toxic liver
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
May 22, 2024 ·  8 min read

Is Poor Liver Function Making You Gain Weight?

The liver is a vital organ responsible for various essential functions in the body, including metabolism, waste substance filtration and removal, and nutrient storage. Poor liver function can have significant impacts on overall health, but is it directly related to weight gain? Let’s find out.

The Role of the Liver

Puzzle with illustration of liver and doctor's hand with the missing piece of puzzle. Liver treatment concept.
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The liver plays a crucial role in metabolism by breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels and produces bile, which is essential for fat digestion. Additionally, the liver filters out harmful substances from our bodies and processes nutrients for energy production. (1)

The liver is a large, reddish-brown organ located in the upper right side of the abdomen. It weighs about 3 pounds and measures 6 inches long by 4 inches wide by 1.5 inches thick. The liver is divided into two main lobes: the right and left lobes. Each lobe has many small lobules that contain cells called hepatocytes. These cells are responsible for many of the liver’s functions, including Breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into smaller molecules so they can be absorbed into the bloodstream for use by other cells in the body.

Read More: Liver Damage from Supplements is On the Rise, Scientists Say

What is Liver Disease?

The illustration of liver is on the man's body against gray background. A men with hepatitis and fatty liver problem.
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Liver disease is a broad term that covers many different conditions. Some of the most common types of liver disease include: Cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver tissue. This can be caused by alcohol abuse or other factors such as hepatitis B or C infection. Hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver. There are several types of hepatitis, including A, B and C. Fatty liver disease, which occurs when fat builds up in your liver cells, is another common cause of liver disease. (2)

Liver disease can be caused by many different things. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time.
  • Taking certain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), which can cause liver damage if taken in large doses or for long periods of time.
  • Having an autoimmune disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Being exposed to certain chemicals or toxins, such as those found in cleaning products or pesticides.

Sometimes you will hear this referred to as “toxic liver” or “liver toxicity”, however, these are not scientific terms. You cannot “detoxify” your liver, as that is the liver’s job already – to remove unwanted (aka “toxic”) substances from the body. You can, however, increase or decrease the load on your liver, or the amount of work that it has to do. This is primarily done through a healthy lifestyle and management of any illnesses or chronic conditions.

Does Poor Liver Function Affect Weight Gain?

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Studies suggest that poor liver function, such as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) or Metabolic Associated Fatty Liver Disease (MAFLD), can be associated with weight gain. When the liver is not functioning optimally, it may lead to metabolic imbalances, insulin resistance, and increased fat accumulation in the liver and other tissues. This can contribute to weight gain or difficulty in losing weight. (3)

Signs of Poor Liver Function

A human liver. Part of anatomy human body

There are several signals that your body will send you that your liver may not be functioning optimally, or is being overworked. The following are signs to look out for. If you notice these, speak to your doctor about your liver health and what can be done to improve it.

1. Skin Discoloration

Man face divided into two parts one healthy and one unhealthy. Yellowish eyes and skin. Bad habits vs good habits. Jaundice, hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver failure. Risk factors of alcohol drinking
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Skin discoloration associated with poor liver function is also known as Jaundice. Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes that occurs when there is too much bilirubin in your blood. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment produced by the breakdown of red blood cells. It’s normally processed by the liver, but if it can’t do its job properly, bilirubin builds up in your body and causes jaundice. (4)

2. Digestion problems

Stomach Ache. Sick Asian Woman Suffering From Acute Abdominal Pain At Home, Upset Korean Female Having Menstrual Pain Or Problems With Digestion, Sitting On Couch And Touching Belly, Free Space
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The liver is essential for digestion, primarily by producing bile to break down fats and proteins. When the liver is not functioning properly, it can lead to digestive issues such as bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea. This may be due to a lack of bile production or an overproduction of bile salts. Bile salts are made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder until they are needed to help digest fats in your diet. If there is too much bile in your system, it may cause diarrhea or loose stools. On the reverse side, poor liver function can also cause the opposite problem: Constipation. (5)

3. Rashes/Itchy Skin

Sensitive Skin, Food allergy symptoms, Irritation. Annoyed young african american woman scratching red spots all over her body, isolated on grey studio background, copy space, back view
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Poor liver function can cause reactions on the skin because The liver is responsible for filtering toxins out of the body. When it’s not working properly, these toxins can build up in your system and cause a variety of symptoms including rashes and itchy skin. (6)

Read More: B vitamins could help treat severe nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

4. Headaches

Depressed frustrated young Indian woman suffering from headache, migraine, touching face, head with closed eyes, feeling stressed, sick, tired, thinking over bad news, problems, crisis
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Liver function can lead to headaches and migraines because it is responsible for breaking down toxins in the body, including alcohol. When it’s not working properly, these toxins can build up in your system and cause a variety of symptoms including headaches and migraines. (7)

6. Body Pain

VFX Joint and Knee Pain Augmented Reality Edit. Close Up of a Senior Woman Experiencing Discomfort in a Result of Leg Trauma or Arthritis. Massaging the Muscles to Ease the Injury.
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An overworked and inflamed liver can cause body pain and joint pain. This is because when it becomes overworked, it can’t effectively removed unwanted substances from your blood. This can lead to inflammation in other parts of your body. This inflammation may cause pain in your joints or muscles.

7. Weight Gain

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Weight gain is a common symptom of liver disease. This can be due to fluid retention, which occurs when the liver isn’t able to process and remove waste products from your body. It can also be caused by an increase in fat stores in your liver, which happens when it becomes inflamed or damaged. A damaged liver can also effect the body’s hormone levels, which can cause weight gain or difficulty losing weight. The liver is responsible for processing hormones, including insulin and estrogen. If it’s not working properly, these levels can become imbalanced and lead to weight gain. Again, however, excessive body fat and obesity can also cause liver problems (NAFLD), so weight control and a healthy lifestyle are essential for liver health.

8. Trouble Sleeping

Sleepless woman suffering from insomnia, sleep apnea or stress. Tired and exhausted lady. Headache or migraine. Awake in the middle of the night. Frustrated person with problem. Alarm clock with time.
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If you have an inflamed liver, it may be difficult for you to sleep. This is because the liver produces a hormone called melatonin that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. When your liver isn’t functioning properly, it can’t produce enough melatonin and this can lead to insomnia or other sleep problems. The liver also processes cortisol, the stress hormone. When your liver is inflamed, it may not be able to process cortisol as effectively. This can lead to an increase in stress levels and make it harder for you to sleep. (8)

9. Darker urine

Human Urine Sample
Human urine sample waiting for testing, with a dehydration color chart and transit bag.
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If you have dark yellow urine despite being well hydrated, it may be a sign that your liver is not functioning properly. This can happen when the liver becomes inflamed or damaged and cannot remove bilirubin from your blood. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is produced by the breakdown of red blood cells in your body. When there is too much bilirubin in your blood, it can cause your urine to turn dark yellow or brown.

10. Chronic Fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome concept. Overworked businessman is sleeping at desk.
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Chronic fatigue is a common symptom of poor liver function. The liver is responsible for converting food into energy, so when it’s not functioning properly, you may feel tired and sluggish. This can also be due to a build-up of unwanted substances in the body, as your liver is overworked and unable to processes them all efficiently. (9)

11. Memory Problems

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Memory problems or brain fog is a common occurrence with liver disease patients. The medical term for this condition is called Hepatic encephalopathy. This is a condition that occurs when the liver is unable to process ammonia, which is a byproduct of protein metabolism. When this happens, ammonia builds up in the blood and can cause confusion, memory loss, and other cognitive problems. (10)

12. Chronic Bad Breath

Bad breath. Halitosis concept. Young man checking his breath with his hand.
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When the liver is not functioning properly, toxins and waste products can build up in the body. This can lead to a condition called halitosis, or chronic bad breath, as the toxins may be released through the breath. Additionally, poor liver function can lead to decreased production of bile, which can result in difficulty digesting foods properly and foul-smelling gases being released during digestion. These factors can all contribute to chronic bad breath in individuals with poor liver function. Also known as Fetor hepaticus, this is a very serious symptom that should be reported to your doctor immediately. (11)

What can you do to improve the health of your liver?

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It is hard to know whether or not it is liver problems that is causing weight gain, or if your weight gain is causing liver problems. Generally speaking, it is important for all aspects of your health, including your liver, to maintain a healthy weight as best as you can. If you notice any of these signs, it’s essential to take action and improve the health of your liver. Here are some ways to improve the condition of your liver (12):

  • Lose Weight: excess fat can contribute to liver disease, so losing weight is essential.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Avoid processed foods, alcohol, high cholesterol and high-sugar foods and, instead, focus on healthier, whole foods.
  • Be Active/Exercise every day: Regular exercise is crucial in improving liver health.
  • Avoid added sugars: Sugar is harmful to the liver, so avoid it as much as possible.
  • Lower cholesterol if high: High cholesterol levels can damage the liver, so it’s essential to keep them under control.
  • Take omega-3 supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids can improve liver function.
  • Avoid liver stressors: Avoid alcohol, some medications, and supplements that can stress the liver.
  • Talk to a doctor about vitamin E and other herbal liver supplements: some herbs and vitamins contain antioxidants that help improve liver health.

While poor liver function may contribute to weight gain, the relationship between the two is complex and multifactorial. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper liver support, can help improve liver function and overall well-being. Remember that sustainable weight management involves addressing various factors, and seeking professional guidance is recommended for personalized care and treatment.

Read More: Signs of Fatty Liver Disease That Show Up in Your Face

Sources

  1. The Liver and Its Functions.” Columbia Surgery
  2. Metabolic Dysfunction-Associated Steatotic Liver Disease.” Cleveland Clinic
  3. THE LINK BETWEEN WEIGHT AND LIVER HEALTH.” CPMI Clinical. June 14, 2023.
  4. Common Characteristics of Liver Disease.” Hopkins Medical
  5. Linking intestinal homeostasis and liver disease.” NCBI. Bernd Schnabl. July 2014.
  6. Toxic Hepatitis (Liver Toxicity).” Cleveland Clinic
  7. Pain Management in Liver Disease.” NCBI. James P. Hamilton, MD*. June 2023.
  8. Sleep disorder in patients with chronic liver disease: a narrative review.” NCBI. Neeraj Mukesh Shah, Akanksha Mimi Malhotra, and Georgios Kaltsakas. October 2020.
  9. Fatigue in chronic liver disease patients: prevalence, pathophysiology, and management.” NCBI. Artur Kośnik and Maciej Wójcicki. 2022.
  10. Hepatic Encephalopathy.” Cleveland Clinic
  11. Fetor Hepaticus.” Cleveland Clinic