• Nutritionist Belle Amatt explains the reasons we should all be taking better care of our liver

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"I will respect this liver. After all, it's not mine”. These were George Best's telling words after his liver transplant.

It is interesting how we often need a wake-up call to moderate our human behaviour. Perhaps if we stopped to consider the importance of this organ we would learn to care for it more responsibly.

The liver is the largest solid organ in the body. It is a triangular shaped filtering system with a variety of essential functions, so essential that we have evolved with a protective cage around it.

In this era we continuously abuse our precious filtering systems

As well as the filtering of waste products from the blood, the liver makes and secretes bile to help your body absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Therefore it acts as our main fat burning organ. The liver also metabolises and stores carbohydrates, fats, sugars and vitamins for energy and brain function. It breaks down harmful chemicals produced by the body. It manufactures proteins and breaks down hormones. The liver also detoxifies water and removes drugs, alcohol and environmental toxins from our system.

In this era when we continuously abuse our precious filtering systems with high fructose drinks, alcohol, processed foods and a cocktail of chemicals, is it any wonder that our livers may be displaying a little fatigue. Are they under-performing? Could the rise in obesity be a reflection of our weary livers failing to allow fat burning at the rate of consumption? Perhaps the steady increase in Type 2 diabetes reflects our increasing love of sugar rich fast foods, and our livers inability to keep up with the processing of glucose.

How can the liver become damaged?

Among the contenders is our heavy alcohol consumption. When you drink alcohol, the liver gets diverted from its other functions and focuses mainly on converting alcohol to a less toxic form. A high consumption of sugar can also create problems, particularly fructose as this can only be metabolised by the liver. Sweet drinks such as those containing High Corn Fructose Syrup, and processed foods are the main threat here. High salt intake is another contender. It can cause fatty liver disease by building up fluid in the liver, leading to swelling.

Fatty Liver Disease if often associated with alcoholism. However there does exist ‘Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease’ and it’s on the increase. How does it happen? Well, consider fois gras. To make foie gras, ducks or geese are force-fed sugar in the form of corn and starch. In the body, this sugar turns on a fat-production factory in the liver, a process known as lipogenesis, which is the body’s normal response to sugar. Fructose increases the lipogenesis response. And, there you go, a fatty liver is produced. So think of this process next time you are pulling on that cola ring. If consumed in excess, fructose turns to fat in the liver, your liver.

Problems with your liver can of course be inherited or caused by a virus. These things we cannot control. But we can all stop mistreating our livers right now. Why raise the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, allergies and many other ailments.

Avoiding excessive consumption of tobacco, alcohol, coffee and sugar and drinking lots of water are all ways to optimise liver health. Making small gradual changes is key. Amongst the liver supporting foods to help you on your way is garlic. Garlic helps your liver activate enzymes that can flush out toxins. It also has a high amount of allicin and selenium, two natural compounds that aid in liver cleansing

Beetroot makes a good liver supporting choice due to a high level of plant-flavonoids, which can improve the overall functioning of your liver. They are a firm favourite when I’m running cleanse programmes due to versatility and taste.

Leafy greens like spinach and lettuce are also great additions to a liver-friendly diet. What we are after here is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll helps to rid the body of environmental toxins, heavy metals, herbicides, and pesticides so acts as a protective mechanism for the liver.

Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain important phytochemicals that aid in the detox process. These phytochemicals stimulate detoxification enzymes in the digestive tract so would be another great addition.

The delicious avocado should also feature in a liver-friendly diet. This fruit produces a type of antioxidant called glutathione, which is needed for our livers to filter out harmful substances. Squeeze lemon into your avocado dip, or sip on warm water with lemon for a liver boosting beverage. Lemons help our bodies cleanse out toxic materials and aid the digestion process.

Another useful cuppa would be green tea. This is full of plant antioxidants known as catechins, which have been known to improve liver function.

For a choice spice use turmeric which has recently been researched in relation to aiding liver repair in diabetic rats! This pungent powder has for a long while been known for its liver health properties. Pop some in your curries and soups. Or make turmeric tea.

Whatever you choose to do for liver support, choose to respect your liver, for you only have one and a precious organ it is.

Further reading

Is my drinking a problem?

13 secrets you keep about your relationship with food

My partner's drinking worries me – how can I talk to them?

Helping your child develop a healthy relationship with food