Fact Checked By Michael Kuefner, PhD (BMS)
August 18, 2021
The Relationship Between Liver Health and Insulin Signaling: A Not-So-Surprising Loop that can be Detrimental to Your Health
Liver diseases have been continuously rising for decades now, at least partially due to ‘Westernized’ diets high in saturated fats and carbohydrates.
Over 25% of individuals in the United States have some form of liver complications, and the presence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in western countries alone is between 20-30% (1).
The most common of these liver complications include the following (2).
Liver health is important for the entire body.
It regulates digestion and absorption of nutrients in our gut through bile acid formation, aids in the regulation of hormones throughout our body, and is the major organ for drug metabolism in our body as well.
Over the last couple decades, tons of research have also shed light on the relationship between liver health and heart health.
A two-way street exists between liver and cardiovascular health- specifically, liver damage or complications can dramatically improve your risk for developing chronic high blood pressure, heart diseases, cardiac arrhythmias, or, at worst – stroke or heart attacks (3,4).
One of the other main disease associations with liver complications, such as NAFLD?
A disease rapidly increasing in prevalence since the 1980’s that affects over 400 million people across the world.
In 2019 alone, an estimated 1.5 million deaths were caused directly by diabetes (5).
Interestingly, fatty liver disease and diabetes share a common theme.
Insulin Resistance. Insulin is a hormone secreted by your pancreas in response to a meal, which allows us to get rid of glucose in our blood by transporting it to other tissues.
With fatty liver disease or in diabetic patients, the body (and tissues insulin normally works with to transport glucose to) becomes resistant to the effects of insulin.
What happens with systematic insulin resistance?
Well, first and foremost the body requires much more insulin production by the pancreas in order to get rid of all the glucose in our blood.
But if the pancreas can’t keep up, then high blood glucose can result, and this brings with it a number of other complications.
Kidney failure, Heart attacks, and even lower limb amputations to name a few (5).
A vicious circle seems to exist with liver health and the progression of diabetes, as fatty liver diseases can lead to type 2 diabetes, which can then further progress liver damage and disease.
Ultimately, an endless detrimental loop between your liver and blood glucose can result if health isn’t a priority.
The good thing is that a number of supplements used to treat liver health or protect the liver from damage or complications share similar benefits on insulin signaling, diabetes, and blood glucose.
And that’s what we’ll be discussing in the rest of this text – some of the best, natural substances to take for liver health and protection and/or treatment from diabetes and blood glucose complications.
1. Beetroot Juice
Beetroot and beetroot juices have long been used to boost anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in the liver, most notably due to the high number of dietary nitrates present in the plant.
Over the last decade, a substantial amount of clinical and pre-clinical research has also shown that beetroot juices improve glycemia in diabetic patients too.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Sciences found that beetroot juice supplementation significantly reduced blood glucose levels in patients after a meal, along with reducing insulin levels as well (6).
The authors attributed this benefit primarily to nitrates and neobetanin, another compound present in beetroot juice.
A review on the functions of beetroot juice in the treatment of high blood glucose and diabetes was recently published in the Journal of Nutritional Metabolism as well.
The article discusses at-length the benefits of the natural root vegetable as a cost-effective strategy with potential in controlling diabetes, blood pressure, and much more (7).
If you are looking for a good supplement for liver health, you may want to check the ingredients to see if it includes beetroot.
Not only can it protect your liver with antioxidant properties, but it controls glucose levels as well.
2. Artichoke Leaf Extract
Artichoke leaf extract is another natural substance commonly found in liver support supplements.
This is primarily due to clinical research which showed that the extract reduced total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein-Cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in patients after supplementation for 2 months.
These lipid-lowering effects are huge improvements for fatty liver disease patients (8).
On the other hand, for diabetes, artichoke leaf extract was recently found to improve (reduce) blood glucose after a meal in diabetic patients after supplementation.
In normal, non-diabetic patients, artichoke extract also improved the insulin response as well (9).
Altogether, this is another natural ingredient that has numerous benefits – it can lower cholesterol and lipid levels in the liver, improves bile acid production by the liver to alleviate digestive issues, and enhances glucose clearance out of the blood as well.
3. Yarrow flower (Achillea millefolium)
The yarrow flower may reduce liver inflammation and treat NAFLD, which is why this little guy has been used as a traditional medication as a liver-support agent for decades (10).
Yarrow flowers have often been used as a hypoglycemic (blood glucose-lowering) supplement for diabetics as well.
While studies are not entirely clear on why the flower provides this anti-diabetic effect, pre-clinical research indicates that it may be because the flower increases the expression of some anti-inflammatory factors that may have deleterious effects on insulin production.
The flower may also preserve pancreatic β-cell function, which are the cells that make insulin in our body (11).
Some concluding remarks – get the best bang for your buck and keep your liver AND glucose levels in good health.
Using a natural supplement to protect the health of your liver and decrease your risk for diabetes and blood glucose complications can be quite easy for you, especially since some overlap exists.
When searching for a supplement, check out the ingredients for beetroot juice, artichoke leaf extract, and/or yarrow flower to name a few.
If these compounds are included, your liver won’t be the only one thanking you, but your heart and pancreas too!
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