Caring for a Beneficial Giant: Why the Liver is Important to Health
Q: The liver is our largest glandular organ in the body, and is the only one that can regenerate itself. But most people are confused about what the liver actually does. What role does the liver play in the body, exactly?
A: Sometimes called the engine of the body, the liver has many important roles to play in digesting, metabolizing and manufacturing essential compounds. For instance, the liver is responsible for converting clear plasma (Rasa Dhatu) to blood (Rakta Dhatu). It is the liver's job to scan and identify toxins in the Rasa Dhatu and store them so they don't enter the blood. This maintains the purity of the blood by keeping ama, or impurities, from mixing with it.
But that's not all. The liver produces and secretes bile, using it to break down and digest fatty acids; it produces blood-clotting factors and at the same time creates protective elements that keep blood clots from blocking the circulatory system. It converts sugar into glycogen and stores it for use by the muscles in the form of glucose energy; it synthesizes proteins and cholesterol. The liver is also the place the body stores valuable trace elements such as iron, copper and Vitamins A, D and B12.
Q: What are some health problems that can result from an unhealthy liver?
A: Because the liver is the seat of Pitta dosha, Pitta-based problems of skin inflammation can be a direct result of liver imbalance. Let's look at the subtle functions of the liver to understand clearly what can go wrong. The liver is composed of five bhuta agnis — five digestive fires that correspond to the five elements of: earth (prithvi), fire (tejas), water (apu), air (vayu) and space (akasha), each specializing in digesting that particular element in the food. To effectively transform the clear part of plasma (Rasa Dhatu) to blood tissue, these five bhuta agnis must be in balance.
If their flame burns too high, or too low, or burns unevenly, then the Rasa Dhatu will not be properly converted into blood tissue, and toxins will enter the blood. All of these functions are governed by Ranjaka Pitta, and when it goes out of balance, it can affect the blood and skin and result in inflammatory problems such as skin breakouts, acne, cold sores, and skin diseases such as psoriasis.
Also, toxins building up in the liver can result in allergies, high cholesterol, hypoglycemia, constipation, digestive problems, or fatigue. If the imbalance continues for a long time, serious diseases of the liver, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, jaundice and cancer, could develop.
Q: No wonder liver health is so important to well being. What kinds of therapies does Maharishi Ayurveda offer for liver health and function?
A: Maharishi Ayurveda has recognized that with so many vital bodily functions resting on the liver, it's highly important to make sure this vital organ is healthy. Recently, Maharishi Ayurveda has developed an entirely new product for balancing the liver, called Liver Balance. Liver Balance stimulates cleansing of the liver to flush out undigested impurities that block the assimilation of nutrients; clears the channels for toxins to flow out; and improves the first step of digestion and metabolism, which breaks down food in the stomach and small intestine.
This product also supports balanced digestion by enhancing the five bhuta agnis, and enhances the intelligence of the liver (Ranjaka Pitta) so it produces healthy blood cells, bile, and nutritional fluids.
Q: How is Liver Balance different from other Maharishi Ayurveda herbal formulas for the liver?
A: Cleansing formulas such as Elim-Tox and Elim-Tox-O are still important ways to support the liver. This formula is more targeted for liver health and function, and it also focuses more on balancing the five bhuta agnis. Liver Balance is especially helpful for keeping the bhuta agnis in balance even if a person has an imbalance in Ranjaka Pitta, or if they have a low agni or digestive fire.
When the liver is cleansed and the intelligence of the liver is restored, the blood itself becomes more intelligent, and is free of toxins. This results in greater mental and physical strength, better oxygen flow and an allergy-free, more powerful immune system.
Q: What are some of the ingredients contained in Liver Balance?
A: There are 19 ayurvedic herbs contained in this formula, and they work together in a synergistic manner to create an effect that is far more powerful and also more balanced than the effect created by individual herbs. This is the beauty of ayurvedic formulas.
Certain herbs in the formula have been the subjects of research studies. For instance, Phyllanthus is known to be a powerful antidote to Hepatitis B, Indian Tinospora has produced excellent results in treating jaundice, and Picrorhiza has been found to support the liver on a daily basis and to shield it from infectious viruses.
Q: Are there any dietary and lifestyle tips for keeping the liver in balance?
A: First, avoid toxins in your food. Eat organic, freshly-cooked foods. If you eat foods that are laced with preservatives and chemicals, or that are processed or left over, you're just making your liver work overtime to filter out the toxins. Eventually that's going to tax the health of your liver.
Also avoid toxic foods such as alcohol (which is well-proven to be the cause of cirrhosis of the liver, but even in small doses should be strictly avoided by people of Pitta constitution). Stay away from cigarette smoke, air pollution and exposure to commercial household cleansers and other toxic substances. These are all taxing to the liver. In general, drink lots of water to flush out toxins, but be sure it is pure water.
One of the best ways to prevent liver imbalance is to keep Pitta dosha in balance. Eat a Pitta-pacifying diet in summer, favoring cooling foods such as sweet, bitter and astringent tastes. These include sweet, juicy fruits, summer squashes, cooked greens, sweet milk products, lassi, and grains. Avoid sour or fermented foods such as vinegar, pungent foods such as chilies, and salty foods. If you have a lot of Pitta in your basic constitution, then favor this diet all year round. Start the day with a stewed apple or pear, to set the metabolism and cleanse the liver. Just eating a sweet, juicy pear every day can go a long way to soothing Pitta dosha and cleansing the liver.
Q: Are there any lifestyle tips for helping the liver?
A: Yes. Be careful not to skip or delay meals, especially if you are trying to balance Pitta or have a sharp appetite. In the evening, retire early, well before 10:00, as you want to be sleeping before the Pitta time of evening starts (from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.). If you are awake during this time, you'll only increase Pitta dosha and prevent the liver from performing its necessary cleansing and resting functions during the night. Also, lack of sleep has been shown to throw off metabolism of glucose, resulting in weight gain. It also has been linked to an increase in anger. Both of these symptoms point to a liver imbalance caused by lack of sleep.
Avoid situations that cause conflict or anger. Avoid pressure situations on the job. Practice the Transcendental Meditation® program regularly to reduce mental ama, and to prevent stress and strain of daily life from taking its toll on your liver. After all, negative emotions create powerful hormones that flood your liver with toxins. If you take care of your liver, you will enjoy more energy, clearer skin and stronger immunity all through the year.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.