I realize this post will be off-putting to those who are vegetarian or vegan and follow my blog – and to my parents, both of whom are plant-based eaters, ie, more-or-less vegan. I also used to be vegan. It will probably be off-putting to most of the meat-eaters out there too – because in Western Culture, especially in the USA, we have almost wholly lost touch with our ancestral practice of eating organ meats, which were (and are) the prized foods in most other cultures.
When I lived in Vienna as a teenager, I remember looking suspiciously at the toast with liver pate, pickles, and gelatin decoratively displayed in street windows. This never looked appealing as I had literally never eaten liver. And it took me until my late thirties before I would really experience liver.
But eating liver was normal in Austria, along with sliced cow tongue and fried pork rinds. There was and is a reason why eating all of the animal – especially the liver, is practiced by all traditional cultures across the globe. This practice of eating the whole animal is one reason why immigrants with less money to buy fancy organic food but who still practice ancestral ways of eating are sometimes healthier than wealthier citizens able to afford top quality food but missing the tradition of eating nutrient-dense foods.
Eating liver regularly is about the most effective way to support your health, whether you get migraines or not. The simple reason for this is that liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet – and because liver health is so crucial for all other functions of the body. Because the liver stores nutrients vitally needed for wellbeing, eating liver provides your body with a host of important minerals, vitamins, and fats, all in whole food form and in good ratio to one another.
Imagine all the money that people spend on supplements, seeking desperately for a cure for various ailments. These supplements are for the most part made in labs in China. Meanwhile, the most affordable AND bioavailable supplement on the planet goes overlooked.
Why to reintegrate liver back into the diet
There are at least two roadblocks to eating liver: 1) We have become unaccustomed to its taste, and 2) eating organs is, for some reason, incredibly intimate in a way that eating muscles of animals, or bodies of plants, is not.
Nevertheless, if you want to get serious leverage on migraines, eating liver is the best thing you can do. Here’s why:
- Liver is the best source of vitamin A as retinol. Vitamin A, unlike it’s popular sister Vitamin D, is an obscure vitamin not many people really think or talk about. (If vitamin A was as popular as D, we would know not to take such high quantities of D, which depletes vitamin A.) Vitmain A helps to build an enzyme made in our liver called ceruloplasmin. This enzyme has a few very important jobs, the most important of which is to bring iron and copper into our cells to produce ATP (energy). Bioavailable copper bound to ceruloplasmin helps to break down histamine, build connective tissue integrity in the gut and blood vessels, and is key to over 300 enzymatic processes, including the enzymes that make estrogen. Without ceruloplasmin, copper and iron will build up in our bloodstreams and bodies, wreaking all sorts of havoc on a tissue level. (For vegetarians, yes, beta-carotene converts to Vitamin A as retinol, but it needs the help of zinc to do this, which is traditionally low in vegan diets. I will be writing a blog post soon on how to optimize plant-based beta-carotene conversion into retinol.)
- Liver is a good source of copper and zinc. As already mentioned, these two minerals are the key building blocks for connective tissue health and integrity needed for your blood vessels to function and your gut lining to be strong. This is very important for those with migraine who have compromised digestion and vascular problems. Liver from different animals has differing levels of copper and zinc, so the type of liver you want to eat is best determined by knowing your free copper levels and your copper to zinc ratio in a blood serum test, or through a hair tissue mineral analysis. If you don’t know your levels, chicken liver will be the best as it has low levels of copper, zinc, and iron, but is still high in Vitamin A and B vitamins. Beef liver and lamb liver have much higher levels of copper and zinc and are the preferred option for those wanting to replenish their copper and zinc levels. Copper/zinc balance is the key to healing migraine.
- Liver contains plentiful B vitamins. This is important, because one consequence of the gut flora imbalances that most migraineurs have is that the availability of B vitamins is also affected. This is because our gut flora normally provide as much as 1/3 of our B vitamins for us. Yes, some of these B vitamins are degraded while cooking liver, but others are not (like nicotinic acid, which is hugely helpful for those with migraine). B vitamins are needed as cofactors in so many enzymatic processes that not a whole lot works very well without them.
- Liver also contains iron, CoQ10, and many other fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
So how can you actually get the liver down?
That IS the question. While there are many recipes that provide ways to mix liver in with other meats or fried up with onions, liver pate is the most popular way for people to eat liver as part of a meal. I’ve shared my mild liver pate recipe here.
What I’ve noticed in my own personal journey eating liver is that I actually enjoy the taste of liver for about a week but I don’t have the stamina to eat pate on an ongoing basis. I’ve learned that for me, I need to alternate eating pate and taking frozen liver chunks with water, similar to how I would swallow a supplement. This works well for me.
I also rely on cod liver oil from time to time for vitamin A. Cod liver oil does not contain many of the other beneficial nutrients that liver does, so while supplementing with cod liver oil I also take copper and zinc in pill form. I ONLY recommend Rosita brand cod liver oil, which contains 3,900 IU in one teaspoon. (Nordic Naturals does not have sufficient vitamin A.)
Between the liver pate, the frozen liver chunks, and taking cod liver oil, I have plenty of ways to get vitamin A in whole food form without being overwhelmed by the task of eating liver.
How to Make Frozen Liver Bits to Consume as a Supplement
- Cook 1 pound of liver on medium heat in a frying pan with a little butter or olive oil to prevent sticking. You will want to chop the liver into 2 inch pieces if you are working with beef or lam liver, but if you’re using chicken liver, just throw them straight in.
- Stir the liver frequently and check to make sure you’re not overcooking it. You want to cook it just long enough to where it’s pink inside, but not so long that you destroy the nutrients.
- Let the liver cool down.
- Once cooked, cut the liver with a knife into small pieces the size of a supplement pill. You can also leave them a little bigger as they sometimes chop down easier once frozen.
- Freeze the liver.
If you are eating chicken liver you will need 1 T a day, whereas you need only 1/2 T of liver if you are eating beef liver. You may want to take the liver twice a day (since 1 T is a lot to swallow). Either way, remove the amount of liver you will take, cutting the pieces down into even smaller pieces (about the size of a pea) if needed, and simply swallow the liver with water like you would a supplement.
I prefer cooked liver over raw because cooking kills parasites.
Where to buy liver
I buy my chicken liver from a local organic farmer who also sells beef and lamb products and occasionally has beef and lamb liver (one liver from an animal this size will go a long way). When I lived in the city, my local natural grocery also had 100% grassfed beef liver but not organic chicken liver. Since I am generally copper deficient and not copper toxic (as revealed by my HTMA and blood tests) on a tissue level, beef liver suits my metabolism in a way it wouldn’t for someone high in copper.
For those who cannot find a good local source of liver from healthy animals, US Wellness Meats carries liver products in the US. If you live in another country and find a good source feel free to share it in the comments section below this article.
The next best option is to take dehydrated organic liver capsules. You will need to inquire with the manufacturer of the liver supplement to know how much vitamin A, copper, and zinc is in each capsule so as to determine how much to take.
- Here is a good source for Australian organic chicken liver capsules
- Here is a good source in the US for 100% grassfed beef liver capsules
How much liver should I eat?
I suggest eating about 1 Tablespoon per day of chicken liver or 1/2 T of beef or lamb liver. Try to get a minimum of 1,000 mg/day of vitamin A. Vitamin A toxicity has been documented with extremely high doses (40,000 IU) of synthetic vitamin A supplements.
- Chicken liver contains about 1,500 mg of vitamin A per T
- There is approximately .5 mg of zinc in 1 T and very little copper in chicken liver.
- Chicken liver is the best option for those who want to avoid copper, or who prefer the milder flavor, while still getting benefit from copper and zinc through additional supplementation.
- Chicken liver is lower in iron than beef liver, so is a better option for people who have elevated tissue iron (as revealed in a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis).
- 1 T of beef liver contains about 6,000 IU of vitamin A.
- There is about 1.5mg of copper in each T of beef liver, and .25 mg of zinc.
- Beef liver is a good source of iron at 2.5 mg in 1 T.
Liver and ancestral diets
I’m personally happy to have reconnected with my French and English roots through the act of eating liver. It is possible that my French and English ancestors could have been part of the small movement towards vegetarian diets (of which vegan diets were considered a part) which started to crop up there in the 1830s, with James Pierrepont Greaves founding the Concordium, a vegan community on Ham Common. My French ancestors were already in Quebec and my English ancestors in the US by this time.
But without further evidence my assumption is that most of my ancestors got much more liver in their diet on a regular basis than any of my extended, meat-eating family eats today. The book “Deep Nutrition” has convinced me that much of the health my family has enjoyed can be attributed to the genetic momentum passed down generation after generation from ancestors who knew the value of nutrient-dense food. That genetic momentum can be (and is being) diluted and compromised within a few generations due to poor nutrient quality in modern food, damage from pharmaceuticals, and loss of ancestral ways of eating.
I’m ready to regain my family’s genetic momentum. Luckily my little two year old just relishes liver!
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The information in this article is for educational purposes only and not meant to replace diagnosis, treatment, or prescription by a qualified medical professional.