All liver symptoms should be investigated by your healthcare professional in order to rule out serious disease.
Many naturopaths believe that indications that your liver is "sluggish" or not functioning as well as it could may include:
- Intolerance of alcohol and/or fatty foods
- Acne and other skin conditions such as psoriasis
- High cholesterol and blood lipid levels
Other more serious symptoms may indicate the presence of more complex conditions requiring professional treatment (such as hepatitis). These include:
- Jaundice (yellow discolouration of the skin and eyes)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Severe generalised pain in the abdomen, or localised to the liver region
- Swelling and hardness of the liver (hepatomegaly)
- Dark urine with a strong smell
- Stools may be unusually light or dark in colour; floating stools may indicate that fats are not being properly broken down by the liver and gall bladder
- Hair loss
- Swollen feet or legs
- Red palms
- Confusion, sleep disturbance, and occasionally mental disturbance
- Generalised itching over the whole body
One of the main causes of sluggish liver function is ongoing poor dietary habits such as eating too many foods which are high in fat or are heavily processed.
Excess consumption of alcohol and recreational drugs is also a common factor, which in extreme circumstances may lead to cirrhosis (the progressive replacement of liver tissue by scar tissue).
Additionally, certain prescription medications may affect liver function.
Surgical removal of the gall bladder, which normally occurs due to problems with gall stones, also increases the workload of the liver and may lead to a reduction in its function.
Hepatitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the liver, and is most commonly caused by viral infection. There are several different viruses which may be involved and each is transmitted from person to person via a different route, such as through contaminated food or drink, contaminated blood products (e.g. sharing needles in intravenous drug use) or poor hygiene practices. Some types of hepatitis increase the likelihood of the development of cirrhosis and other conditions later in life - your healthcare professional can give you more information regarding this.
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, it is essential that you see your healthcare professional to determine the cause of the problem.
Professional treatment and prescription medication are necessary for the treatment of severe liver disease such as hepatitis, fatty liver or cirrhosis, and permanent changes to your dietary and lifestyle habits may also be required.
Professional treatment of all serious liver conditions is very important, however, if you are simply suffering from sluggish liver, the following natural remedies may be of assistance. Your naturopath can also assist by tailoring a treatment plan to your individual circumstances.
- Milk thistle is a herb which protects the liver and improves its function
- Artichoke - this herb has been clinically proven to help maintain a healthy liver and can help lower cholesterol levels
- A herbal tonic containing digestive bitters such as dandelion root and gentian helps to stimulate the liver and improve its function
- Vitamin C and the B complex vitamins are essential for a healthy liver
- Lecithin helps the liver to metabolise fats
Life Style Factors
Eat a diet low in fat and high in fibre and water. This will assist your body in processing stored wastes and assist with detoxification processes. Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs as well as heavily processed or "junk" foods.
Plenty of fruits and vegetables in the diet are essential, along with lean protein foods such as fish, tofu and legumes (beans, lentils etc).
If you are travelling to areas where you are likely to be exposed to the viruses which cause hepatitis, or if your job, sport or lifestyle increase your risk of catching the infection, your healthcare professional may recommend a vaccination against hepatitis.
Adopt a lifelong healthy eating and exercise plan and be sure to enjoy alcohol only in moderation. Additionally, set aside a couple of weeks once or twice a year in which you avoid alcohol altogether to allow your body time to repair itself.
Never share needles.
Avoid unprotected sex unless you are sure of the health status of your partner.
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