There’s a place in Silverton, Colorado, that sells bumper stickers and other paraphernalia that read: “The Liver is Evil and Must Be Punished”. In the art of “pairing” what goes better with spring skiing than drinking? Not much. In the West, where seasons seem to be changing, April and May can actually nurse some pretty astronomical skiing (despite your local ski area closing the weekend before a huge storm). And daylight savings plus beers-in-the-sun-in-ski-boots is an excellent combination. Problem is, with each additional shot of Jägermeister, your liver takes a beating worse than a novice skinny skier on a powder day.
Reader meet your liver, liver say hello to the bastard that’s been subjecting you to the hours of aggressive beer-fest cocktailing that have made you work over time. We’ll leave you two alone. (Right now the liver is shouting, “You demanding, egotistical ass—did you need ANOTHER shot after the 7 beers? I’ll show you evil!). Meanwhile, let’s get a little background on what alcohol actually does to the liver and the foods you can start eating to lighten it’s load before it walks off the job.
Located in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen, the liver is considered the waste treatment site of the body. Of the hundreds of tasks it performs, the main goal is to transform compounds such as alcohol, hormones, neurotransmitters, bacteria, drugs, pesticides, environmental toxins and more, into water-soluble compounds that can then be eliminated as urine by the kidneys, as sweat by our sweat glands, or into fecal matter.
When you’re raising your glass at the annual end of the year funeral most ski areas have, here’s what’s going on in your liver. First off, alcohol, unlike food, requires no time for digestion so it is quickly absorbed and processed. It cuts in line in front of other compounds that also need to be processed by the liver, specifically fats, which are the liver’s fuel. Hence fat accumulates and can cause weight gain, elevated triglycerides, and long-term, system wide health effects like depression, kidney malfunction, infertility, cancer, arthritis and more. Energy pathways falter, vitamins— namely the B’s— are depleted, and brain cells die. And, not to keep pissing on the drinking parade, but the bugger is really for the ladies, who naturally have lower levels of the enzyme needed to break down alcohol, and absorb about one-third more alcohol than men who drink the same amount.
Now the good news. When you’re walking to the car after skiing that monster spring line, thinking about pounding that PBR and you can see bits of dandelions starting to poke their heads up, that’s nature’s sign that it’s time to cleanse the liver. Or, at the very least, give it some love. Not punishment. And while you might not want to take supporting your liver to the extreme of a three-week cleanse where you shun all alcohol, there are a few specific foods and herbal compounds you can use to help balance the battering— dandelions being one of them.
Dandelion roots and leaves (don’t mow these from your lawn, pick them and either eat them in salads or juice them) top the list of superior foods for the liver. Dandelion helps stimulate the gallbladder into releasing bile, which is a dark greenish brown fluid that aids the digestion of fats in the small intestine. Like those fats that got pushed aside while alcohol rushed to the front of the line. Dandelions also contain a number of vitamins that are especially beneficial to the liver and gallbladder, namely vitamin C.
Also in the herb world, studies on milk thistle, along with its flavonoid called silymarin, have shown that it prevents damage to liver by acting as an antioxidant, increasing the synthesis of glutathione, and by increasing the rate of liver tissue regeneration. Milk thistle can be enjoyed in a tea or tincture form.
On to liver-loving foods: There are essentially two phases of liver detoxification that occur, and specific nutrients are required for each. The most important antioxidant for neutralizing the free radicals produced by phase 1 detoxification is an amino called glutathione. Glutathione is available through two routes: diet and synthesis within the body. According to the National Cancer Institute, asparagus (funny, those also are in season in spring), tomatoes, spinach, and carrots have the highest glutathione content. The latter three are an excellent addition to any sandwich (grate the carrots), while a light sauté in garlic is enough for asparagus to shine.
Meanwhile beets (please don’t groan, your liver is listening) are a good source of phytonutrients called betalains. The betalains from beets have been shown to provide detoxification support of some especially important phase two detox steps involving glutathione. It’s also worth mentioning that beets are a good source of folate, one of the B vitamins that are depleted during alcohol metabolism. Beets have come along way in their culinary applications— so just like neon, give them another shot. (See recipe below).
Finally, the solution to pollution is dilution. Drink water. At least half your body weight in ounces, every day. Coffee doesn’t count. This is the bare minimum the body needs to accomplish its metabolic functions. Avoid the wrath of your scorned liver, and enjoy spring in all its detoxification promoting glory. Drink up.
Purple Velvet Torte
2 ½ cups grated beets
1 cup raw honey, maple syrup, and touch molasses mixture
4 organic eggs
½ cup grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ cup cocoa powder
½ teaspoon Celtic sea salt
In a medium saucepan, heat the beets and honey mix to a boil, then cover. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, until beets are soft, Transfer beet-honey mixture to a Vitamix (or other high powered blender) and puree on highest speed until smooth. Blend in eggs, oil, vanilla, almond extract, cocoa and salt until thoroughly incorporated, Pour batter into a well greased 9-inch cake pan. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool and serve.