No other organ is as important as the liver in the processing of your body’s fuels. All sugars are routed through the liver before they are used by the rest of the body.
Let’s take a step-by-step look at what happens to the sugars and starches you have eaten after they are digested.
You’ve had your salad and sandwich lunch. Once it has been digested, your body begins the work of absorbing the components of the sugars and starches in their simplest, single-sugar form.
From the intestinal wall, after absorption into the blood, these sugars make the journey to your liver by way of the portal vein.
Your liver then “decides” what to do with all these simple sugars. The liver may send glucose right back into your bloodstream so your cells can use it for energy. Or the glucose “juice” may be turned into glycogen, a complex carbohydrate. The glycogen may then be sent to the muscles, for use as fuel or for storage, or this potentia stashed away for emergencies in the liver itself.
Carbohydrates such as glucose may also be transformed into fat. This triglyceride substance will then find lodging somewhere in your body’s adipose (fat) tissue.
The liver takes numerous factors into account in making these complex decisions. How much glucose you have stored, how much your brain, muscles, and nerves have available at the moment, and how much fat, protein, and cholesterol have also been taken in along with the carbohydrate in your meal will all influence the decisions your liver makes.
Your liver has been called the body’s most amazing organ. This title is well deserved. It is the body’s carbohydrate “ traffic cop” keeping the flow of ingoing and outgoing glucose normal. It will store sugars until they are needed. Then, when it receives chemical messages that more monosaccharides are needed somewhere, that more glucose is needed by your brain, adrenal glands, or muscles, the liver— with some help in certain cases from other hardworking organs such as the glands and kidneys frees the glucose from where it is stored (or takes new glycogen be mg freshly absorbed from your food) and ships it to where it is needed.
For example, you need a reserve of 350 grams of carbohydrate in your body. Since 1 gram of carbohydrate supplies 4 calories of heat energy, this means your ever-busy liver has to assure that you have 1,400 calories available to carry you through a dozen or more hours of fatiguefree work or play.
How Carbohydrates Affect Your Liver
Just as you would not survive long without your lungs, since they supply oxygen for every cell in your body, you could not live without your liver either. Not only does it process carbohydrates for storage or use, it also helps you cope with the chemical stresses to which our bodies are subjected day in and day out. These include air and water pollution, food contaminants and poisons from hundreds of assorted sources. For example, suppose you take a vacation trip by car with a clothing bag filled with suits and coats, fresh from the dry cleaner. Every mile of the way you are inhaling potentially deadly amounts of trichloroethane. Exhaust fumes from the cars along the road add to the chemical stress on your body. Your liver extracts these chemicals from the blood before they can poison large numbers of body cells.
Your liver detoxifies your blood of more than deadly fumes. When you make contact with arsenic in a household cleaner; when you have one too many cocktails; when potentially disease-promoting microorganisms enter your body with your food, or when you take steroidcontaining drugs that may include carcinogenic substances,12 the liver is on the job. By way of the bowel, kidneys, and bladder, the liver does its best to rid the body of all the toxins it finds.
Carbohydrates enter into all the liver’s housekeeping activities. Glycogen— produced as a by-product of dietary carbohydrates is the fuel that makes the completion of these crucial jobs possible. Eat adequate carbohydrates and your liver will always have a healthy supply of this fuel. Normally, starches and sugars from the foods you eat supply glucose to produce glycogen.
The liver makes every effort to normalize your metabolism. Suppose your diet is less than adequate; suppose it is much too high in protein and much too low in carbohydrates. In such a case, the extra protein you are eating will be used in place of glucose to manufacture glycogen. Your liver must produce glycogen; if it can’t produce it from glucose, it will produce it from protein or fat. It needs glycogen, not only to supply fuel to your muscles and for general metabolism; not only for housecleaning and toxic waste disposal; but also to help manufacture and police the movement of hormones throughout your glandular system. It also uses this glycogen to help in processing fats in your metabolism.
It is stressful for your liver to convert other foods than glucose into glycogen. If you want to protect your liver from this stress, you must be careful to get sufficient carbohydrates, and perhaps be less concerned with high protein. If you do this, your body will naturally do what it was designed to do: use carbohydrates for energy and protein as a building block for tissues. (Note: One gram per kilogram of body weight is the amount of protein recommended.) When you violate this practice, protein is diverted into a fuel, but not very well.
Likewise, when too much fat and too little carbohydrate are consumed, your liver must work extra hard to turn a slight amount of fat into glycogen. It is an effort that you can and should spare your liver.
The reward for eating a sufficient amount of unrefined carbohydrates will be generally improved health. The resulting adequate glycogen stores in your liver will give you immunity against many conditions induced by toxins, at the cost of minimal diet-induced stress to your liver.
The liver is the most crucial organ in the metabolism of carbohydrates. It is an energy “ traffic cop,” routing glucose to where it is needed in the body or changing it to glycogen for storage until it is needed. If you don’t supply that energy as carbohydrates, the protein you eat may be used inefficiently, converted to glycogen, and eventually burned as fuel instead of being broken into amino acids, the building material for your cells and tissues. Forcing the liver to use the wrong fuels in supplying energy to your brain, nerves, muscles, and other organs causes unneeded stress. Eating enough complex carbohydrates is also one of the best ways to help your liver carry out its other major task, ridding the body of toxins. A carefully balanced diet should supply you with a reserve of 350 grams of carbohydrate enough to carry you through the ups and downs of an average day.