We all fall prey to the temptations of cheese plates, succulent meats, sweets and drinks throughout the holiday season. Although we may feel the effects of overindulgence through bloating and excess gas, heartburn and erratic bowel movements, there is one organ that takes the largest toll — the liver.
While maintaining liver health is important all year long, the liver gets hit extra hard during the holiday season. Excessive alcohol and sugar intake can increase liver inflammation and accumulation of fat in the liver, leading to fatty liver disease over time. Key antioxidants such as N-Acetylcysteine and milk thistle can provide strong support in protecting liver health this holiday season and beyond.
The liver is working hard behind the scenes
The liver is the largest solid organ in the body and performs over 500 vital tasks! One of the liver’s major functions is to remove toxins from the blood supply, supporting detoxification and the immune system. As it filters the blood supply, the liver breaks down harmful substances, such as alcohol, drugs, bacteria, and environmental toxins. From a nutritional standpoint, the liver also stores many vital vitamins (A, D, E, K and B12) and works along the pancreas to maintain healthy blood sugar by processing glucose and support digestion.
The supporting role of NAC
N-Acetylcysteine, also known as NAC, is a key amino acid with decades of scientific research to back up its clinical use. NAC supports the liver by increasing levels of glutathione, a powerhouse antioxidant. Glutathione is a critical compound as it helps metabolize toxins, break down free radicals, and support immune function. In fact, NAC is so important to the liver that it is widely known as an antidote to acetaminophen overdose. NAC is similar to vitamin C as they both support the liver by fighting free radical damage. According to American Family Physician journal, NAC supports the body’s antioxidant and nitric oxide systems during stress, infections, toxic assault, and inflammatory conditions. During the holidays it can be easy to overdo it with excess sugar and alcohol, which can be very harmful to the liver. Taking NAC can help reduce that burden by fighting liver inflammation and providing a boost to alcohol metabolism.
The liver breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is toxic to the brain and responsible for hangover symptoms. These symptoms are caused when the liver enzymes and antioxidants attempt to neutralize the alcohol by-products but cannot keep up. NAC can help prevent or reduce these hangover symptoms by giving the body a gentle boost in glutathione and therefore break down acetaldehyde more efficiently.
A little help from Milk Thistle
Extra alcohol consumption isn’t the only thing that stresses the liver. Weight gain and elevated blood sugar puts further pressure on the liver. This can be especially problematic for individuals who are diabetic and have liver inflammation. For over 2,000 years, the extract of milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has been considered therapeutic for liver conditions. One of the active constituents in milk thistle is silymarin and it is used to treat liver inflammation by protecting liver cells, known as hepatocytes. Some conditions milk thistle can provide support for are diabetes, hepatitis, cirrhosis, jaundice, and fatty liver disease.
Research shows that milk thistle is a potent agent against insulin resistance and hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar). In a systematic review and meta-analysis of five different randomized controlled trials including 270 patients, routine silymarin use resulted in a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose levels and HbA1c levels. How silymarin works isn’t fully understood yet but it is known to possess strong antioxidant activity by acting as a free radical scavenger. It prevents glutathione depletion and inhibits liver cell damage by activating antioxidant enzymes that protect DNA from degradation.
Surviving and Thriving in the Season of Plenty
The season of plenty has arrived which also means plenty of stress on the liver. Enjoying delicious food and a couple of drinks with loved ones will not completely derail your health. The body is resilient, and the liver works very hard at detoxifying many substances. We can gently assist it this time of year with nutritional support. Restoring glutathione levels with NAC and increasing antioxidants in the liver with milk thistle can be a great way to support the liver during a time of overindulgence. A healthy functioning liver promotes a healthy functioning body.
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