By: Dr. Al Sears, MD
Did you know that fat is the biggest threat to your liver? As you age, your liver collects more fat, and it’s worse if you have increased body fat.
This puts you at a high risk for liver damage and can even promote liver cancer.
This is one of the worst consequences of age and having extra body fat, and is one of those areas where having extra fat makes you age faster.
The good news is if you have an older liver that is fatty, or if you just have a lot of body fat, there are things you can do about it. I’ll give you my three steps to drop fat safely and protect your liver at the same time.
Why is this important to you?
Because your liver gives you the energy you need to get through the day, and detoxifies your body. Plus it turns nutrients into their usable forms. This helps your body act more youthful and keeps the needle in your energy tank on “full.”
Fat is even more important than the effects of alcohol. Studies show alcohol contributes to only 6% of damage to the liver. But being a bit overweight contributes to 52% of liver disease.(1) And if you’re obese, you’re 400% more likely to develop liver damage than a normal-weight individual.
That doesn’t mean you can drink whatever you want… Surprisingly, normal-weight people who didn’t drink at all had just as much risk of liver disease as normal-weight individuals who drank a couple of glasses of wine with their supper.
So unless you drink to extremes, it really comes down to how much fat your liver accumulates.
If you need more proof of the dangers to your liver from being overweight, take a look at this new study. Researchers discovered that obesity causes mice to get liver cancer. Obesity turns on a cancer-promoting protein, and turns off enzymes that usually protect your liver.(2)
However, simply dropping a lot of pounds quickly can hurt your liver. Cutting calories and starving yourself can dehydrate your liver. And instead of losing body fat, dieting may cause you to lose mass in your vital organs and not body fat.
Here are my three recommendations for safely dropping the pounds and protecting and helping your liver so you can cleanse your body and have plenty of energy:
Step 1) Burn the Fat You Can’t See: We know from past studies that with short-duration pulses of exertion you can burn 9 times more fat than with long endurance exercise for every calorie burned.(3)
This is essential for your liver because the kind of fat that accumulates there is called visceral fat. It wraps around organs like your heart, liver, and kidneys and is far more dangerous to your health than subcutaneous fat, which lies right beneath your skin. Visceral fat is a storehouse for toxins that pump directly into your body.
But although you can’t see it, you can get rid of it. In a new study, researchers looked at how exercise affects visceral fat. They looked at a group of 44 obese girls and put them in three groups. One group did aerobic exercise, one did resistance training and one did nothing.
After a few weeks, the people who did aerobic exercise had lost a significant amount of visceral fat compared with the other groups.4 And they weren’t even doing short bursts of exertion, like I recommend. Imagine how much more fat they would have lost if they had been!
To take it a step further, what I discovered in my practice is that you can increase the fat loss by focusing on progressivity in your exertion. You don’t have to start with a high intensity workout right off the bat. The idea is to work out for shorter periods, and then incrementally increase the challenge to your body.
Your body will burn the visceral fat off your organs and keep burning off body fat long after your workouts. To try this for yourself, take a look at my PACE Express program.
Step 2) Measure fat loss the right way: How do you know when you’re losing fat in a healthy way? Easy. Simply keep track of your body composition. You’re looking for lots of lean muscle and a high ratio of that muscle to body fat.
There are scales you can buy that calculate your body fat for you. There are also hand-held devices that are reliable. You can find these on the Internet or you can get a set of the calipers I use at my clinic right here. They come with simple instructions. For men, the average is between 15-17 percent body fat. For women, the average is between 18-22 percent.
Another even easier way is to grab your skin between your finger and thumb just to the side of your navel and measure the thickness of the skin fold. It should measure less than 1 inch in both men and women. Even these rough approximations of your body fat are more useful than the archaic and misleading tables invented by insurance companies.
Step 3) Detoxify your liver a couple of times a year: Here’s a list of liver-detoxifying herbs I use in my practice that work well:
- Milk Thistle – This is the plant Silybum marianum and it’s my first choice. I have been able to document its capacity to heal damaged livers by measuring serum liver enzymes. I recommend 200 mg in capsule form twice a day. Look for dried extract with a minimum of 80% silymarin, the active ingredient for liver cleansing.
- Alfalfa – This herb cleanses the blood and liver. It can also lower cholesterol. It’s a good source of protein, vitamins A, D, E, B-6, and K, calcium, magnesium, chlorophyll, phosphorus, iron, potassium, trace minerals, and several digestive enzymes.
- Dandelion – This root stimulates bile production and acts as a diuretic for excess water produced by a diseased liver. Asian and Western physicians alike use dandelion to treat hepatitis, jaundice, swelling of the liver, and deficient bile secretion.
Try mixing your own blend of these herbs. You can also look for a pre-mixed blend with as many of these ingredients as you can find on the label.
1. Zoler M. “Obesity is the Cause of Most U.S. Liver Damage: Risk of Disease Fourfold Higher in Obese.” Family Practice News. July 1, 2004.
2. Gruber S, Straub B, et. al. “Obesity Promotes Liver Carcinogenesis via Mcl-1 Stabilization Independent of IL-6Rα Signaling.” Cell Rep. 2013. pii: S2211-1247(13)00385-9.
3. Tremblay A, Simoneau JA, Bouchard C. Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. Metabolism. 1994;43(7): 814-818.
4. Lee S, et. al. “Aerobic exercise but not resistance exercise reduces intrahepatic lipid content and visceral fat and improves insulin sensitivity in obese adolescent girls.” Am J Physiol Endocr Metab. 2013. Epub ahead of print.