Unlike your car, you can’t send your body in for regular servicing to replace ageing or faulty parts. Yet, your lungs take in the same stuff your engine does, and your liver and kidneys can become as gummed up as any oil filter.
These organs, along with your gastrointestinal tract and lymphatic system, cleanse your blood and sift out waste. Ignoring them can lead to everything from hypertension to asthma.
But while you can’t do much for your lymphatic system – it’s self-cleaning – you can take steps to keep the other four clear.
In addition to processing booze, this 1.5kg multi-functional gland – the largest in your body – performs at least 250 duties. Primarily, it filters bacteria and pollutants from your blood. It also produces bile, a viscous goo that breaks down fat for digestion and absorption.
“These functions begin to suffer when alcohol injures your liver or a poor diet causes extra fat to build up in it,” says Dr Paul Martin, chief of hepatology at the University of Miami. When fatty liver occurs in people who don’t drink heavily, it’s associated with the same risk factors as those of metabolic syndrome: obesity, diabetes and high triglyceride levels.
DETOX: Exercise more
Hitting the gym for an extra 10 minutes a day helps ensure your liver stays on top of its responsibilities. In a 2009 study in Hepatology, people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease who increased their exercise by 60 minutes a week for three months, reduced their levels of four enzymes that indicate liver problems. “Exercise removes fat from the liver,” says study author Dr Jacob George, a professor of gastroenterology and hepatic medicine at the University of Sydney.
But you can easily undo your gains if you drink too much. While the occasional beer is fine, avoid binges offive or more drinks on a single occasion. And be careful about what you consider to be “a drink”.
One standard drink contains around 18ml of alcohol, but a 2008 study from the Alcohol Research Group of the Public Health Institute in the US found that in bars, the average glass of wine contains 43 per cent more alcohol than the 18ml indicated. The average draft beer has 22 per cent more, and mixed drinks contain 32 per cent more.
So even if you limit the number of drinks, you could still be imbibing more alcohol than youintended to.
Your kidneys are the tireless blood balancers of your body. Every day, they remove about two litres of waste and extra water from your blood. This process helps regulate blood pressure by extracting matter from your red lifeline, which lowers your blood volume and, in turn, keeps the stress on your blood vessels and heart in check.
The kidneys also balance the electrolytes in your body. Too much sodium, for instance, can lead to hypertension, and high potassium can cause abnormal heart rhythms, says Dr Bryan Becker, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Wisconsin. Signs your kidneys may not be operating at peak performance include pinkish urine, foot or hand swelling, and back pain.
DETOX: Drink three litres of water daily
Coming up short in the H20 department can lead to cell damage, as the kidneys struggle to balance out the fluids in your body. Drink at least three litres of water each day.
A steady influx of water also helps to keep kidney stones from forming. These hard masses develop when calcium combines with oxalate, phosphate or other chemicals to form small crystals. If the stones bind together, they can restrict the flow of fluids through your kidneys and cause severe pain.
In addition to your three-litre quota, add a glass of orange juice to your daily fluid intake. “Orange juice boosts citrate levels in your urine, reducing the crystallisation and lowering the calcium available for binding,” says Dr Clarita Odvina, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Here’s a scary thought: Your lungs are the only internal organs that are continuously exposed to the external environment. Every breath you take brings in whatever debris happens to be floating in front of your face.
To deal with that floating junk, your lungs are lined with hair-like cilia, which sweep out the pollutants, bacteria and viruses that you breathe in.
Your lungs also perform the most essential task of extracting oxygen from the air and swapping it for carbon dioxide. Continued exposure to airborne gunk, however, can interfere with these processes.
DETOX: Munch on apples
Bite into some apples. People who ate the most apples were 33 per cent less likely to have a chronic phlegmy cough than those who ate the least, according to a National Institutes of Health study.
The pectin and antioxidants in the peels can reduce inflammation in your lungs. Also, stay inside when ozone levels are high. This pollutant causes inflammation that can narrow your airways.
“If you’re unusually winded after a run, you could be sensitive to ozone,” says Dr Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. Check out daily ozone levels at the National Environment Agency website (nea.gov.sg) and work out indoors when the PSI is moderate or higher.
YOUR GASTROINTESTINAL TRACT
Your GI tract runs from your esophagus down to your stomach, small intestine and colon, and separates what you need – proteins, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals – from what you don’t.
Any problem with absorption, obstruction or movement can prevent your body from soaking up nutrients, says Dr Brett Neustater, a gastroenterologist with the GI Group of South Florida. These problems can also cause serious discomfort such as heartburn, bloating and abdominal pain.
DETOX: Tweak your diet
While occasional flare-ups are usually harmless, frequent bouts of heartburn (more than twice a week) can scar your esophagus. Taking antacids may help with the pain, but they won’t prevent the attacks.
If you’re dealing with chronicheartburn, assess your diet. “Cut out trigger foods, and then reintroduce them after a week or so in smaller amounts,” says Dr Neustater. Common heartburn triggers include caffeine, onions, chocolate, citrus fruits, garlic and tomatoes. If your symptoms persist, see your doctor to rule out a more serious problem.
Hernias can also sabotage your GI tract. They occur when part of an internal organ, most often the intestines, protrudes into and obstructs your abdominal muscles, sometimes as a result of excessive straining while lifting.
“Before you lift, brace your stomach like you’re about to be punched but are still able to breathe,” says Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. This trains the muscles that line your abdominal wall. Plank exercises can also help strengthen your abs and could reduce the chances of a hernia