While this is all well and good, there is more to improving digestion than just healing the gut and optimizing digestion. The digestive system is made up of your gallbladder, liver and pancreas in addition to your actual stomach. These organs therefore also need TLC to function optimally. If not, they become congested and overwhelmed, leading to symptoms, which for some can result in skin issues.
The Liver Lowdown
The liver is our second largest and most important detoxifying organ in our body. Can you guess the first?
Yes, it’s the skin, which is why if the liver is sluggish, skin problems can develop. In essence, the liver supports the health of the skin. Every toxin in our body is taken to the liver to be cleaned and transformed (fat-soluble into water soluble forms) that can then be excreted so that the body is able to expel it via the colon. It removes harmful bacteria, chemicals, toxins, and even removes excess hormones. The liver also stores vitamins A, D, B-12, iron, copper, and is even a site for glucose storage. It is where the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats take place.
Bile production is an especially important role of the liver when it comes to the skin. Bile is stored in the gallbladder which contracts every time we consume fat. It breaks down lipids into smaller particles so that we can absorb and utilize them, otherwise we don’t get the benefits of eating good fats. The other important role of bile is to stimulate peristaltic action, which is the muscle contraction that happens in the digestive tract to move food and waste through the intestines. If bile doesn’t get released, this doesn’t happen and it can become difficult to produce a bowel movement.
So what does this have to do with the skin? It’s all about toxins. The more toxins, the more stress the liver endures 24/7 and this shows like a mirror via skin health.
An overworked liver means that it’s not functioning optimally, and therefore can’t keep a clean home. One of the first signs that the liver is congested are bowel problems. If constipation is an issue, or you’re going less than twice a day, this can keep extra toxins hanging around. This happens because the colon reabsorbs toxins if transit time is slowed and bowel waste is sitting there longer than it should be. Think of each bowel movement as a meal. Typically we’re eating three meals a day, which means we should be moving our bowels nearly as often too!
Other symptoms of a sluggish liver
- Acne/skin rashes
- Poor tolerance to coffee, alcohol, smoke or fragrances
- Brain fog
- Indigestion after eating
- Constipation, diarrhea or light or dark colored stools
- Difficulty losing weight even with diet efforts
- Pain in the lower right rib
- Waking at night between 2am and 4am
A large part of maintaining healthy skin is making sure you take good care of your liver and gall bladder, as well as healing the stomach if needed. The good news is the liver can and does regenerate every 5 months, relatively quickly and effectively compared to other organs. The liver responds extremely well to foods, but especially herbs. Here are some liver loving herbs and foods you can introduce into your diet to make sure you are supporting it properly.
Helpful Herbs for the Liver
- Dandelion (dandelion coffee is a great way to enjoy it!)
- Milk thistle
- Bitter Greens
- Nettle leaves
- Cilantro (fermented cilantro salsa is a delicious way to get this into your diet)
- Chlorella/ Spirulina- helps clear toxins from the body, boosts immunity and Increases oxygen uptake.
- Brewer’s Yeast- high in nucleic acid which is an important component of cell development. Also a rich source of B vitamins, folate, potassium and chromium.
- Garlic – Raw, crushed cloves are high in allicin and selenium that can aid in cleansing the liver.
- Lemons, limes and Grapefruit- Eating or drinking the juices of these fruits, or warm lemon water first thing in the morning, can help your liver flush out toxins and assist in cleansing.
- Beets- high in flavanoids, which your liver loves! Eat them raw, juiced or in Kvass form.
- Leafy Greens-The abundant chlorophyll and minerals contained here are super supportive in the detoxification process.
- Whey– Adding whey to your diet can help your body produce glutathione, which is needed for phase I and II of detoxification.
- Turmeric– Assists in fat digestion as it stimulates bile production and studies have shown it to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
- Liver! A true superfood. Think of the term “like cures like”. Liver has all the nutrition your own liver needs to stay healthy, just make sure you get the highest quality from pasture raised animals!
- Burdock Root- A published study found that burdock helps heal and protect against liver damage. Research’s link this to its antioxidant properties.
Tips to get these foods into your daily diet:
- Start your morning off with some lemon water upon rising.
- Make a protein shake with whey, berries or grapefruit, spirulina and coconut milk for a quick breakfast or snack.
- Drink herbal liver detox teas daily instead of coffee.
- Make a large raw salad with beets, leafy greens, and garlic (great in dressings).
- Sprinkle Brewer’s yeast onto veggies, salads or onto any dehydrated veggie chips (my favorite)!
- Make a stir fry, curry, or soup with Turmeric (great for the fall and winter months approaching)
- Learn to love liver! Pate is my all time favorite but you can cook it up or add it to main meats as well if you prefer not to eat it as a spread.
Support your liver in all phases!
Many times I find that people respond wonderfully from just supporting and restoring methylation and glutathione levels to help properly detox the liver. The liver has a total of three phases. Common support to address liver health usually focuses around phase I only, which is to convert fat soluble toxins to a water soluble form to be excreted.
This can be extremely harmful when free radicals are being formed but not exiting the body quickly, because an accumulation can rapidly happen rather if not all phases are working properly. Phase II goes further to make toxins less harmful to the body by pairing it with a glutathione molecule and making it more water soluble. This is why many people’s glutathione levels are depleted, because they are too toxic and the body is using mass amounts to deal with the congestion. Phase III is the elimination phase. Toxins are now carried to the bloodstream to be expelled out of the body.
Methylation and glutathione are both extremely important to make sure these phases all happen. For our bodies to produce glutathione, we also need nutrients such as N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), alpha lipoic acid, selenium, B12, folate (not folic acid), B6, and glycine. Raw dairy is one of the best food sources of glutathione, as it is not absorbed well in supplement form via the digestive tract.
Focus on all the food sources above, as well as relieving liver stress by using the skin to release toxins: via sweat, exercise, infrared sauna, and epsom salt baths. The more ways you support it, the healthier your liver will be which will correspondingly show through both how you feel and how your skin looks!
Carla Hernandez is a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) who uses nutrition, diet and lifestyle interventions to support physiological mechanisms within the body. She specializes in Digestive Issues, Weight Loss and Skin Conditions.