-Yes, it is important
Various situations affect liver health from medications, to diseases, to excessive calorie or alcohol intake and even drastic weight loss. Diagnoses that compromise the health of you liver include Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Alcohol-related liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatic cancer, and others. However, this post will focus on reducing risk or reversal of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) due to its increasing prevalence. The American Liver Foundation estimates that 20-30% of adults have NAFLD. This rate increases to 80-90% in the overweight/obese population.
Why is it important?
Your liver is a vital organ. A normal adult liver with healthy tissue weighs from two to four pounds and is located in the upper right side of the abdomen and has many jobs. It is responsible for detoxification, metabolism, and aiding in digestion. Specifically, this organ removes or breaks-down drugs, alcohol, chemicals, bacteria, and other toxins from the blood. Furthermore, it filters and stores nutrients used later for energy such as glucose. It also produces bile which aids in the digestion of dietary fat. Most importantly, disease and injury decreases its ability to function properly, limiting these important hepatic duties.
Quick reference of common liver diseases
NAFLD: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the clinical term for excessive fat buildup in the organ that occurs with the absence of alcohol intake.
NASH: Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis is the presence of excessive fat in liver that over time has lead to inflammation. This is often, but not always, the stage before cirrhosis.
AFLD: Alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by excessive consumption of alcohol. This can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, when the liver becomes inflamed, as well as alcoholic cirrhosis (see below).
Hepatitis: Hepatitis is the term for inflammation of the liver. Similarly, it can be caused by both alcohol and non-alcohol related diseases. Damage here is reversible as scarring has not yet taken place.
Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is permanent and irreversible scarring to the liver that can be a progression from both alcohol and non-alcohol related diseases.
What YOU can do
The good news with a diagnosis of NAFLD or NASH is that it is often completely reversible, you are in control! For cirrhosis and other diseases, the focus is on how to keep the remaining healthy portions of your liver, healthy. Here’s what you can do to keep a healthier liver:
- Make time to move. Increase physical activity slowly to reach a minimum of 150 minutes per week, including cardio and resistance exercises.
- Watch out for added sugar! It can be hiding in many foods. Sweeteners like corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, honey, agave, maple syrup, brown sugar, raw sugar all indicate ‘sugar’. Aim to reduce these in your diet.
- Go whole grain. Aim to have half your servings of grains each day come from a whole grain source. More is even better! This will add fiber and other nutrients to your intake.
- Eat the rainbow! Add in a variety of different vegetables and fruits of all different colors. Aim for 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day – but maintain fruit consumption to 1/2 cup servings throughout the day.
- Pick lean proteins. Include a variety of different protein sources in your diet and aim to make most choices lean such as skinless turkey, chicken, and fish as well as plant-based options like beans, lentils, and soy! Limit red meat to 3 oz three times a week or less.
- Choose fats wisely. Aim to replace most saturated (animal) fats in your diet with unsaturated (plant) fats. Say yes to vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocado, cold water fish, and no to butter, cream, high-fat dairy, marbled meats.
- Abstain from alcohol. Even a recommended moderate intake of alcohol can progress liver disease if it is already present.
- If weight loss is appropriate, use the above ideas to aim for 5-10% weight loss from your current weight. *It is important to make weight loss slow and steady (no more than 2.5 lbs per week) to avoid possible further hepatic injury.
This list is not exhaustive, and it is not to go change everything you do. Pick 1-2 ideas off this list, use it as a reference to set a goal, and start making that change. Take it one idea at a time!