1 Drink coffee If you regularly drink alcohol, just one cup of coffee decreases the risk of developing dangerous scarring of the liver by 22 per cent. ‘We don’t know much about why,’ says the study’s author Dr Arthur Klatsky at the Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in California. ‘It’s possible that caffeine or some other ingredient in coffee has an effect at a cellular level to prevent the damage alcohol causes, but we really aren’t sure.’ Still, it goes to show that not everything we think of as sinful is entirely bad.
2 Stimulate an acupressure point ‘In Chinese medicine it’s believed that anger impacts on the liver, triggering a build-up of heat within that impairs its functioning,’ says acupuncturist Ross Barr. He suggests stimulating an acupressure point on your feet – the hollow just between your big and second toes. ‘Apply some pressure with your thumb and feel yourself calm down,’ he says.
3 Sort out your snoring About two per cent of UK women suffer from sleep apnea (where they stop breathing for a few seconds during sleep) and now studies suggest that this lack of oxygen can cause mild liver damage. ‘Women often don’t complain about daytime sleepiness,’ says Marianne Davey from the British Snoring & Sleep Apnea Association. ‘Instead, they say they feel fatigued or that they have insomnia.’ If you have these issues, along with severe snoring, often punctuated by breaks or gasps, and morning headaches, ask your GP for advice on curing the problem.
4 Try the SDP test The Standard Detoxification Profile (SDP) uses urine and saliva samples to determine how your liver is performing. ‘It’s an important test, especially for anyone suffering symptoms of a liver under pressure, such as reduced alcohol tolerance, mood swings or fatigue,’ says Julia Alderman from The Nutrition Coach, which runs liver-focused detox breaks. An SDP test is best taken in conjunction with a nutritionist’s referral.
5 Do an hour’s walking each week Exercise is known to increase the production of liver enzymes and, according to Australian researcher Professor Jacob George at Sydney West Area Health Service, 60 minutes of moderate movement a week, such as walking, is the amount that triggers optimum production.
6 Reduce your carbs Research from Southwestern Medical Center in Texas has found that when you reduce your carb intake, your body burns twice as much fat from your liver as normal. ‘Energy production is expensive for the liver and it appears that for people on a low-carb diet, in order to meet that expense, their livers have to burn extra fat,’ says the study’s author Dr Jeffrey Browning. Great news for liver health, as fat build-up is now recognized as one of the major causes of liver disease.
7 Eat some asparagus Cruciferous varieties of vegetable (such as broccoli and cauliflower) trigger the liver to release higher levels of detoxifying enzymes, and now it’s been found that asparagus helps livers, too. Researchers from the Jeju National University in South Korea found liver cells exposed to alcohol produce up to 70 per cent fewer free radicals in the presence of asparagus, and the stalks double the activity of two alcohol-detoxifying enzymes, alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase.
8 Take zinc Zinc is crucial for liver function, yet many of us are deficient. Veridian Balanced Zinc Complex, £14.55 for 90 capsules (nutricentre.com), contains 15mg of zinc per capsule – the recommended daily amount. Your body also needs enough stomach acid to absorb zinc properly, so try taking zinc in conjunction with Udo’s Choice Digestive Enzyme Blend, £23.98 for 90 capsules, from Holland & Barrett.
9 Take l-glutathione Milk thistle may be the best-known liver-boosting supplement, but the most important is l-glutathione, says nutritionist Dale Pinnock. ‘It’s the precursor your body needs to make detox enzymes,’ he says. ‘If you are low in it, your liver will simply under-perform.’ Try Solgar Maximised L-Glutamine, £40.31 for 90 capsules.
10 Have detox days You know it’s sensible to have a couple of alcohol-free days a week, but may think if you’re not drinking very much each day it doesn’t matter. ‘Every drink damages your liver a little, and if the liver already has an injury, it takes less alcohol the next day to cause the same amount of damage,’ says Dr Rajiv Jalan, a consultant hepatologist at The London Clinic. ‘Drinking on consecutive days is not a case of one plus one equals two. It’s more like one plus one equals five.’ Ideally, take a day’s break between booze bouts.