What Liver Disease Can Teach You About How Your Liver Builds Your Bones
Sometimes I feel like a detective.
But the crimes I investigate aren’t bank robberies or jewel heists; they’re bone theft and skeletal fractures. Like any good detective, I look at the big picture to see patterns and cause-and-effect relationships that can help to crack the case.
This is a good way of approaching your health, because as you know, every part of your body relates to every other part, and your body systems are intertwined in incredible and sometimes unexpected ways.
In today’s investigation you’ll learn how liver disease impacts bone health. That evidence is crucial for establishing how and why liver function is important for your bones.
Liver health is essential, since the liver is involved in many metabolic processes that are negatively impacted if you don’t keep your liver in optimal working condition.
The Liver: An Unsung Hero Of Your Metabolism
Many people are surprised to discover how little they know about the liver. This rarely considered organ is absolutely essential to the successful functioning of your metabolism. Located just under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen, it’s about the size of a football.
The liver’s tasks are primarily related to digestion and filtering toxins from the bloodstream.
One of its most important digestive contributions is the production of bile. This digestive fluid is comprised of bile salts, water, cholesterol, and bilirubin (a yellowish pigment). After its synthesis in the liver, bile gets stored in the gallbladder until hormones stimulate its release in the presence of fat in the small intestine.
What’s So Important About Bile?
It’s essential for the absorption of bone-building vitamins like vitamin E, K, A and D. The liver goes on to play more than one important role in the production and manipulation of Vitamin D, including facilitating the body’s ability to produce it utilizing light from the sun.
As your body’s built-in filtration system, the liver cleans the blood of toxins, poisons and byproducts of metabolic processes. Everything that you take into your body, whether you’ve eaten it, inhaled it, or absorbed it through your skin, gets processed by your liver.
The liver filters out bacteria, parasites, alcohol, pesticides, chemicals, viruses, toxins, and drugs. In fact, many drugs prescribed by doctors have a deleterious effect on the liver.
This incredible organ also acts as a storehouse for important minerals, vitamins, and even the energy-storage molecule glycogen. The liver is there for you in a pinch, providing the energy and nutrients you need.
An Important Link In The Chain
To learn how much could go wrong if your liver isn’t functioning, we can take a look at the following signs and symptoms of liver disease:
- Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Tendency to bruise easily
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- Loss of appetite
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine color
- Chronic fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
Changes like the ones mentioned above are a cry for help. Listen to your body, and don’t just cover up what it’s telling you with painkillers and over-the-counter symptom blockers. Investigate the root sources of the ailment.
Common Causes of Liver Disease
Infection by parasites or viruses can cause liver problems, most commonly by the Hepatitis viruses. Autoimmune diseases may impact the liver’s functionality, like in the case of autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis, or primary sclerosing cholangitis.
There are also genetic problems that can result in certain substances building up in the liver and causing damage. Hemochromatosis, hyperoxaluria and oxalosis are three examples of genetic liver diseases. Cancers and other growths may also harm the liver and reduce or prevent functionality.
You’re probably aware that alcohol abuse can destroy the liver, but less people know about the destructive effect of fat accumulation in liver cells, called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. At its worst, the most serious form of this disease, called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, can progress to cirrhosis or liver failure.
But What About Bones?
We’ve looked at the liver’s functions, some signs and symptoms of liver disease, and its wide array of causes. Now let’s see what we can learn about the liver’s importance to bone health by seeing what happens to bones when it stops working at optimal capacity.
It is well established by scientific research that liver diseases lead to advanced bone deterioration and greater incidence of fracture.1 In fact, the impact is notably similar to postmenopausal and age-related bone loss. The reasons for this similar result are different, though some important bone-health systems are implicated in both cases, as described in this study:
“Potential inciting factors that either directly or indirectly alter bone mass include insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1) deficiency, hyperbilirubinemia, hypogonadism (estrogen and testosterone deficiency), alcoholism, excess tissue iron deposition, subnormal vitamin D levels, vitamin D receptor genotype, osteprotegerin deficiency, and immunosuppressive therapy preceding and following liver transplantation.”1
With so many ways that the skeletal system can be harmed, it should be no wonder that the actual bone loss due to liver disease occurs by more than one process.
Low and High Turnover Osteoporosis
There are two primary dysfunctions of the usual bone life-cycle that are seen due to liver disease. One is “low turnover” osteoporosis, in which an insufficient amount of osteoblast-mediated new bone formation takes place. In this scenario the osteoclasts continue to remove old worn-out bone, but the osteoblasts can’t keep up. This problem is characterized by a reduced synthesis of collagen matrix and a low rate of mineralization
The other related problem occurs when a normal amount of new bone is created, but an unusually large amount of existing bone is removed. This is termed “high-turnover” osteoporosis, and describes a rate of bone-resorption out of synch with collagen matrix synthesis and mineralization.
Either one of these issues quite obviously results in a reduction of bone density. The possibility of both occurring– a slow-down of new bone formation coupled with an acceleration of resorption– would certainly spell disaster.
A One-To-One Relationship
The directness of the relationship between what the liver accomplishes and bone quality is amply illustrated by osteoprotegerin.
“Osteoprotegerin (OPG), a member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor superfamily, has recently been found to regulate bone turnover. Produced by the liver, OPG inhibits osteoclast differentiation in vitro and in vivo. In a transgenic mice model, increased hepatic expression of OPG resulted in osteopetrosis, or increased bone density.”1
So it makes sense to conclude that a healthy liver supports bone health, and a dysfunctional liver leads to fragile bones and that the less healthy your liver is, the less healthy your bones are.
Another scholarly article published in Current Gastroenterology Reports looks at metabolic bone disease in patients with liver disease. The authors found that:
“Osteoblast function may be inhibited by toxins or other substances retained in the circulation of patients with liver disease.”2
This finding should be no surprise given what Savers are well aware of the liver’s role as the body’s filtration system. If the liver isn’t working, then of course toxins that would normally be filtered will remain in the blood stream, disrupting or damaging other organs and systems.
Evidently, the bone-formation process suffers multiple blows when the liver can’t do it’s job.
Support Your Bones By Supporting Your Liver
There are plenty of ways to support a healthy liver, as there are plenty of ways to overtax and harm this crucial organ. Let’s start with some things to avoid.
Research confirms that too much sugar is deleterious to the liver.3 High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in particular has been tied to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and should always be avoided. It’s all too easy to consume large amounts of refined sugar, so be sure to steer clear of the most obvious culprits, like soft drinks and processed foods.
Excess weight is bad for your bones in many ways, and one of them is that it’s bad for your liver. Fat buildup can lead to NAFLD, and the longer you’re overweight, the worse the liver damage will get. This particular path to liver disease is hastened by trans fats, so be sure to avoid this man-made menace and the processed foods that contain it.
Prescription and over-the-counter drugs (even the commonly used acetaminophen) and toxins like alcohol also can harm your liver. I recommend to seek non-pharmaceutical pain relief instead of taking painkillers, and drinking alcohol only in moderation. A drink every now and then is fine, (beer and red wine both contain bone-healthy nutrients!) but be sure to keep track so you don’t have more than you realize over the course of a day.
The “don’ts” for liver health can be discouraging for some, but if you’re already following the Program, then you’re well on your way to stronger bones and maximizing liver function.
But if you want to give a boost to your already healthy habits, or if you’ve consumed liver-harming products, then check out my seven-day bone-building cleanse, especially formulated to rejuvenate the liver and jumpstart your body’s ability to keep your bones healthy and fracture-free.
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Till next time,
1 “Bone Loss in Liver Disease.” Hepatology; January 2001 – Volume 33 – Number 1. Web: http://www.natap.org/2002/feb/020402_1.htm
2 Carey, E. & Balan, “Metabolic bone disease in patients with liver disease
“ V. Curr Gastroenterol Rep (2003) 5: 71. doi:10.1007/s11894-003-0012-z. Web: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11894-003-0012-z
3 Bray, G. A., “How Bad Is Fructose?1,2. Am J Clin Nutr October 2007
vol. 86 no. 4 895-896. Web: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/4/895.full