The liver is arguably one of the most important organs of the body, having many important roles in digestion, metabolism and manufacturing countless essential compounds.
In short, the liver is responsible for converting food into tissues; filtering, scanning and identifying toxins and would-be trespassers in the serum and blood, and deactivating or removing them from circulation; producing and secreting bile to break down and digest fatty acids; producing blood-clotting factors and a host of other required chemicals and substances including proteins and cholesterol. The liver converts sugar into glycogen and stores it for use by the muscles and brain in the form of glucose energy, and stores valuable trace elements, minerals and vitamins.
In the realm of digestion, after food is split into digestible components and waste, Ayurveda sees that it moves onto the second stage of digestion in the liver. Here, specific agnis (digestive fires, or enzymes) work on each of the elements—earth, water, fire, air, and ether to release their respective qualities and make them available to the body. From here the first tissue, rasa (serum) is formed, which is seen as the basis of all subsequent tissues. A strong, functional liver is essential to perform this vital refinement and creation process to produce an excellent nutrient and health foundation.
Ayurveda knows the liver as a pitta organ, associated with heat and blood. Around the navel is the chief pitta zone. In addition to the liver, pitta organs include the small intestine, gallbladder, lower stomach, pancreas and spleen.
When the liver is over-worked and exposed to contaminants daily it has less opportunity to filter and remove wastes and perform its countless other tasks, and eventually becomes exhausted. A clogged, stagnant or overheated liver means that all important processes are hampered.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, a compromised liver enables toxins to accumulate, the fore-runner of most disease. Because the liver is a pitta organ, liver disorder indicates a state of pitta imbalance. Imbalance can begin if the flame of pitta dosha burns too high, or if the liver becomes over-heated, then increases pitta dosha. Either way, the rasa, the first produced of the bodily tissues, will be poorly produced and converted into other tissues. This weakens the entire system. Plus, toxins will be produced that enter the blood and incite further inflammatory processes.
Specific symptoms of liver problems can include high blood cholesterol, fatty and enlarged liver, low blood sugar, digestive problems, constipation, chronic fatigue.
Long-term imbalance can create serious liver diseases including jaundice, hepatitis, cirrhosis, and cancer.
Cleanse and Rest the Liver
Bitter substances such as salad greens, parsley, kale, watercress, alfalfa, dandelion greens, celery, rhubarb, aloe vera, saffron, gentian, goldenseal and turmeric root are great liver cleansers. Seaweeds, spirulina, sprouts and wheat and barley grasses are also helpful. Avocado is a great liver rejuvenator.
At meals, pitta types, and damp or overfed kapha types, and mixed pitta-kapha constitutions can do well to routinely commence meals with a salad of bitter greens. Bitter foods and herbs can be made more palatable by cooking them with sweet vegetables such as carrots, potato, or zucchini.
Eat simple foods
Combine fewer foods, such as lightly cooked green beans, celery, zucchini, and parsley; or eat a single vegetable or grain. Rice gruel or Kitchari, a wet meal of rice and dal is Āyurveda’s favourite light, cleansing meal. Kitchari can be used as a simple single meal, or eaten as the sole food for the day, or longer. Soups are also a good option. For oil, use small amounts of ghee.
Fast from Food for a While
Possibly the most effective way to reduce toxins in the liver and system is to fast. In general, Āyurveda supports a regular fast of one day every two weeks as part of a lifestyle routine. Controlled fasting allows the agnis to burn up toxins in the liver, gut and deeper tissues, plus many other benefits. Fasting must be approached in a balanced way, as personal constitutions, needs and tolerance levels differ.
Teas and Herbs
First thing in the morning, powdered bitters such as neem leaves (Azadirachta indica) or gentian (Gentiana lutea) and/or turmeric root (Curcuma longa) provide cleansing benefits. Take one-half teaspoon of each in warm water—but avoid if vāta is elevated. Vāta types can steep mild bitter herbs to drink as tea.
Other beneficial beverages include fresh ginger tea and chamomile tea. And fresh lemon juice or naturally fermented vinegar in tepid water—but pitta types beware as vinegar is heating. Aloe vera gel is cooling, and good for balancing liver function.
Don’t eat late at night.
Ensure sufficient sleep.
Aromatherapy oils including iris and gardenia can support liver function.
Yoga to support the liver includes postures: Siddhayogasana/siddha yoni asana, lotus pose, any bow pose, spinal twist, tortoise and fish.