Our liver works hard for us, but we often don't return the favor. We often ignore it, until we have no choice but to pay attention. We seem to notice it when something serious happens, when there's a diagnosis of a fatty liver, cirrhosis, or cancer. But it's important to discuss the regular self-care the liver needs - before a crisis situation.
The liver, located on the right side of your mid-torso, has a left and right lobe. You can touch your liver if you palpate just under your right rib cage. The gallbladder is located at the right lobe and stores the bile secreted by the liver to support healthy digestion.
So what kind of magic does the liver do for our bodies?
Detoxification. The liver serves as the body's filtration system. When eating, our body breaks down the food which then travel into the blood stream and then to the liver for further purification and filtering. Those toxins can be present in the waste created inside of us (i.e. ammonia), or in what we put inside of our bodies - including alcohol, prescription and recreational drugs.
Metabolism. Our liver metabolizes carbohydrates, fats and proteins while producing bile, needed for digestion. It transforms more complex substances to usable molecules. It regulates and stores glycogen, our main source of energy.
Nutrient Storage Center. In addition to glycogens, the liver also stores vitamins (A, D, E, and K), making these sources of energy and nutrients available when needed. So if you're constantly tired, you may need to take a look at your liver. If you're low in Vitamin D, your liver may also need a little care.
The list doesn't stop there. There are at least 500 known functions of the liver. Other roles include helping in hormone creation, regulation of pH levels, regeneration of red blood cells, regulating blood volume and blood pressure.
Ayurvedic Understanding of the Liver
From an Ayurvedic perspective, the liver is fiery, illustrating the connection between the liver, agni (the fire principle), pitta dosha, and the force of transformation and metabolism. Emotionally, it plays an important role in processing emotions—particularly those that are closely aligned with the liver. On the healthy side, it is associated with a powerful will, courage, and enthusiasm. However, it is also a home for anger, resentment, jealousy, and excessive intensity. If the liver is struggling, it can be challenging to process and release these emotions. Conversely, pent up anger and resentment can also damage the liver. Because of the intimate connection between the liver and the fire element, we have to be especially mindful of proper liver care in the heat of the summer.
Self-Care for the Liver*
Here are a few suggestions for ongoing liver self-care:
1. Morning lemon water. Use 1/2 lemon with 1 cup of warm water. Lemon water supports bile production, provides a source of antioxidants and supports liver detox.
2. Especially during the summer, use spices such as coriander, fresh cilantro, fennel and mint in your meals.
3. Eat plentiful amount of dark leafy greens, especially in the summer. For those with any digestive challenges, emphasized cooked greens, not raw.
4. During the summer heat, be outdoors more during the morning and evening rather than mid-day.
5. Take two triphala capsules daily or take 1/2 teaspoon of triphala with 1/2 cup warm or room temperature water. Triphala has a long list of health benefits, but it also purifies the liver.
6. Drink 1/4 cup aloe juice daily. To make the aloe even more potent, grow your own aloe plant and make your own freshly harvested aloe.
7. Try these hatha yoga poses to strengthen your liver: boat pose, bridge pose, downward dog, spinal twists, and triangle pose. Daily practice of these poses is ideal.
Imbalances in the liver can often be exacerbated by excessive intensity. For those who have that excess fire, they can easily ignore their basic bodily needs in favor of accomplishing their goals. So just the act of slowing down and practicing self-care supports your liver to heal and ultimately, your entire body and mind.
Note: Ayurveda is ultimately a process that requires attunement with each individual's unique challenges. For a more individualized treatment program for the liver, it's best to consult an Ayurvedic clinician.