Welcome to July, this month’s focus is on Liver Health. This week we look at the signs & symptoms that your liver is in trouble, liver cleansing, liver conditions and treatment options.
The liver is your body’s largest internal organ. It’s responsible for more than 500 different functions in the body. One of these functions is detoxification and neutralising toxins.
Your liver does a lot to keep you healthy, especially acting as your body’s filter to clear out toxins. But when you work it too hard — with heavy drinking, chronic viral infections or eating an unhealthy diet for too long — it can develop its own health problems.
Few people know when their liver is failing, says gastroenterologist Carlos Romero-Marrero, MD. And that can put you more at risk for serious illness.
“People with liver failure are more likely to develop liver cancer,” he says. “But, most aren’t even aware of what causes liver failure, much less the symptoms.”
Here, we discuss the four of the most common signs of liver failure and possible treatments. See your doctor if you notice any of these issues:
1. Fluid Retention
This is the most common sign of liver disease, appearing in 50% of people who have cirrhosis, a condition in which scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue. Accumulating fluid may cause distension in your abdomen or swelling in your legs. This happens when high blood pressure develops in your liver veins or when your liver is unable to make albumin, a protein that prevents leaks from your bloodstream into tissue.
This condition causes darker urine and a yellowish tint in skin or the whites of your eyes. It appears when bilirubin, a pigment that forms when red blood cells break down, builds up in your bloodstream. A healthy liver absorbs bilirubin and converts it into bile. Your body then excretes it in stool.
Your liver typically cycles about 25% of your blood from the portal vein. But cirrhosis creates an opportunity for bleeding. You may vomit blood or notice blood in stool or rectal bleeding. “Usually, the flow through the liver is like driving through a high-speed highway — it’s quite rapid. But, when you have cirrhosis, that highway, because of scarring, becomes a bumpy road or a big traffic jam,” he says. “Consequently, the blood tries to find detours.” Those detours send blood to your spleen which enlarges as it tries to relieve the congestion. Varicose veins may develop in your easophagus and stomach, and these enlarged veins can also easily bleed. A healthy liver produces clotting proteins. But, a sick liver can’t and more bleeding results. An enlarged spleen collects platelets from your bloodstream. A low platelet count makes you more susceptible to nosebleeds and bleeding gums.
When your liver is unable to filter toxins, they may travel to your brain. The resulting condition, known as hepatic encephalopathy, can cause confusion, memory problems, lethargy and coma.
Is a “liver cleanse” a real thing?
Knowing that the liver is a detoxification organ, you might think doing a liver cleanse could help your body recover faster after a big weekend, give your body that much-needed health kick, or boost your metabolism so you can lose weight faster. That’s what all those “liver cleanses” on the market claim they can do. But truth be told, you’re likely wasting your money and could be doing your body more harm than good.
The reality is that toxins are everywhere in our environment, and our bodies have the built-in capacity to defend against these toxins naturally. Of course, there are things you can do to improve your health and support healthy liver function. Keep reading to learn how certain lifestyle changes can provide the real benefits that liver cleansing claims to give.
Myth #1 – Liver cleanses are necessary
Most liver cleansing products and supplements are available over the counter or even on the internet. And most, if not all, have not been tested in clinical trials. What this means is there is absolutely no proof that liver cleanses work at all. If anything, they may actually cause harm to your system.
Myth #2 – Liver cleanses aid in weight loss
There is no evidence that liver cleanses aid in weight loss. In fact, studies have shown that certain types of cleansing diets may lower the body’s metabolic rate, which would actually slow down weight loss. By doing a liver cleanse, people may claim they lose weight. But in most cases, it’s just fluid loss. Once these people resume their usual eating habits, they often regain weight very quickly
Myth #3: Liver cleanses protect against liver disease
Currently, no evidence exists to prove that liver cleanses protect against liver disease. There are more than 100 different forms of liver disease. A few common ones include:
- hepatitis A, B, and C
- alcohol-related liver disease
- non-alcohol-related liver disease
The two biggest risk factors for liver disease are drinking alcohol excessively and having a family history of liver disease.
Myth #4: Liver cleanses can correct any existing liver damage
There is currently no evidence to prove that liver cleanses can treat existing damage to the liver. Fact: Some repair is possible Damaging your skin or other organs in your body results in scars. Your liver is a unique organ because it can regenerate damaged tissue by regenerating new cells. But regeneration does take time. If you continue to injure your liver via drugs, excessive alcohol intake, or poor diet, this can prevent regeneration, which may eventually lead to scarring of the liver. Scarring is irreversible. Once it reaches a more severe level, it’s known as cirrhosis.
The touted benefits of liver cleansing products and supplements aren’t based on evidence or fact. They’re really just a marketing myth.
13 Ways to a Healthy Liver
The best way to fight liver disease is to avoid it, if at all possible. Here are 13 tried and true ways to achieve liver wellness!
Maintain a healthy weight.
If you’re obese or even somewhat overweight, you’re in danger of having a fatty liver that can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), one of the fastest growing forms of liver disease. Weight loss can play an important part in helping to reduce liver fat.
Eat a balanced diet
Avoid high calorie-meals, saturated fat, refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, white rice and regular pasta) and sugars. Don’t eat raw or undercooked shellfish. For a well-adjusted diet, eat fibre, which you can obtain from fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, rice and cereals. Also eat meat (but limit the amount of red meat), dairy (low-fat milk and small amounts of cheese) and fats (the “good” fats that are monounsaturated & polyunsaturated such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fish). Hydration is essential, so drink a lot of water.
When you exercise consistently, it helps to burn triglycerides for fuel and can also reduce liver fat.
Toxins can injure liver cells. Limit direct contact with toxins from cleaning and aerosol products, insecticides, chemicals, and additives. When you do use aerosols, make sure the room is ventilated, and wear a mask. Don’t smoke.
Use alcohol responsibly
Alcoholic beverages can create many health problems. They can damage or destroy liver cells and scar your liver. Talk to your doctor about what amount of alcohol is right for you. You may be advised to drink alcohol only in moderation or to quit completely.
Avoid the use of illicit drugs
In 2012, nearly 24 million Americans aged 12 or older were current illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview. This estimate represents 9.2% of the population aged 12 or older. Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics (pain relievers, tranquillisers, stimulants, and sedatives) used non-medically.
Avoid contaminated needles.
Of course, dirty needles aren’t only associated with intravenous drug use. You ought to follow up with a medical practitioner and seek testing following any type of skin penetration involving sharp instruments or needles. Unsafe injection practices, though rare, may occur in a hospital setting, and would need immediate follow-up. Also, use only clean needles for tattoos and body piercings.
Get medical care if you’re exposed to blood
If for any reason you come into contact with someone else’s blood, immediately follow up with your doctor. If you’re very concerned, go to your nearest hospital’s emergency room.
Don’t share personal hygiene items
For example, razors, toothbrushes and nail clippers can carry microscopic levels of blood or other body fluids that may be contaminated.
Practice safe sex
Unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners increases your risk of hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Wash your hands
Use soap and warm water immediately after using the bathroom, when you have changed a diaper, and before preparing or eating food.
There are vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine against the hepatitis C virus.
Follow directions on all medications
When medicines are taken incorrectly by taking too much, the wrong type or by mixing medicines, your liver can be harmed. Never mix alcohol with other drugs and medications even if they’re not taken at the same time. Tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and natural or herbal remedies that you use.
Ultimately, remember that alcohol abuse isn’t the only cause of liver failure. Take care of your body and control chronic conditions to keep your liver healthy. If you see any signs or symptoms that are a cause for concern, contact your local doctor or healthcare practitioner.