Liver health begins with this miracle mineral

It clears out toxins... fights infection... helps with digestion... and stores vitamins. It even produces proteins, carbs, and fats for the rest of your body to use.

It's a real workhorse, but you've probably never given this part of your innards much thought.

I'm talking about your liver -- your body's unsung hero!

Recently, headlines have been shining a spotlight on the liver -- unfortunately, not to sing its praises. The American Cancer Society just reported that liver cancer deaths in the U.S. have DOUBLED since the 1980s!

Liver cancer is now the fifth leading cause of cancer death in men and the eighth in women.

We've got skyrocketing rates of hepatitis C among Baby Boomers and a rise in obesity and diabetes among all age groups to thank for this. These diseases can damage liver tissue and lead to inflammation, setting the stage for cancer.

But according to a new study, there's something simple you can do to protect your liver from disease and injury -- even if you don't know where the heck your liver is inside your body.

Increase the amount of zinc in your diet!

The study out of Australia found that zinc, an essential mineral, shields your liver in a bunch of powerful ways.

First off, it beefs up the liver's immunity and defends against viral infections like hepatitis C, so you're less likely to get them in the first place.

But if you do wind up with a viral (or non-viral) liver disease, zinc also naturally fends off the inflammatory effects of a protein called interferon lambda, which is known to cause scarring of the liver (a.k.a. "cirrhosis").

So, if you want to slash your chances of becoming a liver cancer statistic, get more zinc in your diet!

Zinc deficiency is actually common among folks over the age of 55, but you can boost your zinc intake by eating Paleo-friendly foods like beef, oysters, crab, dark meat chicken, and yogurt.

You can also try zinc in supplement form, but just be careful not to go overboard, because there is such a thing as too much zinc. A doctor well-versed in integrative medicine can work with you on finding the right dosage.

To keep your liver in the best shape possible, you should also be mindful of the number of toxins you're forcing your body to process -- even "innocent" medications like Tylenol can tax your liver.

And, ideally, you should also quit smoking, maintain a healthy body weight, avoid excessive drinking, keep your diabetes in check, and get regular screenings for hepatitis C.

Natural supplements such as milk thistle and N-acetyl cysteine can also provide a helping hand in maintaining the health of your liver.