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7 ways to keep your liver healthy

The liver is often overlooked when considering overall health. So how do you keep your liver healthy?

The liver is the second-largest organ in the body [1], after the skin, and is responsible for many crucial functions. But how do you keep your liver healthy? 

 Liver functions include: 

  • Removing toxins from the body 
  • Fighting infections 
  • Controlling cholesterol levels 
  • Aiding digestion 

Although responsible for many crucial functions, the liver is often overlooked when considering overall health - this could be because of the lack of symptoms that show in the early days of liver damage. Therefore, unfortunately, liver disease usually goes undetected for several years [2].  

 Symptoms of liver damage can include [3]: 

  • Feeling very tired and weak all the time 
  • Loss of appetite (that may lead to weight loss) 
  • Loss of sex drive (libido) 
  • Yellow skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice) 
  • Itchy skin  
  • Feeling or being sick 

By the time symptoms show, the liver is usually already damaged or scarred. However, if caught early, certain lifestyle changes can prevent liver damage. 

Seven ways to keep your liver healthy 

1. Reduce alcohol intake

Reducing alcohol intake can help to keep your liver healthy. Recent guidelines from the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) at the Department of Health and Social Care recommend that both men and women should not drink more than 14 units per week. Regularly drinking more than the recommended amount can harm your liver and increase your risk of developing alcohol-related liver disease [4]

It is best to drink as little as possible, and not exceed the recommended amount, to reduce the risk of harming your liver.  

If you are worried about how much you are drinking but unsure how to reduce your intake, Drinkaware has some great tools and advice.  

2. Ensure a healthy BMI

A lot of people associate an unhealthy liver, or liver disease, with alcohol. However, a healthy BMI is also important to keep a healthy liver. Up to one in every three people in the UK have early stages of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) (where there is a small amount of fat in the liver) [5].  

Early-stage NAFLD is usually not a cause of harm, but it can lead to liver damage, including fibrosis (scarring of the liver) if it gets worse. 

Being obese or overweight increases your risk of NAFLD. Therefore, to keep your liver healthy and reduce this risk, it is recommended to maintain a healthy BMI. 

If you are unsure what your BMI is, you can use the calculator below. 

Supplied by BMI Calculator UK

The NHS has some great information and advice to help you manage your weight and achieve your health goal.  

3. Lower your body fat percentage

Alongside a high body fat percentage comes a higher amount of visceral fat. Visceral fat is the fat that surrounds your internal organs, including your liver.  

Harvard University notes that around 10% of total fat is likely to be stored as visceral fat. If you have higher amounts of body fat than recommended, you are more likely to store more visceral fat than is healthy [6].  

If you have excess visceral fat, you will often hold it around your waist, and research has shown that the size of your belly is a relatively reliable indicator of the health risks linked to visceral fat [6].  

To reduce your body fat percentage, and percentage of visceral fat, it is recommended to: 

4. Get the dose right 

Taking too much of some over-the-counter medicines or prescribed medicines can cause liver inflammation. This type of liver inflammation is known as drug-induced hepatitis [7]

In most cases, it can take several months of medication for it to reach a toxic level and damage your liver.  

Symptoms of drug-induced hepatitis include: 

  • Abdominal pain 
  • Fatigue 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Lack of appetite
  • Pale or clay-coloured stools 
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) 

If you are experiencing these symptoms, we recommend seeking advice from your GP. 

To reduce the risk of drug-induced hepatitis, make sure you read the labels of medications and never take more than the recommended dose. 

5. Reduce or quit smoking 

Smoking can affect most of your organs, even ones that have no direct contact with the smoke itself, such as the liver [8]. Heavy smoking leaves you at greater risk for several conditions, including cardiovascular disease and respiratory disorders.  

Smoking can have several effects on the liver, including: 

  • Greater risk of fibrosis (scarring of the liver) 
  • Iron overload, causing liver damage 
  • Liver cancer 

If you want to quit but don’t know where to start, the NHS has a list of free services that can boost your chances of quitting smoking for good. 

6. Reduce your risk of viral hepatitis  

Viral hepatitis is a group of viral infections of the liver which are the leading cause of liver damage and liver cancer [9].  

The three most common viral forms are [10]: 

  • Hepatitis A  
  • Hepatitis B 
  • Hepatitis C 

There are ways to reduce your risk and help prevent hepatitis, depending on the strain of the virus. Most commonly, getting your hepatitis A and B vaccinations are recommended (especially if you are travelling to a high-risk country).  

Hepatitis A is caused by poor sanitation and can be transmitted through drinking water and food in high-risk countries. Drinking bottled water and taking extra precautions when preparing food can help decrease the risk of catching it.  

Hepatitis B and C are transmitted by contact with infected bodily fluids. Using barrier contraception, such as condoms, can help reduce the sexual transmission of hepatitis B and C.  

Healthcare workers can reduce their risk of catching hepatitis B and C by taking care with sharps and wearing gloves for procedures that expose them to blood and other bodily fluids. 

Read more about hepatitis in our what is hepatitis blog

7. Check your iron levels

In some people, it is possible to experience an iron overload syndrome. Hereditary haemochromatosis is the most common genetic cause of iron overload. It means the body can’t get rid of excess iron, eventually leading to liver damage.  

Haemochromatosis symptoms usually start between the ages of 30 and 60 and can include [11]: 

  • Feeling tired all the time 
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness  
  • Joint pain 

As liver damage doesn’t usually show symptoms until it is quite severe, monitoring high iron levels can help to reduce the effects it may have on the liver.  

Therefore, keeping an eye on and testing your iron levels can be beneficial.

Using a simple at-home finger-prick test, our Iron Blood Test can be done from the comfort of your own home and give you an insight into your levels.


Medichecks liver test 

Keeping your liver healthy is an important part of preventing liver damage, but a blood test to check your liver could be even more beneficial.  

Early liver damage can be reversed through lifestyle changes [12]. Therefore, if you catch abnormalities early, adverse effects could be reversed by making informed lifestyle-related changes.  

You can check your levels with our simple at-home Liver Blood Test to help spot any signs of inflammation.  


References 

  1. Body, T., 2021. Top 10: What are the heaviest organs in the human body?. [online] BBC Science Focus Magazine. Available at: <https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/top-10-what-are-the-heaviest-organs-in-the-human-body/> [Accessed 22 December 2021].
  2. Rush.edu. 2021. Protecting Against Liver Disease. [online] Available at: <https://www.rush.edu/news/protecting-against-liver-disease> [Accessed 22 December 2021].
  3. nhs.uk. 2021. Liver disease. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/liver-disease/> [Accessed 22 December 2021].
  4. Drinkaware.co.uk. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/alcohol-related-diseases/alcohol-related-liver-disease/> [Accessed 22 December 2021].
  5. nhs.uk. 2021. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/> [Accessed 22 December 2021].
  6. Diabetes. 2021. Visceral fat is body fat thats stored within the abdominal cavity around a number of important internal organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines.. [online] Available at: <https://www.diabetes.co.uk/body/visceral-fat.html> [Accessed 22 December 2021]. 
  7. Hopkinsmedicine.org. 2021. Drug-Induced Hepatitis. [online] Available at: <https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hepatitis/druginduced-hepatitis> [Accessed 22 December 2021].
  8. El-Zayadi, A., 2006. Heavy smoking and liver. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 12(38), p.6098.
  9. Who.int. 2021. Hepatitis. [online] Available at: <https://www.who.int/health-topics/hepatitis#:~:text=In%20particular%2C%20types%20B%20and,and%20viral%20hepatitis%2Drelated%20deaths.> [Accessed 22 December 2021].
  10. Tht.org.uk. 2021. Hepatitis | Terrence Higgins Trust. [online] Available at: <https://www.tht.org.uk/hiv-and-sexual-health/sexual-health/stis/hepatitis> [Accessed 22 December 2021].  
  11.  nhs.uk. 2021. Haemochromatosis. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/haemochromatosis/> [Accessed 22 December 2021].  
  12. Nobili, V., Carter-Kent, C. and Feldstein, A., 2011. The role of lifestyle changes in the management of chronic liver disease. BMC Medicine, 9(1).