The liver is the second largest organ in your body and has many functions. It processes what you eat and drink into energy and nutrients that are then distributed to the rest of your body either for utilization or storage. The liver also detoxifies harmful substances from your blood and manufactures clotting factors amongst other proteins and also supports the immune system.
Common causes of liver disease
- Viruses (including hepatitis A, B, C, D E)
- Hereditary and metabolic causes (Hemochromatosis, Wilson’s Disease)
- Auto-immune related disorders
- Alcohol and obesity
- Adverse reactions to medications or toxins
Symptoms of Liver Disease
There are usually no symptoms in the early or mild stages of liver disease.
Symptoms of cirrhosis or acute liver failure may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Abdominal bloating and pain
What is inflammation of the liver?
Inflammation (swelling) of the liver, also known as hepatitis, is usually the first stage of liver disease. Inflammation is generally a sign that the body is trying to fight an infection or heal an injury. Severe inflammation can occur in a short space of time leading to acute liver failure or it can rumble on for many years at a more slow or moderate level eventually can cause scarring in the liver called fibrosis or cirrhosis. Inflammation is often diagnosed through blood tests and if diagnosed early, can be treated and is reversible.
What is liver fibrosis and cirrhosis?
If inflammation of the liver persists over many years, fibrosis or scarring of the liver develops. Fibrosis, or scar tissue, replaces healthy liver tissue. As scar tissue builds up, the architecture and functioning of the liver are affected. Cirrhosis is the most advanced stage of liver fibrosis. Fibrosis and cirrhosis can be diagnosed using non-invasive tools such as Fibroscan liver stiffness measurement, liver biopsy, blood test scoring systems and imaging tests.
How does a healthy diet help the liver?
Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight and body mass index helps the liver to do perform optimally. Eating more than the recommended caloric intake per day, a sedentary lifestyle and overall weight gain contributes to being overweight, obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) which is the most common liver disease in the world today. NAFLD is increasingly becoming one of the most common causes for patients requiring liver transplant in the world.
What does a healthy diet include?
- Eating foods from all the food groups: grains, proteins, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and fats
- Eating foods that have a lot of fiber such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, rice and cereals
- Drinking coffee has been shown to be associated with benefits to liver health
- Avoid eating uncooked food
- Avoid fructose containing foods such as high fructose corn syrup found in canned drinks and many confectionaries.
How can alcohol affect the liver?
Alcohol causes build up of fat in your liver (fatty liver), inflammation or swelling of your liver (alcoholic hepatitis), and eventually scarring of your liver (cirrhosis). Recently, the guidelines for acceptable alcohol consumption have been lowered to 14 units per week for both men and women.
How can medications affect the liver?
Different types of medicines taken everyday including over-the-counter and prescription medicines, vitamins, dietary supplements, and alternative medicines can all have an impact on the liver either as dose related toxicity or an idiosyncratic reaction. Speak to your doctor about
- The correct dosage of your medicines and how they can affect your liver.
- Consult your gastroenterologist or pharmacist about other medications or supplements you might be taking at the same time to avoid an potential interactions.
- Consult your gastroenterologist if you develop any symptoms.