication.
You can also help your liver by avoiding harsh chemical cleaners and personal care items – and opting for “green” cleaning products and natural brands of cosmetics. While the humble, hard-working liver may not have the same nifty “rep” as the sophisticated, powerful immune system, it serves on the front line of immune defense.
Bottom line: taking good care of your liver is a smart move. Take your health to the next level and get started today.
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