Well Womens Guide to The Liver and Kidneys

I have decided to do a page about the liver and kidneys as I feel they are relevant in thyroid disease and possibly other autoimmune diseases due to the fact that those suffering do not always have perfect function.

A lot can be done to maximise these very important organs and they should be cherished and treated with the respect they deserve.

For example, when your liver is not functioning perfectly, then neither will the rest of you. Your skin will be dingy and spotty and prone to boils, since the liver cleanses the blood and toxins will be dumped in the skin. Also if the liver is not functioning sufficiently, it can trigger facial hair, since the liver is also reponsible for hormone balance. Synthetic hormones can be responsible for this and also for weight gain because they accumulate in the body and cause more pressure on liver function.

Stress also affects liver function.

Where is the Liver?

It is located on the right hand side just under the ribs and diaphragm and is a dark reddish brown colour. It is the largest gland and the largest organ.

It has somewhere in the region of 500 functions and holds about a pint of your body's total blood supply at any one time. It's main functions are to get rid of toxins, regulate blood sugar levels and produce bile. It's blood supply comes from the large blood vessel called the portal vein which delivers nutrient-rich blood from the small intestine to the biliary tract.

It has two main lobes. The right lobe is the largest by far. But the lobes are divided further into over 100,000 smaller lobes known as "Lobules"

The livers tissue in made up mainly of hepatic cells called hepatocytes, and these make up around 60 per cent of it's tissue. These remove toxins and harmful chemicals from the blood as well as absorbing nutrients. They carry out more chemical processes than any other cells in the body such as: converting sugars and storing and releasing them as needed by the body. This process is part of regulating blood sugar levels, breaking down fats, producing cholesterol and removing ammonia from your body, and also producing blood proteins, including blood clotting factors.

Two-thirds of the body of your liver is the parenchyma, which contains the hepatocytes, and the rest is the biliary tract which receives the blood supply from the portal vein.

We do not realise the "work" that is going on inside our body and it is only when something goes wrong that we even think about it. One of my relatives, not much older than me, has just found out she has cancer of the liver. She has never consumed alcohol or smoked. It has been diagnosed late, even though she reported pain in her side and back, it was not picked up by doctors. It has now spread to her spinal cord. She is on anti cancer drugs and is currently very sick and of course deeply upset that it was not picked up a lot sooner.

What else does the liver do?

The hepatic cells in the liver detoxify, neutralize and remove dangerous substances such as alcohol, drugs and medications and other toxic substances. It also produces bile which breaks down fats from the foods we consume.

The liver also controls fats, amino acids and glucose in the blood as well as processing digested foods and turning them into energy. Carbohydrates from foods like pasta and rice etc are stored in the liver as glycogen and when our body urgently needs it, the liver cleverly converts the glycogen back into energy ready to be used as required.

It also fights infection and clears the blood of bacteria and other infections by mobilising a part of the body's defence mechanism called the Macrophage system as the liver contains over half our supply of macrophages which are called Kuppfer cells. These destroy more than half of the bacteria they meet. They also remove damaged red blood cells and destroy microbes and cell debris.

When the liver is damaged many of it's abilities are also damaged including it's defence system and infection fighting ability as well as it's ability to control glucose concentration in the blood. This means that those with liver damage need a regular sugar supply.

The liver is also like a warehouse and stores vitamins such as vitamin D and iron and other minerals as well as other chemicals needed by the body.

It produces enzymes and proteins which are responsible for most chemical reactions in the body like those involved in the blood clotting process and for repairing damaged tissues. It manufactures, breaks down and regulates many hormones including the sex hormones.

It also assists the kidneys in removing waste products.

What can go wrong?

There are many types of liver disease and the liver can be damaged by such things as recreational drugs and prescription and over the counter medicines, like a paracetemol overdose and toxic substances, alcohol, and other chemical poisoning.

It can also be damaged by autoimmune attack or reaction such as autoimmune hepatitis (AIH), and Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC)

Congenital damage and metabolic damage also cause liver disease of which there are over a hundred different types, caused by a variety of things other than those named here.

Jaundice is a sign of a damaged liver and the signs of this is yellowing of the eyes and skin, pale stools and dark urine. This is caused by bilirubin which is a product of red blood cells building up in your blood. The other symptoms of jaundice in addition to the obvious yellowing are sickness and vomitting, exteme tiredness, itchy dry skin, sleepiness.

It can also be caused by gallstones blocking the bile duct. (obstructive jaundice) and an ultrasound scan will determine the cause of the blockage.

Blood tests are the main diagnostic tool for detecting liver disease although, depending on the suspicions of the consultant, other procedures may be used such as Laparoscopy, ultrasound scanning, MRI and CT scans, biopsies, special X-rays, MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography) and other tests. Usually blood tests will be combined with other diagnostic tests.

Liver Cancer

Cancer is caused by damage to normal body cells. They then get out of control and instead of dying they multiply and spread and form a lump (tumour)

The site where cancer starts is the primary site and the areas where cancer spreads to are the secondary sites.

Primary liver cancer is quite rare. Secondary liver cancer is more common and this is caused because cancer has spread from somewhere else in the body via the bloodstream and because blood is filtered through the liver, the cancer has then infected the liver. The most common primary areas for cancer to spread from to the liver are the breast, lymph glands, bowel, pancreas, stomach, lungs and womb.

The liver is often stretched to beyond capacity and most peoples liver's today only work at 35 40 per cent due to the large amount of toxins present in our food and environment. This means that it's ability to clean the blood is limited.

Typical symptoms of insufficient liver function are: nausea after eating, skin disorders such as eczema, acne, psoriasis, regular infections, digestion problems, increased sensitivity to smells such as perfume, petrol and other chemicals, even constipation can be due to poor liver function. Memory loss Parkinsons disease and Alzheimers disease can sometimes be attributed to poor liver function due to it's limited capability in detoxifying the blood of dangerous toxins.

Also your diet needs to be good for optimum liver function as the blood containing nutrients goes directly to the liver for filtering. This is why food should be organic in order to minimise the risk of the accumulation of toxins from pesticides and other additives.

A poor diet, low in nutrients, high in fat and sugar and possibly high in alcohol consumption and a digestive system with poor intestinal flora only serve to overwork the liver.

Likewise large amounts of chemicals on a daily basis applied to the body will overwork the liver and plastics and pesticides as well as parabens have an oestrogenic effect on the body. Pleasse see my Warnings page Household chemicals page and the Food additives page for much more information.

Bear in mind that all hormone related cancers are on the increase, such as breast, ovarian, testicular and prostate.

The list of chemicals in our environment is unlimited and endless so we need to cut our risks.

How can I help my Liver?

Throughout this site you will find many ways of cutting down on toxins, so there really is no excuse

1. Avoid excess alcohol, especially binge drinking which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver

2. Use organic food as much as possible. Cut down your exposure to pesticides sprayed on vegetables and crops used to make many foods. Increase all organic fruits and vegetables especially peppers, watercress, rocket, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, grapes and berries, cherries, pears, brussels sprouts, beetroot, avocado, spinach in fact most fruits and vegetables with the exception of grapefruit (see below). Go raw as much as possible. Particularly good for the liver raw is spinach, tomatoes asparagus and avocado.

3. Wash non organic fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Use 3 per cent food grade hydrogen peroxide to do this which is a natural element.

4. Reduce meat as protein from meat gives the liver more work. Vegetable protein is fine. Avoid heavy rich foods

5. Avoid hydrogenated fats, animal fats, and saturated fats which put a strain on the liver. Increase EFA's such as flaxseed oil, evening primrose, oil, rosa Mosqueta, fish oils, hemp oil as these are beneficial to the liver and needed by it. Avoid fried foods and do not combine alcohol with fried foods especially

6. Melted cheese , being a protein, is another protein source which puts a strain on the liver as do eggs, so cut down as much as possible to maybe once or twice a week.

7. Grapefruit slows liver detoxification. So cut it right down. If you are trying to detox, don't have any grapefruit at all Take care with some medication as when combined with grapefruit, become more concentrated (simvastatin) and others.

8. Paracetemol, asprin in fact, almost all medication overwork the liver.

9. Caffeine drinks such as cola's, tea and coffee also put a starin on your liver. Try herbal teas instead and of course water is excellent for flushing out the system.

10. The use of Lecithin is beneficial as it helps digest fats.

11. Use curcumin as it benefits the liver by raising glutathione production (an essential amino acid nutrient that is an antioxidant and detoxifier)and can be purchased in capsule form.

12. Milk thistle is the best herb for the liver and supports liver function by promoting cell regeneration and increasing glutathione. Milk thistle can repair liver damage from alcohol and is supportive in the treatment of liver disease. You need a high strength formula. Milk thistle will help support the liver when prescritption drugs are regularly used. Black seed oil (Nigella Sativa) improves liver function and was acclaimed by The Prophet Mohammed to "cure every disease except for death"!!!!!

13. Alpha lipoic acid and N-acetyl cysteine when taken with vitamin C (food state like camu camu, not synthetic) can help in the production of glutathione in the liver. Please click here to read about ALA or MSM is needed by the liver due to the sulphur content. Foods containing sulphur include onions, garlic, rocket, watercress, cabbage, kale and broccoli.

15. Take 300 mg each of choline and inositol which support liver performance by helping to prevent fat build up and l-methionine which supports the liver and aids in detoxification. Magnesium beneits the liver

16. Stop smoking.

17. Do not use air fresheners unless they are made only of pure essential oils.(organic where possible) They pollute your home as they are full of chemicals. Remember: Be aware of what you are spraying in your home and the chemicals in it, which you are then breathing in causing problems in your body

18. Use water filters and fit chlorine filters to shower heads and under sinks.

It is not a case of completely avoiding everything dangerous in your life. You can't realistically do this unless of course you live in an area with completely pure fresh air where no pesticides or traffic ever go and eat chemical free foods, never use dangerous household products or use chemical laden skincare, deoderants and bath products, are stress free, don't ever drink or smoke, have a perfect diet and or eat only raw foods etc etc. None of us can be this perfect!! But we need to be aware of our bodys, our organs and how they work and how they can become diseased.

We need to have great respect for our body and treat it like a temple.

The Kidneys

Like our liver, our kidneys should also be treated with "kid" gloves. They are responsible for so much within our body and without them, we would not survive. (although you can live with one)

Other organs can not function well without them if they are damaged in any way such as by disease or injury. Waste products are removed from blood plasma and excreted as urine. In fact they process about 800 pints of blood a day received via the renal artery removing around 8 pints of waste (urea) from our food and excess water. Once the waste is filtered it flows aided by muscular contraction through long tubes just under a foot long called ureters to your bladder, roughly every ten to fifteen seconds, where it is stored until we pass it as urine. Nerves in the bladder tell us when to urinate and a signal from the brain tells the bladder muscles to tighten thus expelling the urine. A healthy bladder can hold as much as 2 cups of urine for as long as 5 hours.

The filtering process is done by nephrons within the kidneys and each kidney has around a million nephrons. The kidneys are so clever, they can sort out and measure certain chemicals that the body needs such as sodium, phosphorus, and potassium and release them back to the blood via the renal vein. The filtration system is complicated involving many processes. See this website called How stuff works for lots more information on the process.

The kidneys also stimulate the production of red blood cells.

They also maintain the acid/alkaline balance within the blood. If the waste products built up in our blood instead of being filtered by the kidneys, we would become very ill.

When urine stays still within the tubes or even reverses up the tube, a kidney infection can occur.

The urinary system works in conjunction with the lungs, digestive system and skin.

Each kidney is about the size of your fist and they lie in the middle of your back, just below the ribcage and are shaped like a bean. Illnesses like high blood pressure (hypertension) affect them as do toxins and smokers kidneys function less efficiently than non-smokers as cadmium, a poison from cigarette smoke is a major threat to the kidneys. Like the liver, when the kidneys have to work harder to remove toxins, they inevitably weaken under the strain.

What can go wrong?

As we age, the structure of the kidney changes causing it to be less efficient in removing waste products.

However at any age problems can occur.

Poor diet, low in nutritional value causes kidney stones which damage the delicate tubes, are produced in the kidneys and are usually made of calcium and uric acid. They can lodge in other parts of the urinary system causing extremely severe pain depending on their size. They can damage the urinary system. (men are more prone)

Vegetarians are less likely to develope kidney stones and those that are big meat eaters are more likely. Those who have high homocysteine levels are also more likely to suffer from kidney stones.

Persistent lower back pain in the kidney region or passing blood in urine should be reported to your doctor at once to determine whether you have a kidney infection or kidney stones.

Do not underestimate kidney infections as repeated infections can damage the kidneys and/or urinary tract. See also my cystitis page

Cystitis can other kidney infections can cause inflammation which can damage the urinary system and cause scarring. (women are more prone)

Drugs, poisons and injury can cause acute renal failure which happens when the kidneys can no longer regulate chemicals in the blood or remove waste and can lead to permanent loss of kidney function.

What colour should healthy urine be?

Healthy urine should be a pale yellow colour.

Abnormal Urine colours

Many things can affect the colour of urine.

Clear Urine

Many people think that clear urine is the correct colour, but it is not. If you have been drinking lots of water or diuretics such as tea, coffee or beer, your urine may have little or no colour. It is generally nothing to worry about if it happens from time to time.

Yellow Urine

Excessive sweating may cause urine to be a deeper yellow. It can also, be a sign that you have not been drinking enough liquids.

Dark yellow urine

Liver problems or jaundice can cause the urine to become a consistently dark yellow colour. However, make sure you are drinking enough fluids before assuming this is the case.

Orange Urine

Eating too many carrots--like from a juicer--may see orange urine. Also, too much Vitamin C can turn the urine orange.

Brown Urine

Brown urine can an indication of a serious condition, such as liver disease, hepatitis, melanoma cancer, or copper poisoning. Other symptoms from those ailments should also be considered as indicators. Note though, that fava beans or the taking of laxatives, could also turn the urine brown.

Greeny Urine

A urinary tract infection, bile problems and certain drugs can cause the urine to turn greenish. A brighter green colour is an indication of an excess of B vitamins.

Blue Urine

Strangely enough, urine with a bluish tint can be caused by a psuedomonas bacterial infection. It can also be an indication of high calcium levels.

Red Urine or Urine with a reddish tint

Even a tiny amount of blood in the urine can give it a red tint. Occasionally droplets of blood can be seen. A bladder infection, kidney or bladder stones can result in urine with a red tint. Also, a slight injury to the bladder or kidney can result in bleeding into the urine.

If you think you may have blood in your urine, it is best to see your doctor to check the reason.

Food can also turn urine red. Beetroot is one of the main offenders in this case. Food with artificial colours can also turn urine red.

Acidic urine will become red after eating blackberries and alkaline urine will look reddish after eating rhubarb. Acid or alkaline urine is usually determined by other foods you have eaten.

Lead or mercury poisoning can turn the urine reddish. so if you think you may have consumed either of these and your urine appears red, then see your doctor as soon as possible.

Generally if your urine is a strange colour, and you have not been eating foods or taking medication that could affect it, then see your GP.

Similarly if your urine has a strong or offensive smell, this could indicate infection or disease.

The colour of urine can determine the general state of your health as your kidneys process liquids from food and drink and the resulting urine is made up of water and dissolved waste matter. Certain urine colours can indicate problems, diseases or imbalances in your diet, especially if they are persistant.

What can help my kidneys

1. If you suffer or have ever suffered from kidney stones you need to reduce foods containing oxalic acid such as: chocolate, tea, beetroot, grapefruit, oranges, strawberries, spinach, cocoa, rhubarb, chard, and gooseberries.

2. Red meat is not particularly beneficial for the kidneys and neither is sugar, dairy products which all form acid.

3. Sugar is probably the worst thing for the kidneys as it causes the release of insulin and this causes calcium secretion in urine increasing the risk of kidney stones. Sodium based salt is also bad for the kidneys due to hypertension so change to potassium based or celtic sea salt

4. Drink plenty of water and cranberry juice.

5. Improve your diet by cutting out junk food like carbonated drinks.

6. Black cherries help remove uric acid crystals from the body.

7. Carrot, celery and parley juice smoothies are good for kidney cleansing, although celery does contain some oxalic acid it also contains potassium.

Magnesium benefits the kidneys as does calcium

organic Backstrap Molasses has a high mineral content beneficial to the kidneys and liver also manuka honey.

Increase organic unrefined flaxseed oil, hemp oil, olive oil and efa's in your diet

Once again, lecithin is beneficial by emulsifying fats and protecting the kidneys.

Ionic minerals are beneficial to the kidneys because of their high mineral content.

Choline and methionine are also good for the kidneys as is l-lysine which helps decrease urinary calcium.

Nettle tea is good for the kidneys.

For more about cystitis, please visit the cystitis page

Much of the advice on this page has been adapted from 500 of the most important health tips you'll ever need by Hazel Courteney An A-Z of alternative health hints to help over 200 conditions. An excellent book and a must have on your book shelf.

To see books about the liver and kidneys please click here

To read about the Endocrine System please click here

To read about Cystitis please click here

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