Dr AvinashTank, is a super-specialist (MCh) Laparoscopic Gastro-intestinal Surgeon,

Keep Your Liver Healthy and Happy: 5 Simple Steps You Must Take

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Keep Your Liver Healthy and Happy: 5 Simple Steps You Must Take
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Keep Your Liver Healthy and Happy: 5 Simple Steps You Must Take. The liver is one of the most important organs in the human body.

Why Liver is Important for Life?

It performs over 500 vital functions that are essential for good health and survival. Some of the key functions of the liver include:

  • Processing nutrients – The liver processes fats, proteins and carbohydrates from the food you eat and turns them into energy and materials your body can use. It also stores important vitamins and minerals.

  • Removing toxins – The liver filters 1.4 liters of blood every minute to remove toxins, waste products and excess hormones from your body. It neutralizes drugs and chemicals and makes many of them less harmful.

  • Managing cholesterol – The liver produces and regulates cholesterol, which is essential for many functions like making cell membranes and hormones. The liver removes excess cholesterol from your blood.

  • Aiding digestion – The liver produces and secretes bile, a digestive juice that breaks down fats and aids in the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins.

  • Fighting infections – The liver contains Kupffer cells that destroy bacteria, viruses and other harmful substances that enter the body. This helps prevent infections.

  • Blood clotting – Special proteins and clotting factors made in the liver help stop bleeding by enabling blood clotting.

  • Regulating blood composition – The liver maintains optimal levels of blood glucose and iron as well as proteins important for blood clotting and fluid balance.

  • Processing hormones – The liver metabolizes and regulates many key hormones in the body like insulin, estrogen, testosterone and cortisol.

  • Detoxifying blood – The liver continuously filters blood from the digestive tract before passing it to the rest of the body. This detoxification removes excess hormones, bacteria, medications and byproducts of red blood cell breakdown.

Given its critical functions, liver damage can have serious health consequences. It can lead to loss of appetite, fatigue, jaundice, fluid retention, internal bleeding, kidney failure and mental confusion. Long-term liver damage can result in chronic liver disease, liver cancer or even death.

This is why it’s so important to protect your liver and keep it healthy. Even small adjustments to your diet, lifestyle and exposure to chemicals/medications can go a long way in maintaining proper liver function.

Limit Alcohol Intake

It’s important to limit your alcohol intake to protect your liver health. The liver plays a vital role in metabolizing and removing alcohol from your body. Drinking more than the recommended limits can harm your liver over time.

For healthy adults, guidelines recommend:

  • No more than 2 drinks per day for men
  • No more than 1 drink per day for women

One drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits/hard liquor.

Drinking more than these limits increases your risk of developing alcoholic liver disease. Over time, heavy alcohol use can lead to liver inflammation, liver scarring (cirrhosis), and liver failure. It can also contribute to fatty liver disease.

Alcohol impacts the liver in several ways:

  • It produces toxic byproducts that damage liver cells
  • It promotes oxidative stress and inflammation
  • It interferes with the liver’s ability to metabolize fats, which can lead to fatty liver

The good news is the liver can repair itself and regenerate new liver tissue, even after years of heavy drinking. If you have a history of excessive alcohol use, reducing your intake now can help your liver heal and lower your risk of permanent damage.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for liver health. Excess weight and obesity lead to an accumulation of fat in the liver, a condition known as fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease affects 25% of adults globally. When fat makes up 5-10% of the liver’s weight, it is known as simple fatty liver or steatosis. This usually does not cause any damage. However, if the fat content rises above 10%, it can lead to inflammation and liver cell damage, known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH can progress to liver scarring (cirrhosis) and even liver failure.

The more overweight you are, the greater your risk of developing fatty liver disease. Reducing your weight to a healthy BMI range through diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes can help prevent and even reverse fatty liver disease. Losing just 3-5% of your body weight can make a big difference in liver fat and inflammation. Aim for slow and steady weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week. Crash diets and rapid weight loss are not recommended as they may worsen liver health. Work with your doctor to set safe weight loss goals and determine the diet and exercise plan that can get you there. Protecting your liver from obesity and fatty liver disease now helps ensure you maintain a healthy liver for life.

Get Vaccinated Against Hepatitis

The liver can be damaged by hepatitis viruses, so getting vaccinated is crucial for protecting your liver health. Hepatitis A, B, and C are some of the most common strains of hepatitis viruses that affect the liver.

Hepatitis A is typically spread through contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B and C are spread through contact with infected blood and bodily fluids. According to the CDC, about 4.4 million Americans are chronically infected with hepatitis B or C, which can often lead to severe liver damage or cancer if left untreated.

Vaccinations are available to prevent hepatitis A and B. The hepatitis B vaccine is routinely given to infants at birth, but adults should also check their vaccination status and get vaccinated if needed. There is currently no vaccine available for hepatitis C. The best form of prevention is avoiding risky behaviors like sharing needles and practicing safe sex.

Getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B can protect your liver from unnecessary damage and reduce your risk of developing chronic liver conditions later in life. Since hepatitis often has no symptoms at first, getting vaccinated is crucial even if you feel healthy. Talk to your doctor about getting screened for hepatitis and receiving appropriate vaccinations. Taking this preventive step can save your liver from long-term damage.

Avoid Unnecessary Medications

Many common over-the-counter and prescription medications can potentially damage the liver. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States. Even at lower doses, acetaminophen may cause liver damage if taken with alcohol or other drugs processed by the liver.

Other pain relievers like NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen) have been associated with liver injury in some cases. Certain antibiotics, cholesterol medications, anti-seizure drugs, oral diabetes drugs, antidepressants, and immune-modulating drugs also carry a risk of liver damage. Herbal supplements and energy drinks can contain unregulated ingredients that negatively impact the liver as well.

It’s important not to stop taking any prescription medications without consulting your doctor first. However, you can help protect your liver by:

  • Avoiding unnecessary OTC medications like acetaminophen
  • Using the lowest effective dose when needed
  • Not exceeding dosage instructions
  • Avoiding combinations of drugs that increase liver toxicity
  • Reporting any symptoms of liver injury to your doctor right away

Being cautious with all medications and supplements can help reduce their potential toll on your liver over the long term. Inform your doctor of everything you take to allow for proper monitoring and early detection of any problems.

Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise provides immense benefits for overall health, including liver health. Being physically active helps reduce fat buildup in the liver, lower inflammation, and improve liver enzyme levels.

Exercise helps regulate weight and prevent obesity, a major risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Carrying excess weight leads to fat deposits in the liver. Regular exercise helps burn visceral fat and reduces liver fat content.

Physical activity also helps manage insulin resistance and diabetes, other contributors to NAFLD. Exercise improves the body’s use of insulin and lowers blood sugar levels. This effect helps prevent liver damage from elevated blood sugar.

Additionally, exercise stimulates circulation, brings oxygenated blood to the liver, and improves immune function. This boosts the liver’s ability to filter toxins and waste from the blood. The anti-inflammatory effects of exercise may also protect the liver from inflammatory liver diseases.

Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise, along with some strength training. Going for a brisk walk, swimming, cycling, or other heart-pumping activity provides substantial benefits for liver health and function. Consistency is key – try to exercise most days of the week for optimal results.

Eat a Nutritious, Balanced Diet

Eating a nutritious, balanced diet is crucial for liver health. The liver plays an essential role in metabolizing nutrients from the food we eat. Providing your body with a diverse array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, and protein will ensure your liver has all the nutrients it needs to function optimally.

Focus on eating foods that support liver function and health. These include:

  • High-fiber foods like whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits. Fiber helps remove toxins and waste from the body that the liver filters out.

  • Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants like berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and cruciferous veggies. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals and oxidative stress that can damage liver cells.

  • Foods containing sulfur like garlic, onions, eggs, and legumes. Sulfur helps the liver produce glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that filters toxins.

  • Lean proteins like fish, chicken, eggs, and nuts. Protein provides amino acids for liver metabolism and enzyme production.

  • Healthy fats from olive oil, avocados, nuts and fish. These provide anti-inflammatory omega-3s to reduce liver inflammation.

  • Herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, and milk thistle that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to protect the liver.

  • Green tea, which contains plant compounds that boost liver health.

  • Limit processed foods, added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and excess salt as these tax the liver.

Providing your liver with optimal nutrition reduces its workload and helps it detoxify and function at its best. Aim for a balanced plate at meals and make sure to stay hydrated with water throughout the day.

Manage Conditions Like Diabetes

Keeping diabetes under control is critical for liver health. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious liver problems like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

In NAFLD, excess fat builds up in the liver. Up to 70% of people with diabetes develop NAFLD. This extra fat makes it harder for the liver to work properly.

With NASH, inflammation and liver cell damage occur in addition to fat buildup. This can cause cirrhosis or permanent scarring and may even lead to liver cancer or failure over time. People with diabetes have a higher risk for progressing to these advanced stages of liver disease.

Controlling blood sugar levels through medication, diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes can prevent or delay these diabetes-related liver conditions. Work closely with your doctor to keep hemoglobin A1c levels under good control. Getting diabetes under control also means regular monitoring through blood tests, imaging, and sometimes liver biopsies.

Managing diabetes is challenging but absolutely vital for preserving liver health and function. Good control of blood sugar can help avoid irreversible damage and potentially serious complications.

Get Regular Checkups

Getting regular medical checkups is one of the best ways to protect your liver health. During a checkup, your doctor can perform tests to screen for potential problems with your liver. Some common screening tests include:

  • Liver function tests – These blood tests measure levels of liver enzymes, proteins, and bilirubin. Abnormal results may indicate liver disease or damage.

  • Liver ultrasound – This imaging test uses sound waves to create pictures of the liver. It can detect gallstones, tumors, cysts, and other issues.

  • Liver biopsy – Your doctor may take a small sample of liver tissue to examine under a microscope. This helps diagnose liver problems like cirrhosis, hepatitis, and cancer.

  • FibroScan – This noninvasive test uses a painless vibration to measure liver stiffness, which correlates with fibrosis and cirrhosis.

  • CT scan – A CT scan creates cross-sectional X-ray images of the liver to identify tumors, cysts, abnormalities, and more.

  • MRI – An MRI machine uses magnetic fields to produce detailed images of the liver and detect problems.

The earlier liver disease is caught, the better the chances of effective treatment. Many liver problems don’t cause symptoms until they progress to advanced stages. That’s why regular screening is so important, even if you feel perfectly healthy.

Adults should have liver function tests at least once a year as part of a routine checkup. People at higher risk may need more frequent testing. This includes those with a family history of liver disease, fatty liver, chronic viral hepatitis, or diabetes.

Your doctor may adjust the testing schedule and recommend additional screening based on your individual health status and risk factors. Don’t hesitate to discuss any concerns about your liver health during your next visit. Protecting your liver now helps ensure good health for years to come.

Avoid Toxins and Infections

One of the most important things you can do to protect your liver health is to avoid toxins and infections that can damage liver cells and lead to disease.

Environmental toxins like heavy metals, solvents, and pesticides can be extremely hazardous to your liver. These chemicals are found in contaminated food and water, as well as the air we breathe. Exposure over time allows them to accumulate in the body and liver. Try to limit exposure to air pollution, and thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables to minimize ingesting pesticides. Avoid fish known to have high mercury levels as well.

Contaminated food and water are common sources of liver infections. Viruses like hepatitis A and E are typically spread through the fecal-oral route, from ingesting food or water contaminated by feces. Avoid drinking tap water in developing countries, and be cautious about eating raw or undercooked shellfish, which can harbor viruses. Get vaccinated for hepatitis A if traveling to countries with poor sanitation.

In general, do your best to minimize exposure to air and water pollution, pesticides, heavy metals like lead, and contaminated food that may contain viruses or bacteria. This will help keep your liver healthy and free of damaging toxins and infectious agents. Support your liver’s natural detoxification processes by living an otherwise healthy lifestyle.

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