Your liver is an often-overlooked organ until, of course, it becomes diseased. The liver is the largest organ inside of your body and performs more than 500 functions that include digesting protein and filtering the blood. It weighs only about 3 pounds, but this powerhouse is vital to the functioning of your body.
That is why you should start taking care of your liver right away if you haven’t already begun to. It’s important to understand how the liver functions, why liver health is so important, common liver problems and their causes, and ways you can help improve your liver health today.
The liver is a vital organ in the body that performs many functions that include producing bile to help break down fats, producing the protein albumin to help transport fatty acids and hormones through the body and removing waste products like medicines and alcohol. Not only that, but the liver helps to store glucose in the form of glycogen, which in turn helps to maintain blood glucose levels.
Liver health is important because without this vital organ functioning properly, your body will not be able to filter out toxins well. Because of this, they can build up in the body and increase your risk of conditions like liver cancer, increased bleeding and confusion, to name a few. The liver is also necessary to help regulate fluid, blood glucose levels and blood pressure, as well as to process the food you eat into energy.
If your liver is unhealthy, you may notice certain signs and symptoms such as:
Such symptoms may reveal a liver condition such as fatty liver disease, which may or may not be a result of alcohol abuse, as well as cholestasis, or bile blockage. Also, cirrhosis, or a hardening of the liver, can occur from alcohol overuse, hepatitis, diabetes, genetic diseases or immune health issues.
Fatty liver disease is one of the most well-known liver diseases and occurs when extra fat stores up in the liver because the liver is unable to process and break down fat. Also known as steatosis, this disease can occur in people who drink alcohol (alcoholic fatty liver disease) or in people who do not drink alcohol (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). During fatty liver disease, the liver becomes swollen and develops scar tissue, which over time can lead to cirrhosis.
The gall bladder and the liver are close together within the body, so it’s no surprise that if one is not working right, then it could cause problems in the other. For example, if the gall bladder is not emptying correctly, then the bile from the liver can become very concentrated, which can lead to gallstones. Also, if you have cirrhosis, or certain blood disorders, your body can make too much bilirubin, which can also lead to gallstones.
And normally the bile from your liver helps break down the cholesterol that the liver releases. If for some reason the liver excretes more cholesterol than the bile can dissolve, then this can lead to gallstones. Therefore, liver and gallbladder health go hand in hand.
The most common culprit when it comes to liver disease is drinking alcohol. When you consume too much alcohol too often, it can increase your risk of liver disease. For a long time, the recommendation for healthy alcohol intake was no more than seven standard drinks per week.
One standard drink is equal to:
Research shows however that no amount of alcohol is safe for health.
Besides alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your risk of developing liver disease. Obesity alone is a risk factor for developing fatty liver disease. Therefore, by maintaining a healthy diet that is full of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables and lower in fat, you can help lower your risk of liver disease.
Eating a healthy diet is vital to maintaining a healthy liver. There are several eating behaviors that you can engage in to keep a healthy liver.
Research shows that following a Mediterranean diet may be a healthy option to not only prevent liver disease, but also to help those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease manage their condition. This type of diet involves not only healthy fats and fiber and antioxidant-rich foods, but also:
In addition to eating a healthy, balanced diet, there may be other additions you can make to your diet that can help support your liver. For example, research shows that coffee may be beneficial to your liver health. Studies show that more than two cups of coffee each day may help lower risk of fibrosis and cirrhosis in those with preexisting liver disease.
Coffee may also help improve liver enzymes in those at risk for liver disease, reduce risk of liver cancer and reduce the ability of hepatitis C to reproduce. It is thought that such liver support stems from the polyphenol antioxidants in coffee.
Another beverage that research shows may help support liver health is celery and celery juice. Celery is not often thought of as a vegetable that contains any substance since it is 95% water. In fact, though, celery is full of antioxidant compounds such as flavanols as well as antioxidants such as vitamin C, beta-carotene (Provitamin A) and manganese that can reduce inflammation in the body.
These antioxidant-rich compounds can in turn help support liver health to help prevent heart disease, liver disease and jaundice. You can consume celery as a snack with some peanut butter or hummus, or blend in a smoothie.
Besides a healthy diet and drinking alcohol, there are other things you can do each day to help contribute to a healthier liver. These liver-friendly lifestyle changes include:
Moving more each day on a regular basis for at least 30 minutes each day, most days of the week can help you maintain a healthy weight, and in turn help you keep your liver healthy. It can also help to include strength training and resistance exercises like lifting weights a few times each week. In turn, increases in lean muscle mass can help burn fat, which can lessen the amount of fat that your liver will have access to store.
Visit your doctor at least once a year or more to help you keep track of your lab values such as blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides and liver enzymes. If you know where you stand with these important blood markers, then you will be able to catch liver problems before they start and do something about it before it leads to liver disease.
Staying hydrated each day helps your liver to function better. Therefore, try to drink at least 2 liters of so of water or low to no-sugar beverages each day for women and 3 liters each day for men.
To avoid catching viral hepatitis, you must not engage in illicit drug use and unprotected sexual behaviors. Other behaviors that may hurt the liver include having a blood transfusion before 1992, exposure to certain chemicals or toxins, and exposure to other people’s blood and body fluids. Also, avoid contaminated needles and sharing hygiene products like razors, toothbrushes and nail clippers that contain microscopic levels of blood and body fluids.
Be sure to follow the dosage recommendations for the medicines you take each day and avoid taking too many dietary supplements. Also, be sure to never take any medicines around the same time you drink alcohol since the interactions can be harmful to your liver as well as your overall health.
Also, always let your doctor know of any medicines or supplements you take so they can ensure that you are taking the correct dosages and that you are not taking any medicines or supplements that could be interacting with each other.
If you already have liver disease, the first priority is to listen to the recommendations that your doctor provides. Be sure to take any medicines that you have prescriptions for, avoid alcohol intake and be sure to have your labs checked on a regular basis.
If you have fatty liver disease, then you should limit foods high in calories and eat foods high in fiber. Once fatty liver disease develops into cirrhosis, then it’s vital to limit salt in the diet to limit fluid retention and maintain a healthy blood pressure. You may also have to limit protein in the diet, depending on what your doctor recommends.
If you have bile duct disease, then you should use certain types of oils known as canola, olive, corn, sunflower, peanut and flax seed oils, which experts suggest need less bile to break down the fats in them.
If you have hepatitis, then you should limit foods that contain a lot of iron such as beans and legumes or leafy green vegetables. You should also avoid using iron-based pots and pans that can increase the iron content of the foods you cook in them. Finally, those with hepatitis should reduce the amount of salt you eat. You can do this by reducing the salt you add to foods as well as limiting intake of processed foods like canned soups, deli meats, hot dogs, sausage, salty snacks like chips, as well as prepackaged and fast foods.
Liver health is essential to maintaining the overall health of your body. Without your liver working the way that it should, you will increase your risk of issues in your gallbladder, heart and metabolic health. Although you will not be able to avoid all risk of developing liver disease, there are lifestyle behaviors like reducing alcohol intake and eating a healthy, balanced diet that can help.
Your health insurance company may be able to point you toward wellness programs that can help you learn and maintain healthy behaviors. You can also check to see if your insurance covers registered dietitian appointments. These nutrition experts can help guide you toward eating healthier in a way that fits within your lifestyle and that will benefit your current health status.
Your liver is working very hard to keep you healthy every day. Therefore, you should do what you can each day to help it stay healthy so you can live your best life.
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