The liver is one of the hardest-working organs in your body. It performs hundreds of functions and plays a vital role in sustaining life by processing nutrients, fighting off infection, creating bile, controlling blood sugar and removing toxins. Protecting your liver health is not only crucial to your digestive system but also key to living a healthy life.
There are more than 100 diseases that can affect the liver and they differ in intensity and severity. Some problems can resolve themselves and leave no lasting damage, but others can cause irreversible damage and the consequences are severe. We’ve put together a “Liver Disease 101” primer to help you better understand the importance of protecting your liver health.
Deaths by liver disease have increased dramatically and millennials are among the hardest hit. A new study from the British Medical Journal said cirrhosis-related deaths increased by 65 percent from 1999 to 2016, and deaths from liver cancer doubled. Liver cancer has moved to the sixth-leading cause of cancer deaths in 2016.
The liver normally weighs three pounds. When more than five to 10 percent of your liver’s weight is fat, you have a “fatty liver.” Inflammation that causes scarring is a common symptom of liver injury, which can lead to cirrhosis.
Alcoholic fatty liver – When alcohol floods the system, the liver starts to form abnormal deposits of fat. This causes inflammation and scarring, and eventually, your healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue. Heavy drinking impairs the liver from breaking down fats.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) – About 80 million U.S. residents, including 6 million children, are thought to have NAFLD thanks to a rise in obesity rates over the last three decades. It’s the No. 1 liver condition in children. This condition can be caused by obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes because of a sedentary lifestyle and consumption of too much sugar and processed carbohydrates.
Both forms of fatty liver can result in cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer and even death.
What is Cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis is a disease in which the liver becomes severely scarred as a result of many years of continuous injury. Common causes are alcohol abuse and Hepatitis C. When your liver is damaged, your body lays down collagen to repair it. Fibrosis, or thickening of the liver tissue, then occurs.
The liver cleans blood as it exits the gut. When toxins, sugars and fats are consumed, the liver has to work hard and may get overloaded. If it’s “plumbing” gets blocked up, that can cause scarring that reduces liver function.
The silent killer
Scar tissue develops silently and patients can live years with no symptoms only finding out they have significant liver damage years later through a routine medical exam.
Initial symptoms include:
- Yellowing skin
- Swollen abdomen
- Unexplained weight loss
Severe symptoms include:
- Degenerative brain injury
- Severe bleeding
- Kidney failure
How do I prevent this?
The liver has an amazing ability to regenerate itself even after severe damage, but it is important to start a liver-friendly lifestyle in order to help your liver repair itself.
Increase physical activity – Aerobic exercise helps burn carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which leads to the liver processing more efficiently.
Maintain a healthy diet – Eat a healthy diet that includes vegetables, whole grains, fruits and healthy fats.
Limit alcohol consumption – Alcohol is not good for the liver, as it is destructive to the body’s main detoxifying organ. Consider limiting your alcohol consumption to one drink daily for women and no more than two daily for men.
An accurate diagnosis of liver disease is the first step toward treatment. It’s good to know the methods of diagnosis are no longer confined to an invasive and painful liver biopsy. FibroScan, a revolutionary new tool, can instantaneously diagnose liver disease through transient elastography. Through a quick, non-invasive and painless procedure, the technology provides immediate results to the operator. Northeast Digestive is one of the only GI practices in North Carolina that offers this tool.