After the (possible) excesses of December, January is typically the month when people choose to take a break from alcohol, signing up to Dry January, or Love your Liver month. However, while it is understood that alcohol consumption can put the liver under extra strain, do you know just what an incredible organ the liver is? Do you know why we really should be loving our livers? And have you heard of the effect that the gut microbiome can have on liver health?
Some fun facts about the liver:
- it’s the size of a rugby ball
- it weighs approximately 1.8kg in men, 1.3kg in women
- it performs over 500 functions including detoxification, energy production and immune support
- it is the only organ that can regenerate
A closer look at what it does for us
As mentioned above, the liver performs hundreds of jobs in the body. It is the main organ of detoxification, filtering toxins absorbed through the gut, lungs and skin, as well as detoxifying medications, drugs and alcohol. It is for this reason that regular alcohol consumption can put the liver under strain.
The liver is also responsible for the storage, and subsequent release, of glucose for energy. When carbohydrates are consumed, they are broken down to the smallest unit, glucose. Any excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles ready for use at a later time. Glycogen is then converted back to glucose when food supplies are low (between meals or overnight) and released into the bloodstream to provide energy.
The liver also plays an important role in fat digestion and absorption by producing bile acids, which are stored in the gallbladder ready to be released when fats are consumed.
And finally, the liver has a key function in immune support as the storage site of macrophages known as Kupffer cells. These are the primary immune cells of the liver and help defend it from pathogens.
How can gut health affect the liver?
This is a fascinating new area of research, with scientists beginning to understand that the health of the gut and the microbiome can have a direct impact on the health of the liver through what is being called the gut-liver axis.
Studies that have been conducted so far suggest that the microbiome can affect the liver and may be a factor in liver disease. One study showed that bacterial overgrowth was evident in those with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, while others have shown that bacterial imbalance and translocation (pathogenic bacteria moving out of the gut and into the bloodstream through a ‘leaky’ gut wall) was strongly correlated with the severity of cirrhosis.
It is thought that chronic, low-level inflammation caused by gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria) may also play a part in this bi-directional relationship between the gut and the liver.
Given this understanding of the gut-liver axis, reducing alcohol may have double the impact on liver health, as increased alcohol consumption has been shown to contribute to dysbiosis and, in turn, increase the permeability of the gut wall.
How can we love our liver this month?
The British Liver Trust is recommending that for January we pledge to Love our Liver by signing up to one of the following challenges for the month:
1. starting a fitness campaign
2. opting for a healthier, balanced diet
3. cutting out alcohol
Find out more
For suggestions on how to eat to optimise your microbiome – with resulting benefits to liver health as well as digestive health – please visit our previous blog.
Want to know more?
ProVen Probiotics aim to provide the best support for both you and your health. If you wish to know more about gut health and staying healthy please do not hesitate to call us on 01639 825107 or alternatively, learn more via our blogs or in-depth ProVen research.
ProVen Probiotics, Unit 2 Christchurch Road, Baglan Industrial Park, Port Talbot, SA12 7DJ. Tel: 01639 825107