Love Your Liver with Ayurveda
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How to support and strengthen your liver with Ayurveda
For many, the Summer months are filled with tipsy parties, fatty BBQ’s and Great British Bake Off DIY trial sessions. This might sound like a recipe for fun but if our bodies could talk what would they say about this overindulgence? The fun activities listed above are top toxin producers, putting our bodies under pressure to replenish and restore? Tiredness, dull skin, digestive issues, weight gain, mental fog, all are perfect examples of toxic overload and if untreated can lead to more severe problems. Thankfully our extremely intelligent body deals with detoxification pretty well unless we put too much pressure on it, which nowadays is an increasingly common situation. The powerhouse of toxin elimination is the liver, the focus of this article.
A complex biochemical factory within the body, the liver is so important organ that we can survive only one or two days if it shuts down. Amazingly however, it can function even when up to 75% is removed or damaged, as it’s able to regenerate itself by creating new, healthy cells from the undamaged, existing ones. That is not the end of magic - the liver will return to a normal size in just one or two weeks following the removal of over 50% of its mass. Also being the largest solid organ inside the body, in most of us the liver is about the size of a football and weighs close to three pounds. If you place your right hand over the lower right side of your ribs, it will cover the area of your liver.
A closer look at the most important processes carried by the liver:
- Releases bile to further digest food from the stomach and absorb important nutrients
- Stores vitamins, sugar and iron to support the body with energy
- Clears your blood of all sorts of toxins, including heavy metals, drugs and bacteria
- Produces immune factors to combat infection
- Maintains acid-alkali balance in the body
- Metabolizes fat and alcohol
- Controls the production and removal of cholesterol. Cholesterol in the liver is transformed into testosterone which acts on the reproductive system
- Produces clotting factors to stop excessive bleeding after cuts or injuries
- Generates heat to warm passing blood
- Harmonizes hormones
- Regulates menstrual flow
- Nourishes eyes
This impressive list really highlights the importance of keeping the liver in good condition. Killing more people than diabetes and road accidents combined liver disease is widely spread with the most common cause in the UK being alcohol induced liver disease. The liver can break down around 15ml of alcohol every hour, which is similar to the amount found in a can of beer (335ml). Drinking beyond this level puts stress on the liver and damages cells, which can cause liver scarring.
From the ayurvedic perspective the liver is governed by Pitta dosha - energy of fire and transformation. Excess Vata reduces and dries up bile production, making fat digestion difficult, affecting blood sugar metabolism, lowering the liver heat and causing light-coloured, hard, bowel movements. Pitta excess causes inflammation, excess bile, diarrhoea, anger. Too much Kapha -slowness and congestion, results in stasis and swelling.
To enhance liver detoxification it is essential to have an adequate supply of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals fundamental for the process to work. In general, concentrate on eating food that is naturally sweet, bitter or astringent as those tastes have pacifying and detoxifying effects on the liver. Everything that is green is good for the liver so try to increase the amount of leafy greens and herbs in your diet. Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Fresh fruit and vegetables help to maintain the right acid- alkaline balance in the body as they’re rich in potassium, especially raisins, dates, sweet oranges, watermelon, banana, squash, kidney beans, lentils and courgettes. Along with that start each day with a glass of warm water followed by a ginger and lemon tea to warm up, cleanse and alkalise the body.
Substances that interfere with proper liver function include overly spicy, salty or sour food as these increase the heat in the body, agitating the liver. Caffeine, alcohol, high-protein diets, saturated fats, recreational and medical drugs, the Pill and HRT, dioxins, cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, paint fumes, steroid hormones and charcoaled/barbecued meat are also liver irritants.
Ayurvedic Liver Love Tips
- Aloe vera is a fantastic tonic for the liver as it regulates sugar and fat metabolism and tones all the digestive enzymes. To strengthen the effect take 2 teaspoons of aloe vera gel mixed with a pinch of turmeric 3 times a day. For better taste blend it with water or an apple juice. Gentian is a powerful herb for sedating hyperactivity of the liver that also combines well with aloe vera.
- Barberry is a bitter herb with a special property to destroy toxins, cleanse and regulate the liver. It is also beneficial to use it with turmeric to enhance detoxification.
- Dandelion clears and cleanses the liver beautifully and is especially good for detoxification from meat and the overindulgence of fatty and fried food. It combines well with burdock which has a strong blood and lymph cleansing action, dispelling toxins.
- Rhubarb assists in liver problems as it purges the body of excess heat, bile, toxins, stagnant food and blood. It also helps reduce weight and remove fat.
- Saffron is one of the best anti-Pitta herbs and liver and spleen regulators. It revitalizes the blood, circulation and enhances metabolism.
- The chrysanthemum flower commonly grown in gardens soothes liver, relieves menstrual cramps and headaches, brightens the eyes and improves the vision.
- Less known yet extremely effective herbs used to strengthen, purify and balance the liver are triphala, neem and turmeric. A combination of these three makes a very powerful liver remedy.
- Ayurvedic herbal jam called chyawanprash, taken on a regular basis will highly benefit your liver due to one of the main ingredients –amla, which helps with weakness of the liver, spleen and blood.
- Excess heat in the liver can be effectively removed by drinking cup of buttermilk with some cumin powder.
- There are specific energy points on the body, which when stimulated work directly on the liver. They are located over the temple region, mid-point on the forearms, wrists and around right knee. Using warm sesame seed or coconut oil massage gently starting in a anti-clockwise and then clockwise motion.
- Ayurvedic foot and abdominal massages are particularly great as a localised treatment for the liver. Along with that regular castor oil purgation or for more sensitive ones castor oil packs are very beneficial for cleansing the liver.
- Nothing works better than regular fasting, which not only releases overloaded and overworked livers but also strengthens our mind and senses.
- When it comes to yoga it’s all about releasing the heat and soothing our magic organ. You should concentrate on non- competitive, gentle and fun practice with special attention to forward bends or knee to chest poses. Big Toe Pose, Standing Forward Bend, Standing Split, fish or cobra poses nicely massage and tone the liver and moon salutations help to reduce excess of accumulated heat. To cool down the liver and the whole system incorporate cooling breath (shitali) or left nostril breathing.
- Lastly let’s not forget that Ayurveda doesn’t separate body from the mind, therefore to look after our body we need to look after our emotions. The liver is an important seat of fiery emotions such as anger, hate, envy and jealousy. If they’re not processed and metabolized they create stress in the organ, which untreated leads to development of the disease. To digest those emotions it is important to be aware of them first of all. Paying total attention to a feeling or emotion allows the agni of the liver to release it. Anger, fear or anxiety can then leave with awareness and maturity
Written by Aneta Podlaska of Free Flow Ayurveda