6 Signs Your Liver May Be Sluggish During Menopause
Written for Sage Wellbeing Co by Jenna Carroll | BHSc Naturopath & Nutritionist
Having a healthy liver is incredibly important, especially during menopause, however it is an organ that often gets completely forgotten about!
The liver has over 500 different functions that are performed throughout the day, including storing fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A and D, making and storing energy, keeping blood glucose levels stabilised, cleaning your blood of toxins, manufacturing bile and hydrochloric acid for digestion, and synthesising and processing hormones. So when things begin to change at menopause, it suddenly gets hit with more jobs to do, which can ultimately leave it burdened and dysfunctional, creating a path for the development of liver congestion and liver disease during menopause.
There is a two-fold increase in the incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in women as they move through menopause. This condition increases inflammation in the liver. It is also important to know that the liver and gallbladder shrink in size as we age, which means their function is also further reduced. This can mean that you may not tolerate as much fat in your diet as your used to. If your liver cells are congested with excess fats and toxins, then your body’s ability to detoxify adequately is impacted, which leads to a vicious cycle and is seen as one of the major roots of weight gain during this phase of life.
6 signs that your liver is under pressure during menopause:
- Nausea: A surprisingly common symptom that crops up during menopause is nausea, which is brought on through hormonal shifts, much like during pregnancy. If liver detoxification pathways are backed up, the less it will be able to adapt to hormonal shifts, which is what may leave you susceptible to feeling nauseous.
- Gut imbalances: Constipation, diarrhoea, excessive bloating can all be signs of a malfunctioning liver. As I mentioned earlier, the liver creates bile, which is important for digesting fats that we eat, controlling cholesterol and also regulating gut motility, making sure it is nice and smooth. During menopause, bile production decreases by 20%, which can impact digestion, and slow everything down, creating fat malabsorption, high cholesterol, constipation and excess wind and bloating.
- Fatigue: Your liver helps create and store energy and when it is struggling, it will cause fatigue. If you wake up feeling groggy with no appetite in the morning, this can be a sign of a sluggish liver.
- Skin issues: There is a close connection between the skin and liver function. The reason being is if we take in toxins, which we all will even with clean diets, and our liver is not eliminating them at the same rate they are coming in, especially if the bowels are sluggish, it becomes overloaded and will dump everything out via the skin (one of the other major elimination organs). Skin rashes, itchy skin, eczema, psoriasis, acne and dermatitis can commonly crop up during menopause.
- Cravings: If the liver is not working properly, our blood glucose levels can fluctuate. Because the liver is responsible for stabilising blood glucose, it can trigger sugar cravings and contribute to feeling hungry all the time- another common sign seen during menopause which will have an effect on weight as well.
- Sleep problems: The liver is its most active between 1am and 3am in the morning. If your liver is being overworked throughout the night, that energy being exerted is enough to wake you up. What’s worse, it can also be difficult to fall asleep before the liver calms down. Commonly, if you wake between 1-2am, you may find it isn’t until 3:30am you suddenly feel that you can go back to sleep.
How can you give your liver a helping hand?
Firstly, reducing the toxins coming in can greatly help take the pressure off your precious liver. Alcohol, caffeine, processed foods high in sugar, fat, salt and additives, environmental chemicals such as pesticides/herbicides/fungicides, synthetic fragrances and chemicals from perfume, make up, personal care and cleaning products are all going to put unnecessary strain on your liver.
To gently start detoxifying your liver you can include some foods known to naturally cleanse the liver such as:
- Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, arugula, kohlrabi, radishes and watercress are useful for enhancing phase 2 liver detoxification pathways that metabolise a wide range hormones, synthetic compounds and metabolites.
- Turmeric is useful for boosting bile production, repairing liver cells and flushing out toxins and heavy metals. Antioxidants contained in Turmeric may also help to decrease liver inflammation and protect liver cells.
- Citrus fruits stimulate the liver and aids the removal of fats and toxic materials that have become lodged in the liver. Try having a glass of warm water with 1/2 a lemon squeezed in first thing in the morning.
- Beetroots stimulate bile flow and enzymatic activity, they also assist with cleansing the blood and can break down and effectively excrete toxic waste from the body. They also contain fibre which is important to naturally cleanse the digestive tract.
- Garlic is loaded with sulphur, which activates liver enzymes that help your body flush out toxins. Garlic also contains selenium, which is an essential micronutrient shown to boost natural antioxidant enzyme levels in our livers.
Along with these foods drinking plenty of high quality, filtered water is important to continuously flush waste from the body throughout the day whilst you detoxify. Drinking herbal teas such as dandelion root, nettle leaf, ginger, burdock root and schisandra berries can also greatly facilitate the detoxification process.
Lastly, it is important to mention that severe liver detox protocols are not recommended because very often it backfires by liberating too many toxins from your cells all at once. When this happens your liver and other organs of elimination such as your skin, bowels and kidneys become overwhelmed, and unable to process such a large load of toxic material, leaving you feeling sick and worse than before. The liver does not like to be pushed, it prefers a gentle, low and slow approach to cleansing.
- Hodges RE, Minich DM. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. J Nutr Metab. PMCID: PMC4488002.
- Hechtman, L. (2018). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Elsevier: Sydney.
- Venetsanaki V, Polyzos SA. (2019). Menopause and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Review Focusing on Therapeutic Perspectives. Curr Vasc Pharmacol. PMID: 29992886.
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