Weight Loss and Your Liverby Laura J Hieb, ND on August 24, 2022
What does the liver have to do with weight loss?
Well it is our largest metabolic organ.
That means it is very much involved in weight gain and weight loss.
In this blog(s) we'll explore what we can do to support our livers so that they can aid us in losing weight and not in gaining it and/or holding on it.
When we think of our livers, which is probably not very often, it's often because we are having a problem with it, like elevated liver enzymes, fatty liver disease or hepatitis C, etc.
But what do our livers do?
The liver is responsible for over 500 different tasks in the body! This includes, but is not limited to:
- Immunological functioning: The liver contains high numbers of Kupffer cells that destroy any disease-causing agents that might enter the liver through the gut.
- Synthesizing angiotensinogen which raises blood pressure when alerted by production of renin from the kidneys.
- Producing bile which helps break down proteins for digestion; and it helps breakdown and absorb fats, cholesterol, and some vitamins, including vitamin K which supports blood clotting, in the small intestine.
- Producing albumin, the most common protein in blood, which transports fatty acids, vitamins, medicines and steroid hormones (sex and adrenal hormones) to wherever they need to go and helps maintain blood vessel integrity--so they don't leak.
- Absorbing and metabolizing bilirubin from the breakdown of hemoglobin, which aids in making the next generation of blood cells.
- Storing vitamins and minerals: The liver stores vitamins A, D, E, K, and B12 and ferritin (iron from hemoglobin) and copper.
- Metabolizing carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are stored in the liver as glycogen, which is broken down into glucose and released into the bloodstream as needed to maintain normal glucose levels or whenever a quick burst of energy is needed.
- Detoxifying: The liver filters and removes compounds from the body, including hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, and compounds from outside the body, including alcohol and other drugs.
- Metabolizing fructose: fructose is metabolized differently than glucose and it is up to the liver to do it. If there is more fructose than the liver can handle, it gets stored in the liver as fat.
I think of the liver as the unsung hero of the body. The brain and the heart are very, very important, and they get a lot of attention. But the liver does not.
Yet to create machinery to do everything the liver does, it would take a very large room to fit everything in.
BTW, the size of the average healthy liver weighs about 3 pounds and is about the size of a football.
So back to weight loss and the liver:
Let's talk about fructose.
Fructose is fruit sugar, and as mentioned above, it is metabolized differently than glucose.
So is fruit bad?
No, although I do want to say that you don't have to eat fruit to be healthy.
The other main sources of fructose in the American diet include sucrose (aka table sugar) which is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Also high fructose corn syrup, which is found in many, many processed foods. It contains 55-60% fructose. Then there is agave syrup, which is touted as a healthy alternative natural sweetener. But it contains up to 90% fructose! Other sources of fructose include honey and maple syrup.
As stated above, the liver has to process fructose. And if there is more than the liver can use, it gets turned into fat and stored in the liver. If too much fat gets stored in the liver, it starts to impede liver function and the diagnosis is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. As you probably noted, in the past, fatty liver disease was typically caused by alcohol.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), once there is sufficient fat in the liver causing inflammation and cell death. NASH can progress to cirrhosis of the liver, which is when there is so much fibrosis and damage to the liver, that it can no longer function properly, leading to liver failure. The only cure is a liver transplant.
NASH can also lead to heart disease and liver cancer.
Sadly, many people do not know they have NASH until it is quite advanced.
How do you know if you have NAFLD or NASH? If your liver enzymes are elevated and remain so, you probably have NAFLD. If you have elevated liver enzymes and you are diabetic and overweight or obese, you probably have NASH, which is confirmed by ultra sound.
But both NAFLD and NASH can easily be prevented!
1) Stop drinking fructose, especially high fructose corn syrup (fruit juice, sodas, energy drinks,etc)
2) Stop eating high fructose corn syrup--ie processed foods--always read labels
3)Stop using agave syrup in any form
4) Limit your table sugar intake: 36 grams/d for men and 24 grams/d for women--or as close as you can get to it
All of which will help weight loss and will help your liver to function well so you can lose even more weight!
To be continued...