10 Common Signs and Symptoms of Liver Stress: Understanding the Importance of Liver Health

The liver is crucial for metabolic processes in the body, manufacturing hormones, proteins, and cholesterol, as well as detoxifying harmful substances. Liver stress can manifest in various ways, such as bronze diabetes (iron overload), xanthelasma (yellow plaquing), jaundice (yellowing of the skin), changes in bowel habits, itching and burning, poor vision, allergies, ascites (fluid accumulation), shoulder pain, and fatigue. To support liver health, it is recommended to focus on eating real food, including both plant-based and animal products, increase intake of sulfur-containing foods, avoid sugar, alcohol, medication, and processed foods.

Author Icon

Our Summaries are written by our own AI Infrastructure, to save you time on your Health Journey!

How does this happen?

Key Insights:

  • The liver is involved in every metabolic process in the body, making it extremely important for overall health.
  • Common signs of liver stress include fatty liver, toxic liver, cirrhosis, and liver failure.
  • Bronze diabetes (hemochromatosis) is an early sign of liver stress and is caused by iron overload in the body.
  • Xanthelasma, yellow cholesterol deposits, can be a sign of liver stress and impaired fat metabolism.
  • Jaundice, yellow discoloration of the skin or eyes, occurs when the liver cannot properly discard bilirubin.
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as chronic diarrhea or steatorrhea (fatty stools), can indicate liver disease.
  • Itching and burning sensations can occur due to bile retention, which may be a result of liver congestion.
  • Poor vision, especially night blindness, can be associated with liver stress and a deficiency in vitamin A.
  • Allergies and sensitivities to food and the environment can be linked to liver congestion and toxicity.
  • Ascites, fluid accumulation in the abdomen, can be caused by hypoalbuminemia and liver dysfunction.
  • Shoulder pain, particularly in the right shoulder blade, can be a referred pain from a stressed liver.
  • Fatigue is a common symptom of liver stress, possibly due to changes in neural transmission and disrupted energy production.
  • Addressing liver stress involves bowel movement stimulation, consuming real food (both plants and animal products), and avoiding sugar, alcohol, medication, and processed foods.


Hello Health Champions. To say that the liver is important to your health is an understatement. The liver is basically involved in every metabolic process that takes place in your body. So make sure you watch this video from beginning to end because as we start talking about the most common signs and symptoms of liver stress, the whole point is to understand the mechanism so you can fit the pieces together and really start impacting your health.
Coming right up, hey I’m Dr. Ekberg, I’m a holistic doctor and a former Olympic decathlete and if you want to truly master health by understanding how the body really works, make sure you subscribe, hit that bell and turn on all the notifications so you never miss any life-saving videos.
The liver is directly responsible for some five to six hundred different reactions in the body, and they include things like manufacturing hormones, activating and modifying hormones, degrading hormones, making glycogen from excess glucose for future storage and use as blood sugar, and when we run out of that, then the liver can make glucose from scratch, gluconeogenesis from glycerin and amino acids, and the ketones that fuel the brain when we’re really low on carbs, that’s the liver that makes those ketones.
The liver makes various proteins, most proteins in the body are made in the liver, tens of thousands of proteins, and two of the most common ones are called albumin and globulin. These are blood proteins that help maintain the properties of blood, the blood pressure, and we’ll talk more about the osmotic pressure of albumin. Globulins are carrier proteins, and if you recognize the word immunoglobulin or antibody, that’s what those are as well.
The liver manufactures cholesterol and it modifies and packages and maintains the proper balance. It recycles cholesterol as needed and maintains the optimum balance of LDL and HDL that the body needs depending on the circumstances.
The liver is also, of course, the main detoxification plant in the body. It is the only organ that can take really toxic things like chemical poisons and pesticides and turn them from fat-soluble potent poisons into water-soluble by-products and metabolites that we can safely get rid of through the bowel.
And then indirectly, we could argue that the liver is involved in one way or another with every chemical reaction that takes place in the body.
So I’ve underlined the first four letters in the word liver and they spell „live“ and that should give you an idea of how important the liver is.
When we talk about liver disease, we often hear words like fatty liver, toxic liver, and cirrhosis, and so forth, and they’re all kind of different sides of the same thing. The most common form of liver disease is fatty liver, which is also going to be a toxic liver because when we have insulin resistance, then things start accumulating fats and toxins and metabolic byproducts start accumulating in the liver, causing congestion of fat but also of toxins.
And there are different stages of liver disease and liver failure, so in the early stages, there’s no real damage but there’s inflammation and there’s severe irritation (hepatitis) going on at two different degrees. And then that can proceed, if we get more accumulation, we get fatty liver with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. But then if we really start damaging the liver, if we take it further, we break it down to where there is scarring and fibrosis, now we’re really starting to do damage.
And if this damage gets so widespread that a major portion of the function of the liver is lacking, then we have cirrhosis, which is basically just severe scarring of the liver. And then, of course, if this proceeds, then we can also end up with end-stage liver disease with liver failure and cancer.
The first sign of liver stress is called bronze diabetes, and this isn’t really diabetes, but it can be associated with that and it can contribute to diabetes. It’s really something called hemochromatosis, which simply means a whole lot of color in the blood, and this is from iron overload. When we absorb too much, too high a percentage of the iron in the diet is absorbed and not enough of it is excreted, we get iron overload, and if some of this iron gets trapped in the sweat glands of the skin, now we can get a bronze appearance of the skin.
One way to think of this iron overload is rust. Just like your car can get rusty, it doesn’t happen the exact same way, but you could think of it that way. And this rust, the least of your problems is that the skin changes appearance because what it really does is create organ damage, and the most commonly damaged organs are liver, pancreas, and heart. And this is why this is such a strong contributor to liver disease, to type 2 diabetes, of course, liver, pancreas, that’s about diabetes, and heart is about cardiovascular disease. So this is a very important thing to understand and check for because it is very, very common and it’s very simple to manage. It contributes to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes.
And here’s why it’s so often missed because most times they do a blood test for you, they test something called serum iron. Well, that’s like measuring your wealth by how much money you happen to have in your wallet at any given time because the serum iron is less than one percent of the iron in your body. If we really want to get an idea of how much iron load you have, we want to test something called ferritin. So ask your doctor for the ferritin test because it’s so inexpensive, it adds like five bucks to the blood test and you will find out, and you get really valuable information because this is like measuring your savings, your equity, your house worth. This will give you an idea of how much iron is really in there. That’s the best measurement. There is also a genetic test, the true definitive test for if you have the hemochromatosis if they want to slap a label on you, you need the genetic test. But in reality, you don’t need the genetic test because the only treatment for this is to give blood. If there’s a whole lot of stuff wrong with your blood, then they’ll just do bloodletting and throw it away. But if there’s nothing majorly wrong, you just have a lot of iron, then go to the Red Cross and donate some blood, and they’ll love you for it.
Sign number two is called xanthelasma, and that’s a fancy word for yellow and plaquing. And if this shows up on the inside corner of the eye, that’s the label they give it. And these are cholesterol deposits. So normally the liver produces bile, and bile is like a detergent. It’s breaking up grease just like your detergent and emulsifier does. So when you have a fatty meal, the liver has made the bile, and the gallbladder stores the bile, and the gallbladder squirts out some bile that breaks up the fat. But if the liver is stressed, if you have liver disease, you’re not going to make as much bile, and now you also don’t have the proper fat metabolism, and part of fat metabolism is cholesterol metabolism and cholesterol breakdown. So if you don’t produce enough bile, then some of this cholesterol can end up in the wrong places.
Number three is jaundice, and that basically is just a condition of being yellow. And you could have the yellow on the skin or you can have it even in the earlier stages and the sclera on the white portion of the eye. And this color comes from red blood cells. When red blood cells are broken down and recycled, then one of the end products that the liver is responsible for is called bilirubin. This bilirubin is then discarded in the bile, and that’s what provides the brown color of your stool. Now, if the liver can’t finish this process properly and put it in the bile, then this bilirubin starts spreading, it’s not being discarded properly, and it ends up in other tissues, and now the color appears as yellow on the skin and the eye.
Number four thing to look for is changes in bowel habits. One of the most common signs of liver disease is diarrhea, especially chronic diarrhea, and it’s very poorly understood. They don’t really understand why, but it’s one of the strongest associations to liver disease. Another thing is called steaturia, which means fatty stool, and this one is very plain and simple because again it comes from the liver not making enough bile. If we don’t break down and digest the fat, then it’s going to stay in the digestive tract as part of the stool. It’s going to be pale because of the extra fat and also from the lack of bilirubin that we’re not getting from the bile, and it’s going to float because fat is lighter. So again, less bile, less fat digestion creates all kinds of problems.
Sign number five is itching and burning, and this happens because of bile retention. The bile is supposed to contain toxins to be discarded, but if we can’t get rid of the bile, if it’s stuck, if it’s not flowing properly, then these toxins end up stuck in the body, and one of the most common places is feet and hands. And why is that? Because it has to do with circulation. Circulation is what brings things to the tissues and it’s what removes toxins and junk and debris from the tissues. And you could have this because of liver congestion, and it could be made worse by type 2 diabetes. And the reason we so often see this in the feet and the hands, a lot of problems happen there, is because they are the furthest from the heart. So because of lack of circulation, the further it is from the heart, the harder it is to bring nutrients there and to remove toxins from there.
Number six thing that you might notice is poor vision. There is a vitamin associated with eyesight called vitamin A and this is a fat-soluble vitamin. So when the liver and the bile isn’t working, now we can’t digest and absorb and utilize the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. So without the vitamin A, we’re going to have disturbances, possible degeneration of general vision, but especially of night vision. So if you have poor vision at night, called night blindness, that could very well be some liver stress.
Number seven is a really big one that a lot of people don’t realize, and that’s allergies. Whether it’s food sensitivities or environmental reactions, maybe it seems like you’re reacting to just about everything that you eat. There’s so many different foods that you get a reaction to, well, that could be liver congestion, liver toxicity. Same thing with environmental reactions. If you have hay fever, if you’re reactive to pollen and ragweed and things like that, or even pets, that could be a toxic liver because the less power the liver has, the less function in the liver, the more junk accumulates in the rest of the body, and the more junk there is, the more reactions, the more tendency for the immune system to overreact, to be hypersensitive to various different things.
Sign number eight is called ascites, which is a special form of edema. And what are these things? They’re fluid accumulations, and basically, it’s a form of leakage where the water leaks out of the vascular system and into the surrounding tissues. And this is caused by something called hypoalbuminemia. If you recall on the earlier slides, we talked about albumin as being a sponge. That’s why we have these things up here, think sponge because these little proteins, they’re very tiny particles, and they hold water to them. They create an osmotic pressure, and why is that so important? Because think blood pressure. When the heart squeezes really hard and the pressure inside the blood in the arteries is so much higher than the surrounding tissues, what is it that keeps the water from just leaking out from the blood pressure squeezing the water, the fluid out into the surrounding tissues? And the answer is that the albumin acts as a sponge. If the liver is suffering, if the liver is underperforming and it can’t make enough albumin, that’s a really big deal because now we have less albumin, means less sponge activity, less osmotic pressure, more leakage.
So what can that look like? Well, here is one example called pitting edema. So if you push into the tissues, it’s sort of like one of these memory foam mattresses, you push and it just keeps going for a long time, and then you remove your finger and the indentation is still there, and it stays there for several minutes, that’s because of tissue fluid leakage. And ascites is the exact same thing, but now the leakage happens in the abdominal cavity, so these people might have a distended stomach that kind of looks like a big belly with fatty liver, but it’s actually just fluid that’s ascites.
Number nine is shoulder pain, and how does that come about? Well, whenever we have some stress in an internal organ, that can manifest as a referred pain. There are referral patterns of pain. So for example, if you have heart trouble, if you have angina or a heart attack, many people will report severe pain in the left shoulder radiating out into the left arm. The heart itself doesn’t necessarily have any pain, but there’s a referred pain. Same thing with the liver and the gallbladder, that when the liver gallbladder has stress, you’re going to find a referral pane pattern into the right shoulder blade, into the right shoulder, and even up into the right side of the neck. So if you recall some earlier time when you might have been drinking and you had a really bad stiff neck the day after, that could very well have been the mechanism.
And the tenth sign of liver stress is fatigue. And this is actually the most common complaint, and even though it’s the most common complaint, they don’t really understand why this is happening. They have a number of different theories, but they have understood and observed they don’t understand it necessarily, but they have observed that there’s a change in the neural transmission. So the brain and the body always talks back and forth, back and forth, and whenever the liver has stress, this changes the signals in the body and the nervous system. They don’t really understand why, but if we just sort of use a little bit of logic, we might think that because the liver is so critical to every form of metabolic process in the body and it is so critical to the energy production of the body, of maintaining ketones and blood sugar and so forth, then if the liver is really stressed, then it’s not so strange that it wouldn’t be able to produce the proper energy and the proper blood sugar and so forth. Another way we can think about this is that when you’re sick, your body likes to allocate the resources differently. It doesn’t want to fight a war, it wants to heal the inside organs, it wants to fight off if you have an infection or if you need to heal something.
So being in a healing state will very often produce tremendous fatigue. Now if you have a fatty liver or a toxic liver or liver disease whatever you want to call it, what do you do about it? There’s a lot of talk about liver detox and you can buy these packages called liver cleanses or liver flushes, and what they do is they just basically get the bowel moving, they stimulate some things and they flush things out, and that’s not a bad idea because the liver dumps all of the toxins, all the byproducts of its activity it dumps into the bowel, that’s the natural evacuation route, and if your bowel isn’t moving, then the stuff just sits there and it has a tendency to be reabsorbed the longer it sits. So moving the bowel is a great idea. But there is so much more, that’s just a short-term step one. Then you want to focus on eating real food and you want to understand that plants and animal products are both great. That plants have more of a cleansing function and animal products have more of a rebuilding function. The amino acid profile in animal products, which the body makes tissues from, is much more complete, it is much more utilizable by the body from animal. But plants have a great way of cleansing, and we’re not talking about bread and donuts, we’re talking about non-starchy vegetables, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, things like that. A lot of the damage in the liver is from oxidative stress, and to combat that, we need antioxidants, but it doesn’t mean that we need to go and buy a bunch of supplements or products that have antioxidants. It means we need to understand sulfur and glutathione and cysteine and methionine.
So what does that mean? Glutathione is the antioxidant that really matters, it’s the one that the body makes itself inside the cells, and it makes it from two amino acids called cysteine and methionine that contain sulfur. So you want to try to find foods that contain a lot of sulfur, whether they are from animal products or plants. It’s a good idea to select plant and animal products that have a lot of sulfur because then you get these two amino acids and you can make a ton of glutathione, which again is the only antioxidant that really matters in your body.
And then of course you want to stop putting in the garbage that caused the problem in the first place. And there are three things we want to understand: sugar, alcohol, and medications. Sugar is 50 fructose which is a liver poison. High fructose corn syrup is more than 50 percent, and alcohol is an even more potent liver poison. So these have to go. Next, however, we want to understand that medication is also a potent liver toxin. That the reason you have to take more medication all the time is that the liver does its very best to clean it out. The liver gets the first shot at everything you put in your body, whether it’s food or drink or medication. It all comes flowing from the digestive tract, in through the portal vein into the liver, and it tries to get rid of the alcohol and the medications. That’s why you have to get more medication all the time. It’s a toxin. And of course, you want to avoid processed foods because they have a lot of sugar, they have a lot of chemical additives, they have a lot of preservatives and artificial colorings, they have a lot of chemicals. That is a burden on the liver, and the processed foods basically don’t have anything of the stuff that you need.
If you enjoyed this video and you’d like to learn more about how the body works and how to get truly healthy, I think you should check out that video next. Thank you so much for watching, I’ll see you next time.