Did you know your liver is your very own chemical processing plant? With more than 500 functions, the liver is crucial to life. This hardworking organ plays many vital roles, including filtering blood, destroying and removing toxic substances, and helping to digest and absorb fats. Additionally, the liver stores important nutrients, including iron, copper, vitamins A, D, K, and B 12. It also helps regulate body cholesterol and hormonal balance.
Liver diseases on the rise
Your liver is one of the most important organs in the body because of its ability to turn food into energy and remove poisons from the blood. Tragically, however, several liver diseases are on the rise. Did you know that cirrhosis of the liver is the 9th leading cause of death in Western countries?
Here are some conditions causing liver problems:
- Acetaminophen toxicity
- Alcoholic liver disease
- Fatty liver disease
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)
Fatty liver disease
Fatty liver, also called hepatic steatosis, is, aptly, a disease of too much fat in the liver.
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by the consumption of too much alcohol. Since one of the liver’s jobs is to remove harmful substances from the blood, over time, heavy drinking can cause the toxins from alcohol to overwhelm the liver and leave it unable to break down fats.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is fatty liver disease in the absence of high alcohol consumption. In Canada, the biggest cause of NAFLD is obesity, though it can also be linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, starvation, protein malnutrition, rapid weight loss, genetics, and use of certain medications like tetracycline and corticosteroids.
While many people don’t know when they have a fatty liver, some people report discomfort in the liver area, fatigue, and a general feeling of being unwell. Blood tests for liver enzymes—ALT, AST, and GGT—can be taken to see if the liver is stressed or inflamed.
While there are currently no medications proven to reverse fatty liver disease, there are many things that can be done.
Caring for your liver
There are some basic healthy foundations when it comes to keeping your liver in tip-top shape. Not surprisingly, one of the key pieces of treating fatty liver disease is to remove or reduce the stressors that contributed to it in the first place, including establishing and maintaining a healthy weight, cutting back on the exposure to toxins, limiting alcohol consumption, getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and limiting your intake of medicines like acetaminophen (Tylenol®).
Reishi mushroom for fatty liver disease
Japanese red reishi mushrooms have been found to help detoxify the liver through a variety of mechanisms. A 2017 study on the triterpenoids and polysaccharide peptides—compounds found in Ganoderma lucidum—were found to reduce mild fatty liver conditions to normal. One of the things that reishi did was increase the body’s glutathione content. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the cells from damage. Though it has many functions, in the liver, the enzyme glutathione S-transferase takes the sulfur from glutathione and attaches it to toxic molecules, rendering those toxins easier to remove from the body.
While taking reishi mushroom is certainly no excuse to overindulge, in addition to making healthy lifestyle and nutrition choices, taking this supplement regularly appears to offer some liver protection and support.