The liver is an essential organ in food digestion and metabolism. It is also responsible for cleaning the blood and storing nutrients until needed. Many medical conditions and excessive amounts of certain chemicals can harm the liver over time. Once impaired, the liver no longer functions as well, and certain foods must be eliminated or limited to prevent further complications to the body or damage to the liver.
The liver breaks down dietary proteins into amino acids and then rebuilds the amino acids into proteins the body can use. Protein is found in meats, dairy items, nuts, beans and soy products. Excessive protein intake can exacerbate liver damage. Additionally, a damaged liver often cannot process the amino acids. This can result in toxic levels of amino acids in the blood stream, which can cause a serious brain condition known as hepatic encephalopathy. According to the "New York Times Health Guide," those with liver damage should consume "about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight," unless put on a more restrictive diet by a physician. Often a diet that severely restricts protein will be prescribed to a person if hepatic encephalopathy is already present. Medications may also be given to help promote excretion of excess proteins.
Often those with liver disease develop swelling in the abdomen, known as ascites. This is due to a change in the way fluids move through tissues. As liver function decreases, the osmotic (or pressure exerted by components within the blood) changes, forcing liquid into the abdominal tissues. Diets high in sodium can increase water retention, making ascites worse. Sodium-restricted diets are commonly encouraged for those with liver dysfunction.
Excessive intake of substances filtered by the liver results in the liver working harder and can further damage liver tissues. Excessive alcohol can be a primary cause of liver cirrhosis, but even small amounts of alcohol can damage already compromised liver tissues. Many medications, including the over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen (Tylenol), are processed in the liver and can become toxic to it if taken in too great of a quantity. Even vitamins and minerals (such as Vitamin A) can be toxic to the liver when taken in large quantities, like in mega-dose vitamins. Although not supported by research, restricting foods that contain artificial preservatives or that were exposed to herbicides or pesticides may also help.
Always consult your physician before making diet modifications. Do not take any medications, nutritional supplements or herbal remedies without your physician's approval as many can harm liver function.