Fact Checked By Michael Kuefner, PhD (BMS)
August 26, 2021
The short answer…yes! In this article, we’ll break down how the liver can help you lose weight and shave off some excess body fat.
First off, it’s important to realize that one key function of the liver is metabolism – breaking down nutrients from food into substances available for your body in the form of fats, creating energy, can store this energy when necessary, or supply the energy to cells throughout the body.
The liver also produces about 800 to 1,000mL of bile per day.
This olive-colored liquid is collected and eventually transported to a portion of the small intestine and is necessary for the breakdown or absorption of fats.
For this reason, the liver is the major fat-burning organ in our body.
The metabolism properties of the liver aren’t just specific to fats either.
The liver also helps metabolize carbohydrates, specifically by ensuring that your blood glucose levels stay relatively constant.
If blood sugar levels rise too high, like after a meal, the liver will act by removing sugar from the blood and storing it in the form of glycogen.
If levels are too low, the liver can break down this stored glycogen and release it into the blood (1).
Like sugar, the liver can also store vitamins and minerals, and release them into the blood when necessary as well.
However, when liver health isn’t optimal – i.e. it's challenged with high amounts of ‘toxic’ substances such as alcohol or processed foods, excel fat (many times abdominal), along with becoming overweight or obese can result.
This is because as the liver cannot metabolize fat efficiently, too many fats can build up in the liver cells, called hepatocytes.
Likewise, excess fat is largely associated with fatty liver disease – a disease roughly 20% of Americans are afflicted with (2).
Therefore, optimizing your liver health can help lose weight as it improves its efficiency to secrete bile, break down fats, garnish nutrients from foods, and more.
You may want to consider how healthy your liver is in your journey for weight loss, as it’s definitely one key to the puzzle.
So what are some ways to keep the liver healthy, promote weight loss and mitigate liver diseases and ultimately get rid of that excess body fat?
Below, we’ll discuss these methods, which frequently aim to ‘cleanse’ the liver so it can focus on efficient metabolism in the body.
1. Get rid of processed foods, go natural…maybe with some help!
Maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, but quite possibly the best way to improve liver function is to eliminate processed foods from your diet.
Most of these foods contain substances – in the form of preservatives or additives – that require large filtration attention from the liver.
This can compromise liver health and significantly reduce your liver’s ability to complete other metabolic functions, such as bile acid secretion or nutrient storage.
A few particular fruits, vegetables, and other foods (or drinks) appear to have profound benefits for the liver as well. To name a few:
Grapefruit is high in vitamin C and antioxidants, which have potential to mitigate liver stress and protect the hepatocytes from excess fat build-up and inflammation.
In a study done in Japan in 2004, animals given grapefruit juice showed significantly less liver damage compared to those that weren’t drinking the juice (3).
Cruciferous, green vegetables similar to broccoli, such as kale or brussels sprouts, are rich in bioactive compounds known as flavonoids and glucosinolates that have proven benefits for the liver.
In fact, increased broccoli consumption improved fat profiles and decreased liver damage.
Consumption of the leafy green has even decreased the prevalence of liver cancer in rodent models as well (4).
Lastly, many cruciferous greens like broccoli contain another bioactive compound known as isothiocyanates.
A vast amount of evidence for these small, natural compounds exists suggesting that they improve the metabolic efficiency of the liver. They also seemingly aid in the treatment of chronic diseases as well (5)!
Over the past decade or so, tons of research has gone into the hepatic effects of the liver.
While some of these studies are inconclusive, many of them indicate that coffee drinkers have significantly less liver damage compared to those who don’t drink coffee (6).
This benefit may be due to caffeine’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the liver, particularly concerning lowering liver enzyme levels.
Again – when the liver is functioning optimally, natural metabolism and weight loss is a result.
Caffeine (without the sweeteners, of course!) is a viable option for all you coffee drinkers out there if you’re looking to optimize your liver and shed off some fat.
Some liver supplements contain completely natural formulations, many of which are components of the foods or drinks listed above.
These have pre-clinical and clinical evidence for improving liver health – and mitigating liver stress and damage, which can drive the metabolic processes of the liver.
Consider liver supplements with natural compounds like Milk thistle, flavonoids, or beet extracts to name a few.
2. Reduce the alcohol
From a nutritional standpoint, alcohol isn’t exactly the best option for us – it actually might be just the opposite.
At roughly 7 calories per gram on average, alcohol is high in calories and slows the metabolism of fats and other substances quite a bit.
Specifically, the liver always prioritizes getting rid of empty calories first, like alcohol. This means that other important processes, such as breaking down excess fat, will be put on hold (7).
Basically, while the liver is busy getting rid of all that alcohol, excess fat will be going nowhere..except your belly or waist.
One clinical study from 2007 even shows that alcohol consumption is a major contributor to abdominal obesity, at least partially attributed to decreased liver functionality (8).
So eliminating or reducing alcohol intake has a dramatic effect on liver health and weight loss.
The Take-Home Message.
Your liver is one of the most highly metabolic tissues in your body, including metabolism and breakdown of fats, harmful or foreign substances, and more.
If liver health isn’t optimal, its efficiency in carrying out these processes can be compromised, ultimately putting fat metabolism in the bullpen.
To keep the liver healthy and its weight loss capabilities intact, consider the options laid out in this article as some ways to trim your excess fat and keep away from fatty liver diseases!
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