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The Paleo Diet & Liver Disease

National Liver Awareness Month is an annual designation observed in October. 

The liver is your largest internal organ and is critically important in performing many functions. A healthy liver is responsible for absorbing and filtering everything you put into your body. Your liver also removes and destroys, dead and unhealthy cells, bacteria, parasites and fungi, toxic chemicals and heavy metals which contaminate your food, water and air

Metabolizing fats, carbohydrates, and protein and balancing hormones are other functions performed by the liver. The liver helps oxidize triglycerides to produce energy. It also produces bile which is essential for digesting and absorbing fats in your diet.

The liver ensures blood sugar levels remain constant by removing and storing sugar if blood sugar levels increase and releasing sugar when blood sugar is low. It also converts amino acids in protein for energy production and removes ammonia produced in the process.

It is normal to have fat in the liver. However, if the amount of fat is more than 5-10 percent of the weight of the liver, fatty liver disease is probably present. Fatty Liver Disease can ruin your health, make you overweight, prevent weight loss, trigger diabetes and cause cirrhosis and liver failure. Many illnesses could be reversed simply by improving liver function.

The two main types of fatty liver disease are alcoholic liver disease (caused by heavy alcohol consumption) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), caused by a combination of factors that are both genetic and lifestyle-related

NAFLD may progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) which is associated with inflammation and may result in chronic scarring of the liver and liver cancer. Furthermore, patients with NAFLD have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The prevalence of NAFLD has increased steadily during the last 25-30 years, along with the prevalence of central obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome.

Causes of NAFLD

Many factors contribute to the increase in NAFLD including excess body fat (particularly abdominal fat), a nutrient poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

  • Incorrect diet is the most common cause of increased fat in the liver. This includes a diet:
    • High in refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour, pasta) and processed foods
    • High in sugar from sucrose and high fructose corn syrup
    • Filled with unhealthy fats (including highly processed crop and seed oils, also found in processed and manufactured foods).
    • Low in fresh plant food (fruits and vegetables)
    • Low in nutrients and antioxidants like vitamin C. Diets low in good quality protein.
  • Certain prescription medications taken for long term may have potential side effects on your liver.
  • Recreational drugs, alcohol, tobacco and narcotics.
  • Exposure to environmental toxins including solvents, dyes, plastics, glues, insecticides, pesticides, dry cleaning fluids, harsh detergents and many industrial chemicals.
  • Family history of diabetes, fatty liver or cirrhosis. These increase your risk of developing a fatty liver.
  • Being overweight.

Management of NAFLD

At present, weight loss is the main recommendation for treatment of NAFLD with studies suggesting that weight loss is beneficial. Regular physical exercise may also provide benefits, with or without weight loss and has been shown to be a valid low-cost therapy in patients. (17).

However, in the real world, advising a patient to lose weight is of very limited value and a diet based on caloric restriction only achieves a small amount of weight loss goal. Although the mainstay of therapy for NAFLD is weight loss through dietary modification and lifestyle change, several questions remain. Are some diets better than other? Is every measure that induces weight loss likely to help or does it matter how weight loss is achieved?

The Paleo Diet for NAFLD

There is evidence to support the beneficial effects of a Paleo diet on health.

The Paleo diet eliminates many of the most problematic, modern-day convenience foods that contribute to liver damage. Furthermore, a well-formulated Paleo diet focuses on food quality and source:

Low-quality, animal foods from poorly raised animals can contain numerous toxics, hormones and antibiotics, which is become even more inflammatory by overcooking.

Dairy products, processed grains and sugar carbohydrate foods are also replaced with starchy vegetables and fresh fruit. Foods such as bread, rice, oats and corn are avoided as they provide little available nutrients, along with a high glucose load and a plethora of anti-nutrients which .

Sports drinks, soda, and most juices are replaced with clean, filtered water, herbal tea, bone broth, fresh-pressed vegetable juice and organic coffee.

Foods To Improve Liver Function

  • Raw vegetables and fruits, especially beets, celery, greens, asparagus, berries, citrus and melon
  • Bitter foods, such as dandelion greens, horseradish, herbs
  • foods high in electrolytes (like magnesium and potassium) including leafy greens, bananas, sweet potatoes, squash and avocado
  • Organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised meat and poultry
  • Bone broth
  • Organ meats (like chicken liver or pate)
  • Wild-caught seafood that’s high in omega-3s, especially salmon, mackerel, halibut and sardines
  • Herbs and spices including ginger, parsley and turmeric. You might also want to try including herbal supplements like milk thistle, burdock root and dandelion root which support detoxification

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Variety and balance are key to any anti-inflammatory, healing protocol.

Eat a variety of brightly colored, fresh plant foods (a sign they are high in antioxidants which helps prevent liver inflammation), combined with quality animal products and healthy fats.

By sticking to a Paleo diet that’s very low in synthetic ingredients, allergens and toxins, you place the least amount of stress possible on your liver whilst boosting its ability to detoxify your system.

Dietary & Lifestyle Modification

A Paleo lifestyle offers many benefits to your overall health as well as the health of your liver. When dealing with NAFLD, a few aspects of your Paleo diet and lifestyle that may warrant a little extra attention include:

Carbohydrate Restriction

Most patients with NAFLD are already insulin resistant. This implies that carbohydrate metabolism is already sub-optimal, a situation that has been described as carbohydrate intolerance.

Reducing carbohydrates and combining Paleo and Ketogenic diet principles, you reduce the likelihood that your liver will convert excess energy into fat. You will also reduce insulin, blood sugar, and inflammation levels that would contribute to liver issues.

Focus On Fiber

The healthiest way to get more fiber is by consuming low-carbohydrate vegetables. These are vegetables that tend to grow above-the-ground. They will improve gut health, reduce the absorption of harmful toxins and improve the health of the cells throughout your body.

Foods To Include

Adding these five liver healing foods to your diet can support you in your management of NAFLD to

Oily Fish

Two or more servings of oily fish per week can have a beneficial effect on blood lipids and may reduce liver fat. Wild-caught salmon is one of the healthiest oily fish you can have.

Organic Coffee

Coffee is associated with reduced fibrosis severity in NAFLD.

Nuts

A handful of nuts per day improves liver function tests. Walnuts, in particular, have been found to be one of the healthiest nuts for your liver.

Avocado

Including avocado in your diet c is associated with weight loss and improved liver tests. This is mainly because avocados have a substantial amount of monounsaturated fat, fiber, and antioxidants.

Olive Oil

This popular oil improves liver function and helps with weight loss because it is packed with antioxidants and oleic acid.

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Supplements To Include

These specific supplements that have been found to improve liver health:

Spirulina & Chlorella

Spirulina and chlorella are algae that are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These algae support and enhance immune function and may protect the liver against damage. Spirulina is considered an effective treatment for people with NAFLD.

Betaine

Betaine is a compound that is naturally found in beets and spinach. It is essential for the normal function of the blood, bones, eyes, heart, nerves, and the brain, and it reduces the build-up of fat in the liver.

The best way to supplement with betaine is by eating raw beets or take a trimethylglycine (TMG) supplement.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle contains a compound called silybin. Silybin can reduce fat build up in the liver, and it may even reverse liver damage.

Probiotics

Studies have found that probiotic therapy can help improve liver function and reduce inflammation.

Bifidobacterium longum seems to be the most effective probiotic strain at reducing liver fat, inflammation, and endotoxin levels. Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophilus were helpful in reversing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Limit Alcohol Consumption

Little to no alcohol consumption is best for reversing NAFLD, although light to moderate alcohol consumption may indeed have liver-related benefits in those with or at risk for NAFLD

Exercise Regularly

Any type of exercise and daily movement will support the health of your liver and management of NAFLD. You might consider go for brisk walks throughout the day and do resistance training at least 3 times a week.

There is no need to focus or stress about finding the perfect workout plan. Any exercise is better than no exercise for all aspects of health. Start by doing what you enjoy doing.

Reduce Stress & Optimize Sleep

Chronic stress and lack of sleep can negatively impact your liver and overall health in numerous ways. Research has linked chronic stress to the development and progression of liver disease.

The liver possesses remarkable properties of repair and renewal and it is possible to completely reverse NAFLD if it is detected early enough. Using a Paleo diet and lifestyle as a guide and making small changes and adjustments to specifically support the health of your liver, you can manage and possibly cure this life-threatening, degenerative disease.


Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com

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