The liver is the largest internal organ and the center of metabolism. It’s involved in hormone regulation and acts as an endocrine organ, pumping out hormones with functions throughout the body. The liver is nothing short of miraculous in all the tasks it completes for you every day.
When the liver is sluggish, overloaded, or diseased, it affects metabolic and hormonal health. And conversely, when hormones are imbalanced, they may affect liver function. Today’s article will dive into the connection between liver health and hormonal imbalance. Keep reading to learn more about:
When the liver is sluggish, overloaded, or diseased, it affects metabolic and hormonal health. And conversely, when hormones are imbalanced, they may affect liver function.
Then, in a few weeks I will share Part 2 of this series on liver and hormonal health, in which I’ll explore xenoestrogens and how they affect the liver. I’ll offer practical lifestyle and diet strategies to support liver health, detoxification, and hormone balance.
Let’s start with some examples of how the liver and hormones affect each other.
Many patients come to me for hormonal balance related to female health and sex hormones. Estrogen is an excellent example of a hormone that depends on liver detox.
Liver cells have estrogen receptors, where estrogen can influence liver function. When there is too little estrogen (such as in menopause), or too much estrogen (such as with estrogen dominance), it may drive liver disease. The first sign of liver dysfunction may be elevated liver enzymes.
The liver is also responsible for estrogen detoxification and clearing excess estrogen. If the liver can’t effectively do this job, it may result in higher estrogen levels or metabolites.
Thyroid hormone offers another example of liver-hormone crosstalk. All cells in the body require thyroid hormone to set the metabolic rate, including liver cells. If thyroid hormones are low, it may slow down liver function.
All cells in the body require thyroid hormone to set the metabolic rate, including liver cells. If thyroid hormones are low, it may slow down liver function.
Conversely, thyroid hormones rely on the liver for hormone activation. The thyroid hormone T4 produced by the thyroid gland activates to T3 in the liver. If liver function is sluggish, it may result in lower levels of T3, which may cause symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Now that we’ve seen some connections between the liver and hormones produced outside the liver, let’s look at hormones made by the liver and secreted into circulation.
Insulin-like growth factor-1, called IGF-1, is a peptide hormone that regulates growth, metabolism, and is important for healthy aging. A decrease in IGF-1 production is associated with the progression of liver disease.
Interestingly, healthy liver cells lack the IGF-1 receptor, but when the liver is damaged, these cells begin to express the receptor. IGF-1 and growth hormone treatments may improve liver health in some cases.
Sex hormone binding globulin, SHBG, is not a hormone but a transport protein, and the liver is the primary production site. It binds to sex hormones, namely estrogen and testosterone. When these hormones are bound up, they can’t bind to receptors and exert their effect.
Liver health will influence SHBG levels. Low levels in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are associated with high androgens and abnormal metabolism. SHBG changes also correlate with metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, obesity, and cancer.
When considering how to balance hormones, SHBG is an important marker.
Hepcidin is another hormone made by the liver. It’s a peptide hormone involved in iron balance in the body, and it controls the delivery of iron from the gut to blood cells. It allows for the tight regulation of iron levels.
Hepcidin function increases in response to inflammation and infection, which blocks iron and the use of iron by microbes. Variations in the gene that codes for hepcidin are involved in iron overload or hemochromatosis.
Thrombopoietin is a glycoprotein hormone produced by the liver and kidneys. The function of thrombopoietin is to stimulate and regulate platelet production. Megakaryocytes are immature bone marrow cells, and thrombopoietin signals them to mature as platelets.
Angiotensinogen is a liver hormone precursor to all the angiotensin hormones. These hormones are part of the renin-angiotensin system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance.
Going through this list really shows how important the liver is for so many functions throughout the body. If you are ready to love your liver more, please read Part 2 of this article for practical ways to support liver function daily.
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