Reduce alcohol is an obvious one, but there are other ways to ensure this organ stays healthy
The liver is a wonderfully resilient and complex organ that nurtures and protects your body day in and day out. It helps neutralize and dispose of toxins, feeds your body the energy it needs to function, fights off viruses and infections, regulates sex hormones, cholesterol levels, and vitamin and mineral supplies in your body. And that’s only some of its more than 500 functions.
By learning more about your liver and how you can keep it healthy, you may actually help reduce your risk of developing not only the liver disease but also other health conditions including diabetes and heart disease.
Regulates the supply of essential vitamins and minerals such as iron and copper.
Produces bile which eliminates toxic substances from the body and aids digestion.
Top tips for a healthy liver
1) Reduce alcohol
We are often told that too much alcohol is bad for us, and you may have wondered when sipping a glass of wine or beer how alcohol affects your liver. Your liver can cope with drinking a small amount of alcohol. However, the liver can only handle a certain amount of alcohol at any given time, so if you drink more than the liver can deal with by drinking too quickly, or drinking too much over a short period of time, the liver cells (hepatocytes) struggle to process it.
When alcohol reaches the liver, it produces a toxic enzyme called acetaldehyde which can damage liver cells and cause permanent scarring, in addition to other organs such as the stomach lining causing gastritis or peptic ulcer disease.
If you continue to drink excessively, either through binge drinking or by having multiple drinks on a daily basis, the consequences include the destruction of liver cells, a build-up of fat deposits in your liver (fatty liver), or liver inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis), permanent scarring (cirrhosis) or even liver cancer.
Guidelines for low-risk weekly alcohol consumption suggest up to 11 standard drinks in a week for women, and up to 17 standard drinks in a week for men. Drinking no more than six standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion. Drinking more than six standard drinks on any one occasion is regarded as binge drinking.
Remember it is the amount of alcohol – not the type – is what matters. AskAboutAlcohol.ie is an HSE website that provides dedicated information about alcohol risk and offers support and guidance to anyone who wants to cut back on their drinking. Keep in mind that alcohol can have varying effects on you depending on: age, gender, mental health, drug use, and medical conditions, so balance a glass of your preferred alcoholic beverage with some thought about the associated risks.
2) Maintain a healthy weight
Research has demonstrated that more than 70 percent of Irish over-50s are either overweight or obese. Of those classed as obese, approximately 30 percent will have fatty liver disease or non-alcohol fatty liver disease (NAFLD), putting them at high risk of liver scarring (cirrhosis), liver failure and liver cancer.
Recently published research from Bristol University examined outcomes from more than 4,000 young people enrolled in a longitudinal study called Children of the 90s, which was set up to follow the lives and health of children born in 1991 and 1992 in Avon, England. All of them had been given an ultrasound at the age of 18, which revealed that 2.5 percent had NAFLD.
Five years later, a newer kind of scan called transient elastography or fibroscan detected that over 20 percent had fatty deposits on the liver, or steatosis, indicating non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Half of those were classified as severe. The scans also found that 2.4 percent had fibrosis – scarring on the liver. The vast majority of the young people with NAFLD were overweight, with a BMI of over 25. Among people with the largest amount of fatty liver deposits, 60 percent were obese.
If you carry any excess weight around your middle, it can cause insulin resistance which often leads to fatty liver disease. Measure your middle and keep it at a healthy circumference. Men should maintain a waist of less than 102cm (40 inches) and women, less than 88cm (35 inches). Exercising and eating a diet that’s low in fat and high in fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals will help you maintain a healthy weight and liver.
Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build-up to the recommended amount. Guidelines recommend 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week. Aim to start with a brisk 30-minute walk each day.
3) Avoid fad diets
Fad diets that make your weight yoyo can put excessive stress on your liver. Avoid any products that promise large amounts of weight loss in an unrealistically short period of time. Aim to lose weight at a healthy rate of ½kg-1kg per week. Liver cleansing and detox diets should also be avoided. Contrary to popular belief, no particular diet is liver cleansing, but a healthy diet improves wellbeing.