Signs You Might Be Suffering From A Sluggish Liver

Fatigue, dark circles under the eyes, depression, hormonal imbalances, muscle, and joint pains, skin problems, and headaches can all come from the same source: poor liver function. Although the outward signs may not seem terribly severe, compromised liver function is far more serious than you might think. In fact, a recent analysis reports that from 2009-2012 there were twice as many cases of severe liver disease than a decade earlier. Furthermore, the number of adolescents and young adults with chronic liver disease has more than doubled in the last three decades.

Book your free consultation with Dr. Williams to learn more about a sluggish liver.

Your Liver: Working Overtime To Maintain Your Health

When it comes to keeping you healthy, your liver works overtime. Your liver is involved in over 500 essential functions. Not only does your liver act as a giant filter for all of your blood - removing toxins (found in the environment and in the medications you take), allergens, harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites - it's also involved in the production of enzymes, hormones, and special proteins necessary for blood clotting. Substances like bile (which aids in the digestion of fats and helps transport toxins and waste products broken down by the liver into the intestines for elimination), cholesterol, albumin, and an immune substance called gamma globulin are also manufactured by the liver. But production is only one aspect of liver function. The metabolism of protein, carbohydrates, and fat is performed by the liver with the purpose of providing sources of energy. The liver also helps to regulate blood sugar levels by converting excess amounts of blood sugar to glycogen, which is then stored in the liver or in muscles for use during a period of fasting.

Many substances, including toxic chemicals, medications, and hormones are metabolized by the liver utilizing special metabolic pathways, known as Phase I and Phase II pathways. The diagram below explains this vital function in detail.

Detoxification At A Glance

Signs Your Liver Is Sluggish

When we think of liver problems, we most often think of infections like hepatitis or diseases like alcoholic cirrhosis. But the most prevalent liver disorder today - Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease - isn't caused by infection or alcohol consumption. Rather, it results in part (genetics, gender, and ethnicity also play a role) from lifestyle choices (poor dietary habits, lack of exercise) that lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. In non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the accumulation of fat in the liver leads to inflammation in the liver. Over time, this inflammation causes damage which can lead to chronic liver disease and liver cancer.

While pain is one of the most common signs of damage to tissues or certain organs, fatigue often points to problems in the liver. When your liver function is compromised, symptoms begin to appear that relate to poor detoxification, metabolism, and blood sugar regulation.

  • Acne and skin rashes

  • Allergies

  • Blood sugar imbalances

  • Brain fog

  • Depression

  • Digestive problems

  • Elevated cholesterol levels

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Mood swings

  • Pain in muscles and joints

Similarly, poor liver function can affect your hormone metabolism, causing you to experience symptoms related to estrogen-dominance - like PMS - and putting you at risk for breast cancer and prostrate cancer (see our blog on methylation for more information).

sluggish liver
Photo from

Ways You Can Support Your Liver Function

Improving your liver function is well within your grasp and centers around three main areas: liver detoxification, proper diet, and elimination/reduction of exposure to toxins.

  • Liver Detoxification: Cleanse and revitalize your liver using a supervised program like Metagenics ClearChange which supports Phase I and Phase II detoxification. See our blog on detoxification for more detailed information.

  • Proper Diet: Testing for food allergies/sensitivities is an important part of restoring health to you liver and your whole body. A special elimination diet is a key component of a healthy detoxification program. Here are additional steps you can take to promote the health of your liver:

  • Avoid: Processed/refined foods; sugar and all sugary foods; sugar substitutes like Nutrasweet and Splenda; excessive amounts of alcohol; canned vegetables and fruit; fruits and vegetables known to contain high amounts of pesticide residue; overeating or eating in a hurry.

  • Eliminate: Foods to which you are allergic or sensitive; all margarine, shortening, hydrogenated oils, and cooking sprays.

  • Eat: Foods that are high in soluble and insoluble fiber so your body can bind and eliminate toxins more easily; Plenty of vegetables that aid in detoxification like broccoli, beans, bok choy, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, lentils, radish, turnip; Foods rich in natural enzymes to facilitate digestion and lighten the burden your liver experiences when trying to breakdown poorly digested nutrients; Fresh herbs that support liver function like caraway, dill, rosemary, and turmeric; Lots of bitter, leafy greens like arugula, endive, and mustard greens which support detoxification; and as often as is possible, eat ORGANIC foods.

  • Drink: Plenty of clean, chlorine free water; A glass of warm water with a bit of lemon juice first thing every morning to cleanse the liver, stimulate the flow of bile and bowel movement.

  • Consult: Your healthcare practitioner to find out if you need the extra support of nutritional supplements, special phytonutrient blends, probiotics, and digestive enzymes.

  • Eliminate/Reduce Your Exposure to Toxins Found in:

  • Lifestyle Toxins:

  • Alcohol

  • Caffeine

  • Cosmetics

  • Artificial food additives, colorings or preservatives

  • Nicotine

  • Medications & Over-the-counter drugs

  • Meats containing hormones or antibiotics

  • Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables (high in pesticides, herbicides, insecticides)

  • Environmental Toxins:

  • Air, ground, & water pollution (auto exhaust, inhalants, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides)

  • Cleaning products

  • Radiation

  • Heavy Metals

  • Internal Toxins:

  • Bacterial, yeast, fungal overgrowth

  • Undigested food

  • Stress: at home and at work

Today's world is full of various forms of toxins, making liver detoxification an important part of any health maintenance program. Click here to get more information on how you can restore health to your liver and vitality to your life.

Interested in learning how functional medicine can help you detoxifiy?

Contact us to set up your free Dicovery Call.


Doycheva, I, et al. Abstract: Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Adolescents and Young Adults: The Next Frontier in the Epidemic. Hepatology. 2017 Jan 19.

Doycheva, I et al. Increasing Burden of Chronic Liver Disease Among Adolescents and Young Adults in the USA: A Silent Epidemic. Dig Dis Sci. 2017 Feb 13.

Fitzgerald, P. The Detox Solution. Santa Monica CA: Illumination Press. 2001.

Kabanny, MN, et al. Prevalence of Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis-Associated Cirrhosis in the United States: An Analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data. Am J Gastroenterol. 2017 Feb 14.

Kirpich, IA, Marsano, LA, McCain, CJ. Gut-liver axis, nutrition, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Clin. Biochem. 2015 Sep; 48(13-14):923-30.

Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center. Pillars of GI Health Patient Handbook.

Rui, L. Energy Metabolism in the Liver. Compr Physiol. 2014 Jan. 4(1): 177-197.

Targer, G., Byrne, CD. Nat Rev Nephrol. 2017 Feb 20.

The contents of this blog are intended for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for proper medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to an existing treatment plan, exercise program or dietary regimen, and before using nutritional supplements.

~ Dr. Sarah Williams ~ Concord & Nantucket, Massachusetts ~

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