Looking after this vital organ can be essential during AND after pregnancy

In between quitting sugar and cutting carbs, somewhere along the line we forgot about looking after our good ol’ liver. Remember that vital organ?

I had my mum dust off her nineties Sandra Cabot book, The Liver Cleansing Diet, when I was struck with two liver-related conditions during and after my pregnancy.

First up, in my third trimester, it was cholestasis – or “pregnancy jaundice”, which can lead to complications for both mum and bub. Symptoms often include night-time itching without a rash (particularly of the palms of the hands and soles of the feet) and elevated LFT, or liver function test, results and serum bile acid counts. Bile – a liquid secreted by the liver – aids in the absorption and digestion of food, especially fats. Basically, my (twin!) pregnancy was putting pressure on my liver, so it wasn’t functioning as well. Hence, I had to be induced early.

Post-pregnancy (thinking my itchy days were over), I suddenly noticed a small rash on my inner wrist, which I later discovered was the beginnings of PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy). That being a chronic hives-like rash, which spread to my legs, arms and tum, lasted weeks, and drove me barking mad – worse than the cholestasis! According to my online research, having baby boys, multiples, a C-section and a first-time, winter pregnancy are all pointers to getting PUPPP. All applied for me, hence, I was as good as doomed!

In trying to treat the rash, I wound up spending hundreds of dollars. I used everything on my skin, from pine tar soap to doctor-prescribed steroid cream, as well as seeking refuge from complementary medicines like acupuncture and herbalism.

Adelaide herbalist and medical philosophy lecturer Jesse Sleeman (cryforhealth.blogspot.com) pointed me in the direction of anti-inflammatory fare such as flaxseed oil and dandelion tea to help calm the reddened skin. “The liver basically generates the fire [in the body]. It is a major metabolic machine that breaks down every food and drug that we have and monitors our hormones. It is a ‘biggy’. If herbalists want to actually give the liver a bit of stimulation, they’ll [opt for] bitter-tasting substitutes. The traditional one was dandelion leaves – or dandelion root.”

The bitter taste is said to stimulate digestive processes, including the liver’s production of bile.Sleeman also recommends green, leafy veggies for this, although he says: “The modern lettuce is basically like wet cardboard. The bitterness has been bred out of it. So if you want the bitterness you probably want to go for things like rocket, bok choy, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.”

“Cool”, calming fare like cucumbers and aloe vera juice are also good ideas, as is avoiding spicy food. Plus, healthy options such as LSA (linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds) and psyllium husks can aid the bowels.

When it comes to Chinese herbs, though, Adelaide’s Lea Papworth, who specialises in fertility-based acupuncture, says women need to use caution. “Chinese herbs and liver function is an area of hot debate. The most important thing I feel is that you don’t self-prescribe – see someone who knows what they are doing. Don’t take large doses because the liver is working harder in pregnancy to begin with; giving it mega-doses to break down won’t help. And never buy supplements or herbs off the internet – particularly Chinese herbs, as there are problems with pesticides and heavy metals. Reputable sources ensure all the herbs are tested. Unfortunately, there are non-reputable sources who don’t safeguard consumers.” A word to the wise.

As for me? I’m not sure exactly which treatment option worked best for the PUPPP, I’m just glad to be on the other side of it – and back in touch with my liver.


Carla Caruso is a romantic comedy author from Adelaide. She’s behind the books, Second Chance and Cityglitter, out through Penguin’s Destiny Romance (www.destinyromance.com), and Mommy Blogger (www.carlacaruso.com.au). Next up is Catch of the Day, available in November. She’s also a first-time mum to twin lads Alessio and Sebastian.

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