Liver Love for Hormone Balance
Although the liver is not technically an organ of the endocrine system, it plays a major role in hormonal health. It has the enormous task of breaking down estrogen and secreting its metabolites through the bile into the large intestine for elimination. Whether hormones are produced naturally within the body, consumed through medication or supplementation, or enter the body as an environmental substance that mimics estrogen (known as a xenoestrogen), optimal functioning of the liver is critical in maintaining a healthy hormonal balance. It is the key for clearing out excess hormones to help maintain the correct natural levels.
The liver’s main function is detoxification – the more toxic the large intestine and other organs are, the larger the burden is on the liver. An overburdened liver has a decreased ability to break down excess sex hormones, especially estrogen. This can cause excess levels of estrogen in the body, leading to estrogen-dominant conditions like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), fibrocystic breasts, acne, heavy periods, and more. It’s clear that optimal liver function can be of benefit in the treatment of any condition involving hormonal imbalance.
The liver is also responsible for manufacturing cholesterol, which is the starting material for the manufacture of all steroid hormones (progesterone, testosterone, estrogens, cortisol, prostaglandins, and DHEA). It also decides if and when a hormone is going to convert to another hormone, and which other hormones it should be converted to. Further, the thyroid is also influenced by liver function; specifically, it is a major site of conversion of inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to the active T3 form. A healthy liver, therefore, is critical to hormonal balance.
Impacts on Liver Function
There are three key drivers of impaired liver function: toxic exposure, diet, and lifestyle. High levels of environmental toxins directly affect the liver’s function by altering the absorption of toxins, changing the genetic expression of detoxification enzymes (inhibiting the liver’s ability to detox), and overloading the liver with toxic products (essentially backing up its ability to detoxify fully). Toxin exposure also alters the function of the gut microbiome, which is estimated to contribute roughly 60% of the body’s ability to detoxify (hint: the health of the gut is also important for hormonal balance!).
The liver’s ability to eliminate toxic compounds depends on the strength of its detoxification systems, which are directly influenced by diet and lifestyle. A diet high in inflammatory foods, foods that contain pesticides and other chemical compounds, refined sugars, and refined flour products, as well as rancid oils (to name a few common offenders), puts stress on the liver and impacts its ability to function properly. A sedentary lifestyle promotes toxin accumulation and storage. Exercise, on the other hand, promotes the mobilization of toxins for elimination.
How to Support the Liver to Promote Hormonal Balance
Along with good nutrition as well as supportive herbs and supplements, there are a few key things that you can do every day to help support ongoing healthy detoxification
Reduce or eliminate alcohol – alcohol is damaging to the liver and disrupts the detoxification pathways
Get enough sleep because deep sleep is when you recycle glutathione (the body’s master antioxidant and detoxifying molecule) to its active form
Sweat in a sauna or during exercise to mobilize and eliminate stored toxins
Drink plenty of water to dilute and excrete toxins – add lemon as desired
Maintain healthy gut bacteria because they play a key role in escorting toxins out of the body
Heal + clear emotions - In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a synergistic relationship between our emotions and each organ. Stored emotions create energetic blocks in the body that eventually produce symptoms and related ailments. When the liver energy (Qi) is congested, feelings of depression, irritability, and defensiveness arise. These issues have their roots in unexpressed anger and frustration. Energetically, stored anger creates stagnation in the liver & gallbladder meridians. When we live with flow, patience, and the healthy expression of our frustrations, our liver health is greatly enhanced.
Remove Toxic Triggers
Avoid processed and packaged foods – eat a wide variety of whole, fresh foods instead
Avoid conventional animal products, which are loaded with synthetic hormones and antibiotics and are produced from animals fed unnatural diets containing pesticides and other things which trigger the immune system and increase inflammation (GMO feed, for example). If you eat meat, eat only organic animal products
Avoid unnecessary medications, such as Tylenol, NSAIDs, and antibiotics. These are not only damaging to the gut lining, but also to the liver and kidneys
Avoid food sensitivities, if you’re aware of any (or try an elimination diet to identify any). Common sensitivities include gluten and cow’s dairy because they create inflammation in the gut, which can impair detoxification
Foods that Support Liver Function
Foods such as dark leafy greens, beets, spirulina, chlorella, kelp, citrus, broccoli, cabbage, sprouted lentils and mung beans, dandelion greens, apple cider vinegar, celery, and oats all help to support & nourish the liver. Potassium-rich foods like sweet potatoes, bananas, beet greens, spinach, and molasses all help to cleanse + clear the liver. Add a salad or steamed greens to every meal!
Cruciferous veggies – such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and kohlrabi – support both phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification pathways
They also contain a phytonutrient called Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C for short) that specifically helps to eliminate excess estrogens. If you suffer from an estrogen-dominant condition such as endometriosis, PMS, uterine cysts, or fibrocystic breasts, be sure to enjoy at least one serving of cruciferous veggies each day
Other supportive foods include citrus fruits (oranges, tangerines, lemons, and their peels), caraway, dill seeds, turmeric, and rosemary. It’s also important to eat plenty of high-fiber foods to support elimination – fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains are great options.
Herbs for Liver Support
Herbs are a powerful antidote for supporting liver strength & functionality. Most of the herbs that support the liver are very bitter, as this activates the liver to create bile and clear out old waste. Herbs such as turmeric, ginger, milk thistle, dandelion root, and burdock root are all great options for clearing and healing the liver + restoring liver function. Incorporate them into recipes daily or take as herbal bitters before meals.
Milk thistle: the best liver tonic. It boosts glutathione and protects liver cells from damage.
Try: tincture 1-3x per day.
Burdock & dandelion root: both very popular hepatic (liver-supportive) herbs that help to normalize liver function. Burdock & dandelion root can be useful for both detoxification and elimination.
Try: a decoction of 5 g of dried root to each 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, covered, then let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Sip up to 3 cups per day. This also makes for a wonderful alternative to coffee.
Ginger: a carminative herb, ginger is great for improving digestion, relieving gastric upset, and reducing inflammation.
Try: making a lemon and ginger tea with fresh ginger root or grating fresh ginger into culinary dishes or smoothies.
Curcumin: boosts glutathione production and naturally supports detoxification.
Try: 1,200-2,400 mg of extract per day.
Supplements for Liver Support
Liposomal glutathione: glutathione is the liver’s master antioxidant and detoxifying molecule, as mentioned above. Taking it in liposomal form makes it more bioavailable to the liver (meaning more of the molecule can be absorbed and used).
Try: 100-400 mg/day.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC): boosts detoxification by building up glutathione. Low levels are often associated with autoimmune conditions and chronic fatigue.
Try: 250 mg, 3x/day.
Alpha-lipoic acid: supports detoxification by boosting glutathione. It also helps to improve insulin sensitivity.
Try: 300-600 mg/day with food. *Do not exceed 1,000 mg/day or take long-term as it can decrease thyroid hormone.
Magnesium: supports detoxification pathways through the liver as well as the kidneys. It also helps to actively push out toxic metals, such as lead and cadmium.
Try: 400 mg/day.
Selenium: an important anti-inflammatory and detoxifying mineral. It also supports PMS, ovarian cysts, and endometriosis. Like NAC and alpha-lipoic acid, it also boosts glutathione.
Try: 100 mcg/day. *Do not exceed 200 mcg/day from a supplement and food sources combined.
Proper liver function and detoxification are critical in achieving and maintaining hormonal balance. By removing inflammatory and damaging foods, environmental triggers, and chemical exposures, as well as by boosting your liver’s detoxification capability, you can heal from conditions of hormonal imbalance holistically.