If you’re a healthy person, you might not think twice about your liver – and for good reason: The only time this organ seems to attract any attention is when it stops working.
Still, because the liver is such an important organ, it makes sense to educate yourself about it, especially if you have a history of liver issues. Here are the answers to six common questions about the liver.
What does my liver do?
As one of the hardest-working organs in your body, the liver performs hundreds of functions, including processing foods and drinks for later use or elimination. “I call it the Grand Central station of your body,” says G. Anton Decker, MD, a gastroenterologist and chief clinical officer of Mercy Health in Cincinnati.
How can I keep my liver healthy?
Eat a healthy diet. Because your liver processes foods and liquids and changes them into stored energy and nutrients, a bad diet — for example, one that includes chronic alcohol consumption — can damage the liver over time. In contrast, a healthy diet keeps your liver functioning properly.
What’s the best diet to follow?
The American Liver Foundation recommends eating regular, balanced meals that include foods from all food groups (grains, proteins, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and fats). Some more diet tips:
- Choose high-fibre foods, including fresh fruit and vegetables, whole-grain breads, and rice and cereals.
- Load up on healthy protein, which is vital for fighting infections and healing damaged liver cells. Your best bets: low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, and plant-based sources like beans, legumes, and lentils.
- Skip trans-fats found in processed foods. Instead, opt for healthy fats found in nuts and seeds, avocados, flaxseed, olive oil, and fish oils (or fatty fish).
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Avoid consuming high amounts of salty and sugary foods.
Note, however, that you may need to follow a different diet if you have a liver disease. If you have hepatitis C, for example, you should avoid foods that contain high levels of iron or salt.
What else can I do to keep my liver healthy?
Although diet is key, so, too, is keeping your weight in check by controlling your portion sizes and exercising regularly. One reason: Obesity is linked to fatty liver disease, which, in turn, can lead to scarring, or cirrhosis of the liver (especially if you have hepatitis C), and even liver cancer or liver failure. If you’re overweight, set a goal to steadily lose 10% of your current weight.
You should also limit alcohol, which can cause cirrhosis, to one drink a day for women and two for men. Even if you were once a heavier drinker and have since cut or eliminated alcohol intake, the damage may not show up until years later.
Also avoid other risky behaviours such as abusing over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen, a pain reliever that can cause damage if taken in large amounts over a short period of time.
Finally, you can decrease your risk of liver damage from hepatitis C and hepatitis B by limiting your number of sexual partners and avoiding intranasal and IV drug abuse and getting a body piercing or a tattoo with unsterilised needles.
What symptoms will I notice if my liver isn’t working right?
If there’s a problem with your liver, you may experience the following:
- Chronic fatigue
- Gastrointestinal issues like nausea and vomiting
- Decreased appetite
- Dark-coloured urine
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Which tests can tell me if something is wrong?
You’ll start with a blood test called the liver function test, which can detect whether your liver is leaking abnormal levels of enzymes – a sign that something is awry, Decker says.
But “having a normal liver function test is no guarantee that your liver is healthy, especially if you have a history that raises concerns about your liver,” Decker says.
The opposite may also be true: Abnormal test results don’t necessarily mean that you have liver issues. Even temporary conditions – like severe infections, pregnancy, and muscle trauma, among many other things – can alter the results of the test.
Depending on your history and symptoms, your doctor may decide to do more tests, including an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI.
Source: Everyday Health