Not that anybody’s ranking your organs, but for the sake of argument, it’s safe to say that your heart and brain hog the headlines, while so many other organs hide in the background, just chugging and churning away doing their jobs to keep your body humming along.
Topping my list of most underrated essential organs has to be the liver.
It’s like your body’s handyman—fixing so many different things around your biological dwelling.
It protects you from toxins that you accidentally ingest, like pesticide residues, mycotoxins, and xenobiotic pollutants. It also helps us detoxify toxins that we intentionally ingest like pharmaceutical drugs. And, as you know, it’s the organ that cleans up the toxins when you spend a little too much time doing the tongue-tango with your favorite bottle of cabernet.
Now, it’s clear that almost all human civilizations have had some sort of alcoholic beverages, whether beer, wine, cider, mead, or some sort of fermented liquid containing ethanol.
Alcohol is used for celebration, socialization, cultural traditions, and so many other things—sometimes as a numbing agent, sometimes as a mask for deeper problems, and oftentimes as an addiction that has harmful effects on your body and mind. So it’s no wonder that in many ways, alcohol has been an interesting subject in scientific circles. Is it good for you? How much is bad for you? And what effect does it have on your body?
When you consume alcohol, your liver immediately begins breaking it down to remove it. The human body is incredibly resilient, and there generally aren’t long-term health problems tied to moderate alcohol consumption. The key word here is moderate. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, can start to take its toll on the body over time. (See definitions below.)
At the cellular level, ethanol is clearly a toxin at any dose but in people with a well-functioning liver, light drinking is generally well tolerated. From a scientific perspective, it seems that a moderate level is ok.
And that’s what I personally strive for.
I’ve had several friends and family members with lives cut short by drinking too much and all the damage that inflicts on internal organs. Excess alcohol intake is a leading cause of accelerated aging and premature death. That much is crystal clear.
And that’s why—for as strong and powerful as your liver is cleaning up your body’s toxins—it’s important to not put it under too much stress. Even the strongest of handymen can’t repair a house that’s falling apart.
Enough is Enough
In the United States, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) classifies the levels of drinking as follows:
- Moderate drinking: For men, moderate drinking is defined as up to two drinks per day, about 15 drinks per week. For women, those numbers change to one drink per day, eight drinks per week.
- Heavy drinking: Any drinking that exceeds the CDC guidelines for moderate drinking. Three or more drinks per day for men, or more than fifteen drinks per week. And for women, that’s two or more drinks per day, eight or more drinks per week.
Now, we’ve certainly seen a spike in excess alcohol consumption during the global pandemic (social isolation being a root cause). If you realize this is the case with you personally and want to take action, here is what I recommend:
- Don’t try to go “cold turkey” because trying to drop both a habit and a physical addiction simultaneously often won’t work.
- Carefully measure and record your alcohol consumption and start reducing on a planned schedule, reducing by 50 percent each two-week period. For example, if you’re drinking four mixed drinks a night (about 6 ounces of 40 proof alcohol), start by diluting the drinks with water by 50 percent for the first two weeks. Now your down to 3 ounces of 40 proof alcohol). The next two weeks, dilute them by 50 percent again and so on until you are drinking essentially pure water instead of mixed drinks. In that case, your habit goes from being unhealthy to being a healthy habit of drinking water instead.
I’ve done this myself and I hardly even noticed the cut back, and I’ve also recommended this method to friends who were struggling with drinking too much.
I’ve been drinking a lot of club soda and limes with just a splash of vodka in it—and cut way back on what I drink.
I’ve hardly noticed a difference, but I’ll bet you my liver sure has.
Improve Your Liver Health
Certainly, one of the best ways to improve the health of your liver is to cut back the toxins you consume. The less work it has to do, the better.
Another way: Eat more fiber. Dietary fiber has been shown to increase the activity of antioxidant and detox enzymes in your liver. It can alter bile acid pools, which are involved in liver metabolism and the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Dietary fiber also supports the microbiota that help generate secondary bile acids
In addition, other nutrients can also help. A study on liver health gave subjects a supplement that containing biotin, choline, milk thistle extract, N-acetyl L-cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid, broccoli concentrate, green tea extract, olive fruit extract, and turmeric extract. This increased glutathione levels, vitamin C levels, and subjects taking the treatment supplement were significantly more resistant to oxidative damage than those taking the placebo.