We talk about heart health. Brain health. Gut health. But what about your liver health? An unhealthy liver can cause many problems. When you think of your liver, you may think “I’m not a heavy drinker, I don’t need to worry about my liver health”. But there is more to liver health than avoiding heavy drinking. Your liver is a large organ and needs to be taken care of! It is actually the largest organ and the largest gland in the body.
The Role of Your Liver
Your liver lives on the right side of your body and is protected by your ribs. It weighs around three pounds and is a key part of your digestive system. The liver has two sides—the left and right lobe. The right lobe is larger than the left lobe. The liver works with other organs, like your gallbladder, pancreas, and intestines, to digest the food you eat. So, what does the liver actually do?
The answer is a lot. The liver carries out over 500 functions. Here are a few:
Metabolization: Your liver helps your body metabolizes many things—carbohydrates, fats, proteins, bilirubin (important for new blood cells). A big part of this is bile production. The liver produces bile that helps breakdown and metabolize fats and proteins.
Filters your blood: Your liver filters the blood that comes from your digestive tract, ridding it of toxins and hormones, before sending it off to the rest of your body.
Vitamins and mineral use: The liver stores many different vitamins and minerals. It stores vitamin B12, K, A, D, E, iron, and copper.
Blood clotting: Bile is created in the liver and aids in vitamin K absorption. Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting. Clotting is important because it helps prevent unnecessary bleeding upon injury.
An unhealthy liver can cause many problems. Knowing the signs of liver problems can either help you get your health back on track or find out if there is a problem that needs medical attention. Here are some liver diseases and condition to be aware of.
Liver cancer. This cancer begins in the cells of your liver. Treatment options include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and transplant. Potential of liver cancer may include abdominal pain, weight loss, fatigue, skin and eye yellowness, nausea, or vomiting. Symptoms are not usually apparent in the beginning stages but appear later.
Hepatitis. This disease causes inflammation in the liver. Hepatitis in the liver can be caused in a few ways. First, it can be caused by a virus (hepatitis A, B, C). It can also be caused by conditions such as obesity, heavy drinking, or drug intake. Signs of hepatitis in the liver include loss of appetite, nausea, jaundice, fever, and vomiting.
Liver failure. This is a life-threatening condition. It can be caused by different things, including alcohol consumption, disease, or infection. It usually develops gradually, over a span of years even. However, acute liver disease happens quickly. This type of failure is rare.
Cirrhosis. This condition is characterized by permanent liver scarring. This scarring can be caused by any disease or liver condition. Cirrhosis causes long-term damage to the liver.
Gallstones. A gallstone is a small hard mass that forms in the gallbladder or in the bile ducts in your liver. If one becomes lodged in the bile ducts, it can cause liver infection.
Hemochromatosis. This condition is caused by iron deposits in your liver, causing damage. The deposits can also spread to other areas of the body which is problematic.
Tips for Healthy Liver
Healthy weight and diet
Unhealthy weight can lead to a fatty liver. Fatty liver is caused when fat builds up in your liver cells. The liver is considered fatty when more than 5% is fat. Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the fat in your liver and reduce the chances of developing fatty liver disease. Signs of a fatty liver include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
Adjusting your diet is necessary in order to get rid of a fatty liver. In a study of overweight adults, there was a significant decrease in fatty liver and an 8% loss of body weight when calorie intake was reduced by 500 calories per day. Some other dietary changes include:
- Reduce refined carbs such as white bread and rice
- Eat more fiber from fruits, veggies, and whole grain foods
- Eat more lean meat
- Focus on good fats (nuts, fish, seeds)
Exercise can also help reduce liver fat. Certain exercise and training have more effect but honestly, any form of exercise is good for your liver. Exercise such as HIIT exercise, endurance training, and resistance training can help reduce fatty liver. The key is not necessarily what kind of exercise but how often you exercise.
Watch alcohol intake
Just because you can chug five beers, doesn’t mean you should. Too much alcohol can cause permanent liver damage and scarring. Every person is different, so it is important to consult with your doctor. Depending on the state of your liver, you may be told your current consumption is fine, to cut back, or to stop drinking entirely.
Did you know that your liver processes 90% of the alcohol you consume? hIf you drink too much, your liver has less time to process the alcohol and it can destroy liver cells. Unfortunately, over 10% of alcoholics have cirrhosis (liver scarring). On the bright side, it is never too late to seek help and cut back.
Stay away from illicit drugs
According to the Liver Foundation, 9.2% of the American population in 2014 used illicit drugs. These drugs include:
- Prescriptions (for non-medical use)
These drugs can cause drastic liver damage.