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The liver plays a vital role in maintaining our overall health. From detoxification and metabolism to nutrient storage and hormone regulation, the liver is a hardworking organ that deserves our attention and protection. There are several steps you can take to preserve your liver health and in the UK, 9 in 10 cases of liver disease could actually be prevented. This comprehensive guide explains the importance of liver health and outlines what you can do to ensure your liver stays healthy.
The liver is responsible for several essential functions in our body. Failing to prioritise its health can lead to a host of complications and consequences that can significantly impact our well-being. Here’s what can go wrong with your liver if you don’t take proper care of it:
One of the most common consequences of neglecting liver health is the development of fatty liver disease. This condition occurs when fat accumulates in the liver cells, impairing its function. If left untreated, fatty liver disease can progress to more severe conditions such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and liver cirrhosis, which can severely compromise liver function and increase the risk of liver failure.
Neglecting liver health can also leave us vulnerable to viral infections such as hepatitis. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by viral strains, including hepatitis A, B, and C. These infections can lead to chronic liver inflammation, scarring (fibrosis), and potentially liver cancer. Timely diagnosis, treatment, and prevention measures such as vaccination are crucial in protecting against hepatitis and minimising its long-term impact on liver health.
The liver plays a pivotal role in detoxifying harmful substances from the body. Neglecting liver health can impair its ability to eliminate toxins efficiently, leading to a buildup of harmful substances in the bloodstream. This can contribute to various health problems, including fatigue, digestive issues, skin disorders, and an increased susceptibility to infections.
When liver health is compromised, it can disrupt the metabolism and elimination of hormones from the body. This can result in hormonal imbalances, such as oestrogen dominance or thyroid dysfunction. These imbalances can lead to a range of symptoms and health issues, including irregular menstrual cycles, mood swings, weight gain, and fertility problems.
A neglected liver may struggle to process and metabolise nutrients efficiently. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies, including vitamins and minerals necessary for overall health. Inadequate nutrient processing can impact various bodily functions, affecting energy levels, immune system function, and overall well-being.
Neglecting liver health significantly increases the risk of developing liver cancer. Conditions such as chronic hepatitis, fatty liver disease, and cirrhosis are known to increase the likelihood of liver cancer development. Regular monitoring, early detection, and prompt treatment of liver diseases are crucial in reducing the risk of liver cancer.
There are several steps you can take to minimise the risk of harming your liver:
If you’re obese or even somewhat overweight, you’re in danger of having a fatty liver that can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), one of the fastest growing forms of liver disease. Weight loss can play an important part in helping to reduce liver fat – making your diet healthier and more balanced and being more physically active can help you to lose weight and keep it off.
Avoid high calorie-meals, saturated fat, refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, white rice and regular pasta) and sugars. Don’t eat raw or undercooked shellfish. For a well-adjusted diet, eat fibre, which you can obtain from fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, rice and cereals. Also eat meat (but limit the amount of red meat), dairy (low-fat milk and small amounts of cheese) and fats (the “good” fats that are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fish). Hydration is essential, so drink a lot of water. The best food and drink to consume for your liver includes:
These foods are nutrient dense – containing compounds like antioxidants, which can support liver health by reducing inflammation, easing oxidative stress, and preventing cell damage. Many of these foods are also high in fibre, which can help promote weight management and ensure that your liver is functioning properly.
Additionally, other foods may contain nutrients like protein or healthier fats, which could be beneficial for the treatment or prevention of other conditions associated with liver disease, such as diabetes.
When you exercise consistently, it helps to burn triglycerides for fuel and can also reduce liver fat. Regular physical activity can also:
Toxins can injure liver cells. Limit direct contact with toxins from cleaning and aerosol products, insecticides, chemicals, and additives. When you do use aerosols, make sure the room is ventilated, and wear a mask.
Alcoholic beverages can create many health problems. They can damage or destroy liver cells and scar your liver. In the UK, a quarter of us drink at levels that could put our health at risk. Remember, men and women should drink no more than 14 units per week. Give your liver a regular break and have 2 to 3 alcohol free days each week – try to have them all in a row. Talk to your doctor about what amount of alcohol is right for you – you may be advised to drink alcohol only in moderation or to quit completely.
As previously mentioned, the liver is responsible for metabolising and detoxifying substances in the body, including drugs. However, certain illicit drugs can overwhelm the liver, leading to liver damage or disease. Drugs like cocaine, ketamine and methamphetamine have all been linked to liver damage.
Dirty needles aren’t only associated with intravenous drug use. You should follow up with a medical practitioner and seek testing following any type of skin penetration involving sharp instruments or needles. Unsafe injection practices, though rare, may occur in a hospital setting, and would need immediate follow-up. Also, use only clean needles for tattoos and body piercings.
If for any reason you come into contact with someone else’s blood, immediately follow up with your doctor. If you’re very concerned, go to your nearest hospital’s emergency room.
Razors, toothbrushes and nail clippers can carry microscopic levels of blood or other body fluids that may be contaminated.
Unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners increases your risk of hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Wearing a condom can help decrease this risk.
Use soap and warm water immediately after using the bathroom, when you have changed a nappy, and before preparing or eating food.
When medicines are taken incorrectly by taking too much, the wrong type or by mixing medicines, your liver can be harmed. Never mix alcohol with other drugs and medications even if they’re not taken at the same time. Tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and natural or herbal remedies that you use.
There are vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine against the hepatitis C virus.
If you’re concerned about your liver health, consider speaking to one of our private liver specialists here at Duality Health. Private Fibroscan testing is an approved, non-invasive diagnostic method of measuring liver health, focusing on issues like scarring and fibrosis which can be caused by a number of liver health concerns. Similar to undergoing a liver ultrasound scan, outpatient Fibroscan procedures are quick, painless and easy, providing a non-surgical alternative to the traditional liver biopsy as a diagnostic method. If you’re concerned about your liver health, book a private Fibroscan with us today.