The Complete Functional Medicine Guide To Organ Meats
When it comes to animal protein, you really can’t find any part that is more nutritious than organ meat. I know I probably just made some of you squirm by suggesting the option of eating organ meats, but they are great when prepared correctly and the nutrition can’t be beat.
Organ meats are most popular to be used from beef, pork, lamb, or poultry. The different kinds of organ meats that you can eat include:
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History of Organ Meats
Each culture has their own opinion of organ meat and each views it slightly different than the next. In some cultures, organs are consumed daily while in others certain organs are illegal to eat. One thing that stands true for all cultures is that organ consumption has changed over the years.
Centuries ago, not only were organ meats just eaten, they were praised and loved. When food was hunted and gathered there was a lot of effort put into supplying it for families and tribes. Hunters didn’t just walk to the local supermarket to buy meat, they had to fight for it. And when you’re putting that much effort into hunting food for your family, you use every ounce of it that you can. Not only was it eaten just so it wouldn’t go to waste, the organ meat was reserved for the respected society members. Whether it was the political kings and leaders, the hunters, or the elders; the organ meats were regarded as the best and saved for the best.
Over the years it has changed to be eaten by all, not just the well respected, in almost all countries. In some countries, organ meats are served as common street food and others as appetizers and entrees in expensive restaurants. No matter how common throughout the world though, eating organ meat isn’t a widely loved meat here in the United States, yet.
Why People Avoid It
I will admit that the taste can take some getting used to, but they provide far too many benefits to avoid it. Another reason that organ meats invoke negative perceptions is the thought of toxins. The misconception in our society is that the animals’ toxins are stored in their organs; and when eaten, the toxins now move into our bodies. This would make sense, however the toxins are not actually stored in an animal’s organs. The organs, the liver in particular, are where the toxins move to get filtered out. Once there, the liver doesn’t store it, but rather decide where it should be moved to. Most times, the liver moves any toxins to the kidneys where it is then expelled through urine. (1) The toxins are removed from the animal’s organs and bodies before it has the chance to enter our bodies.
The benefits of eating organ meat reach far and wide. Each one acts as a superfood that provides many more nutrients to our bodies than the animal muscle meat that we normally eat.
One of the main nutrients that organ meats offer is the Coenzyme Q10, otherwise known as CoQ10. This coenzyme is found in the largest amounts in animal hearts. Like all coenzymes, our bodies naturally produce this nutrient, but only in small amounts and not enough that we need. That’s where organ meat comes in.
CoQ10 is also designed to help other enzymes digest and break down food. When it comes to energy, it isn’t always the same and instead comes in many different forms. The form that our cells use is called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. But when our energy comes in the form of fat or carbohydrates that we eat, how does our body make that change to supply energy to our cells? CoQ10 is crucial for the body to begin and sustain the ATP synthesis process to continually supply (2) our cells with energy each day.
Our brain and cardiovascular systems are also impacted by this coenzyme due to its antioxidant features and its effect on oxidative stress. Although further research is needed, it is recommended to people with or at risk for cardiovascular disease to up their CoQ10 intake along with regular medications. Eating foods high in CoQ10 helps fight (3) the backlash that come with these prescribed medications and keep blood flowing. (4)
When it comes to our brain, it has been shown that those with cognitive disorders have lower levels (5) of CoQ10 that contribute to the issue. As potential agents are looked for to combat the cognitive decline we see on a daily basis, research suggests (6) that CoQ10 has potential to be used medically to fight the decline.
2. Vitamin A
Organ meats also offer one of the largest amounts of the antioxidant Vitamin A. When taken in supplement form Vitamin A in mass amounts can result in toxicity; but, Vitamin A present in food does not lead to any toxic results even in large amounts. When the body breaks down nutrients from food sources it can access how much our individual bodies need and expel any extra, avoiding any issues.
There are two types of Vitamin A: retinol, or active Vitamin A, and beta-carotene. Active Vitamin A is present in organ meats and other animal meat in smaller quantities. This type can be broken down and used by the body right away, making it a perfect source to get this nutrient from. Beta-carotene, found in many vegetables, cannot be used by the body unless broken down and changed. Even though vegetables are great for you, they are an inefficient source of Vitamin A because of the work and stress it has on our bodies just to use it.
Vitamin A can also do a lot of good when it comes to the immune system. In a recent study of children under 5 in Colombia, they came to the conclusion that increasing the childrens’ Vitamin A intake was the most effective way to protect against disease. Not only was it the most effective, (7) it was also the least expensive way to protect the immune system in the children to ensure health. When Vitamin A is present, the mucosal barriers that become damaged by infection can regenerate and repair themselves to provide immune protection. If your body is lacking this immune-boosting vitamin, (8) then regeneration does not occur and infections become more prevalent and can spread faster.
One of the most noticeable benefits of Vitamin A is the glowing and clear skin it can lead to. Its support of cell regeneration keeps wrinkles away while the anti-inflammatory properties protect against acne and skin irritations.
3. B Vitamins
Organ meats also supply us with important B Vitamins. All of the B Vitamins that are present in organ meats offer some kind of help to our cardiovascular systems. These vitamins can maintain healthy levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, blood triglycerides, and homocysteine. When all of these are at healthy levels, the risk of developing a heart or cardiovascular issue is greatly diminished.
Vitamin B7, also referred to as biotin, is known for its ability to enhance beauty through the positive effects it has on hair, skin, and nails. One thing needed for radiant skin is fatty acid synthesis, and, of course, biotin aids this process and can therefore fight (9) the effects of aging and prevent wrinkles.
Biotin deficiency and thyroid problems can both lead to thinning hair and hair loss. This can be reversed and restored through incorporating more biotin (10) into your diet. The same is true for restoring (11) weak and thinning nails back to full health. For this reason many beauty products and beauty enhancing supplements can be found with biotin. However, biotin is not as effective when use topically compared to when it is when ingested. 3 ounces of beef liver provides 30 mg of biotin, which is the daily recommendation for adults.
The B Vitamins in organ meats also aid in hormonal health and pregnancies. Folate, otherwise known as B9, is one of the most needed vitamins for mothers and babies for a healthy pregnancy. Folate supplements are often recommended by doctors, but I truly believe that when available, food medicines are the best way to get your daily dose of vitamins. Vitamin B6 can also decrease the risk of erectile dysfunction, reduce nausea related to pregnancy, and calm menstrual cycle cramps.
When it comes to supplying our bodies with nutrients to work optimally, incorporating organ meat is an easy and efficient way to get these nutrients.
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- InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. How does the liver work? 2009 Sep 17 [Updated 2016 Aug 22]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279393/
- Khakh BS, Burnstock G. The double life of ATP. Sci Am. 2009;301(6):84‐92. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1209-84
- Caso G, Kelly P, McNurlan MA, Lawson WE. Effect of coenzyme q10 on myopathic symptoms in patients treated with statins. Am J Cardiol. 2007;99(10):1409‐1412. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2006.12.063
- Sarter, Barbara PhD Coenzyme Q10 and Cardiovascular Disease: A Review, The Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing: July 2002 - Volume 16 - Issue 4 - p 9-20
- Isobe C, Abe T, Terayama Y. Levels of reduced and oxidized coenzyme Q-10 and 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with living Parkinson's disease demonstrate that mitochondrial oxidative damage and/or oxidative DNA damage contributes to the neurodegenerative process. Neurosci Lett. 2010;469(1):159‐163. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2009.11.065
- Spindler M, Beal MF, Henchcliffe C. Coenzyme Q10 effects in neurodegenerative disease. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2009;5:597‐610. doi:10.2147/ndt.s5212
- Quitian H, Castaño N, Granados C, Gómez-Restrepo C. Análisis de costo efectividad de la vitamina A en niños menores de 5 años en Colombia [Cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) regarding vitamin A in children aged less than 5 years-old in Colombia]. Rev Salud Publica (Bogota). 2014;16(3):408‐416.
- Stephensen CB. Vitamin A, infection, and immune function. Annu Rev Nutr. 2001;21:167‐192. doi:10.1146/annurev.nutr.21.1.167
- Mock DM. Skin manifestations of biotin deficiency. Semin Dermatol. 1991;10(4):296‐302.
- Zempleni J, Hassan YI, Wijeratne SS. Biotin and biotinidase deficiency. Expert Rev Endocrinol Metab. 2008;3(6):715‐724. doi:10.1586/174466220.127.116.115
- Floersheim GL. Behandlung brüchiger Fingernägel mit Biotin [Treatment of brittle fingernails with biotin]. Z Hautkr. 1989;64(1):41‐48.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.
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