When I was in medical school, out of any other organ being taught, the liver took the cake for getting the most attention and emphasis. Not to slight any other organ or process our beautiful bodies have, but the liver, when it comes to hormones, has got to take center stage. What the heck does the liver have to do with hormones anyway, you might say? Well, I am going to tell you!
Let’s start with the basics. The liver is our largest internal organ and our primary detoxification organ. It is about the size of a football, and is located mostly in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and above the stomach. It bears the responsibility for more than 500 different functions including breaking down alcohol, medications, chemicals and other toxins, thyroid hormone conversion, helping your blood clot and making glucose so you can have a quick burst of energy. The liver is also involved in fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism as well as vitamin and mineral storage. Fascinatingly enough, your liver is the only organ that can regenerate (re-grow) itself.
Let’s consider the liver and hormones. The liver uses a pathway called the enterohepatic circulation. The health of your liver and how well this particular pathway is functioning determines whether our estrogens and other hormone levels stay balanced. First, hormones, such as estrogens, are broken down in the liver and bound, or “coupled.” with another substance and excreted into the bile. Then the liver secretes bile into the small intestines where most of it, along with its load of substances, is eliminated through your bowel movements. Any disruption in this process contributes to increased levels of both hormones and chemicals in the body. If the liver is overloaded by the myriad of environmental toxins and estrogen mimickers you are exposed to on a daily basis or if the bowel is toxic with, perhaps, a microflora imbalance due to poor dietary choices and antibiotic use, you can have a liver that is underfunctioning and, subsequently, a decreased excretion of estrogens. This can be a big problem, leading to signs of estrogen dominance and symptoms of hormonal imbalances like hot flashes, weight gain and irritability.
The liver also requires nutrients such as niacin, vitamin B-6, magnesium and amino acids to couple, or conjugate, hormones. Nutritional deficiencies can alter this process as well all, leading to estrogens being reabsorbed into the blood stream, biologically active and having to be processed all over again…leading to more work for you liver.
Lovin’ your liver!
Even though the liver takes a beating in our modern day, there are things you can do to send it some love and support, and protect it. Here are my favorites:
- Reduce exposure to environmental toxins. One of the best resources to help you do this on a daily basis are the shopping guides from the Environmental Working Group.
- Eat liver-cleansing foods. Nutritious foods like beets, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.), artichokes and dandelion greens are wonderful for liver health.
- Take a liver-supporting supplement. One of my favorites is Milk thistle (Silybum marianum). It contains some of the most powerful liver protective substances known, silymarin. It has the ability to inhibit the action of harmful free radicals that damage liver cells. It also stimulates protein synthesis, which can help in the production of healthy new liver cells to replace the damaged ones. I recommend a dose of 175 mg daily of standardized Milk Thistle Extract (seed) containing 80% silymarin (140 mg).
- Use castor oil packs. Although they can be a bit laborious, they are very effective as a remedy to help decrease liver congestion.
- Start your day out bright. Fresh lemon juice—I use the juice of an entire lemon—in water is a superb way to flush the liver and get it ready for the assaults of the day ahead.
Although the connection isn’t obvious, having a healthy liver can help you have a healthy hormonal balance through menopause and beyond. Just a few steps each day can pave the way.