Your liver does a lot for you. It's the largest internal organ in your body and carries out more than 500 essential tasks to keep you healthy. It not only plays a central role in your metabolism, it also supports your immune system, stores vitamins and minerals, filters your blood, and produces proteins that help your blood clot. But while your liver is doing all this to take care of you, what are you doing to take care of it? "Recent research shows a dramatic uptick in the number of people suffering or dying from conditions like liver cancer or liver disease," said Robin Kim, MD, surgical director of liver transplantation at University of Utah Health's Transplant Services. "There is evidence this increase could be due to people not paying attention to keeping their liver healthy."
How do you keep your liver healthy? The most obvious answer is to limit or avoid alcohol consumption. The impacts of alcohol on the liver have been well documented over time. While the liver can process small amounts of alcohol larger or prolonged alcohol exposure can lead to inflammation, scarring, or a buildup of fat. "Cutting back or cutting out alcohol is one of the best things you can do for your liver," said Kim. "This is especially important if you are overweight."
Even if you don't drink you should keep your weight in check and watch your diet for optimal liver health. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition that is most commonly seen in people who are obese, have type 2 diabetes, or have high cholesterol. "A healthy liver diet is one that is high in vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats," said Kim. "It does not include refined sugar, high levels of salt, processed foods, or high fat and fried foods."
There are medications that can cause damage to the liver. Acetaminophen can harm the liver when taken in large doses or taken in conjunction with alcohol. The majority of drug related liver problems are caused by acetaminophen. Certain antibiotics, heart medications, statins, and anti-seizure medications can also cause liver damage. "If you are prescribed a medication that can cause liver damage it is important you are closely monitored by your physician," said Kim. "It is also important you take it as directed."
The good news is that even if you haven't been very nice to your liver there is still time to make changes to your lifestyle for optimal liver health. Your liver is the only organ in your body that can regenerate as long as it has at least 25% function left. "Making lifestyle choices is the best way to take care of your liver," said Kim. "There are some who push liver 'cleanses' or 'flushes' to undo damage that has been done. There is no science to back up those claims and in some cases they may do more harm than good."
Be as good to your liver as your liver is to you.