As you get older, the damage you inflict on your body often feels permanent. But in many cases, your ailing body can help to heal itself — with a little help from you. Here’s how to turn back the clock.
Regenerate your liver
The liver, your body’s main detoxifying organ, is also “the most naturally regenerative organ,” says Robert C. Huebert, a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist who specializes in liver transplants. “Humans can tolerate a 70 percent recession of liver and the liver will [still grow back].”
That’s good liver news for those who occasionally indulge in a night of binge drinking. (Consistent over-drinking, of course, can result in cirrhosis or fatty liver disease, both of which cause permanent damage.)
Sugar can exacerbate liver damage, even causing what’s called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Bridget Murphy, a registered dietitian at NYU Langone Medical Center, advises cutting back on soda, juice and anything else that packs an overly sweet punch.
Rewire your brain
Research shows that the brain can sometimes rewire itself through the relearning of functions, and the growth and development of stem cells.
“[In the case of a] mild brain injury, such as a concussion, most can recover fully,” says Barry Jordan, assistant medical director of neurorehabilitation at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, NY. More serious brain injuries are dependent on variables like age, he says, noting those under 50 have a better chance of bouncing back.
Some studies indicate that certain foods can help boost the brain.
“With ADHD, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to fix neurological misfires,” says Murphy. “The question is, how can it help with Alzheimer’s, or brain injuries?” She suggests adding fatty fish, walnuts and antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries to your diet.
Work on your lungs
There’s good but cautious news when it comes to lung damage, long believed to be permanent. Some studies have shown the potential for lung-cell regeneration in a lab setting. What this means for future treatment is unclear, however.
For now, damage to lung tissue from smoking is indeed permanent, says Humberto Choi, staff pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic. But quitting can lead to other benefits — including a lowered risk of cancer.
“[Coughing] and acute inflammation stop quickly, within days or weeks, and the risk of lung cancer decreases overtime,” says Choi. After 10 years, he says, the risk drops to roughly 50 percent of that of a continued smoker. The body’s ability to circulate oxygen also improves.
Some foods can help fight lung dryness and inflammation, says Murphy, who suggests consuming healthy fats, particularly those rich in medium-chain triglycerides, such as coconut oil.
Keep your heart strong
Approximately 15.5 million Americans have one or more types of cardiovascular disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. While much of the damage is irreversible, the muscle can be strengthened to prevent future troubles.
“Exercise, diet change and lifestyle change” are the three pillars to good heart health, says Richard Novitch, director of the cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program at Burke Hospital. “Exercise is the most important,” as it lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, and can cause new blood vessels to form. “The strain on the heart can lessen, and the heart can remodel itself over time,” he says, referring to the arteries’ ability to reshape themselves to a natural, healthy state.
Diet changes should include “decreasing saturated fats, increasing unsaturated fats, and increasing fiber,” says Murphy. Try adding chia seeds or flax meal to your breakfast for both healthy fat and fiber.