Most people who feel well, never bother to do a check up on their internal organs health. They often accidentally find out some organic dysregulation after blood tests. One of the organs that may be functioning improperly without any sign is the liver.
What is the liver?
Liver is the largest internal organ of your body located under your rib cage on the right side. It weighs about three pounds. (1) It participates in many body functions among which is detoxification of the body, converting food into nutrients, controlling the amount of cholesterol, storing energy, controlling your hormone levels and many others. (2)
The liver is the main organ that metabolizes foods and drugs to maintain metabolic stability in the organism. Thus, it is considered as a target of many insults that result in dysregulated hepatic functioning and lead to hepatic diseases. (3)
How liver disease develops
- Liver disease is the third commonest cause of premature death in the UK. (4)
- Liver damage develops over time. The inflammation of the liver is called hepatitis and in case it is sudden it’s known as acute hepatitis. Inflammatory conditions of the liver that last longer than six months are known as chronic hepatitis.
- Fibrosis is another condition of the liver where scar tissue is formed in the inflamed liver. Fibrosis can develop progressively or quite fast. Scar tissue does not impede liver on functioning quite well. The elimination of the inflammation and its causal factors may prevent the formation of further liver damage and may reverse some of the scarring.
- Cirrhosis is a condition developed because of the spread of inflammation and fibrosis throughout the liver and disrupts the shape and function of the liver. Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure or even liver cancer. (5)
Alcohol and consumption and liver disease
The main causal factor for the increase in liver deaths is an alcoholic liver disease. Alcohol is responsible for 84% of liver deaths in the UK and there is a close relation between liver deaths and alcohol consumption within the UK population. (6)
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
According to a study up to 1 in 20 of the UK population will have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (5) It is related to hepatic fat deposition. Although it possesses similar findings when compared to the alcohol-induced lesion, it is not related to alcohol consumption. Nowadays, it is considered as one of the more frequent causes of liver disease with a prevalence between 20 and 30% in the western countries. Its incidence has significantly increased due to the sedentary lifestyle, the eating habits of western societies and the obesity epidemic. (7)
It is estimated that in developed countries 1 patient in 3 is expected to have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can potentially progress to cirrhosis and advanced liver failure. (8)
Dietary and lifestyle changes to improve liver health
Exercise has proven to be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as it acts in different pathways involved in the development and progression of such condition. Current recommendations for treatment of the disease indicate regular, moderate-intensity aerobic and resistance exercise. (7)
Weight loss is one of the essential lifestyle modifications to treat liver disease. The guidelines of the American Gastroenterological Association indicate that loss of about 5% of baseline weight is necessary to improve fatty liver disease.
High carbohydrate consumption is related to the inflammatory state and progression of non- alcoholic liver disease. It has been shown that low carbohydrates diets<45% of carbohydrates /day lead to weight loss, reduction of triglyceride levels and improved of metabolic parameters in obese individuals. (7)
Studies have shown that high-fat diets induce non- alcoholic liver disease. In obese individuals, a diet with 55% fat increases the liver’s triglyceride levels in 35%. The recommended total amount of fat intake is between 20 and 35% of total daily caloric intake and distributed as indicated: Saturated fats should be 7 to 10%, Polyunsaturated fats should be 5 to 10% and Monounsaturated fats should be 15 to 20% of total caloric intake. (7)
Fluid and Salt
As liver disease progresses, fluid can be stored around your stomach resulting to a condition known as ascites. Therefore, it is important to limit the amount of salt you consume. Moreover, depending on the liver disease you might also need to limit your fluid consumption. (9)
Because alcohol is processed by your liver, alcohol consumption can be dangerous in case you have liver disease. (5)
Dietary supplements to improve liver health
Milk Thistle or Silymarin is a natural substance. According to studies Silymarin has hepatoprotective properties against several hepato-toxins. Additionally, Milk Thistle prevents against liver fibrosis, oxidative stress and cirrhosis by improving liver enzyme activities and protecting against the increases in cholesterol and phospholipids which are harmful for the liver. (10)
Turmeric is a spice derived from the turmeric plant and it is the main spice in curry. It contains a yellow-coloured chemical called curcumin. (11) Researchers found that curcumin possesses hepatoprotective properties on acute and chronic liver injury. (10)
Studies have shown that the major antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents of the green tea- catechins, ameliorate liver inflammation, necrosis and fibrosis. Additionally, green tea extract suppresses the oxidative stress. (10)
Liver diseases and especially non-alcoholic are most common in patients with dyslipidaemia, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, a high fibre intake could be used as a therapeutic strategy for glycaemic, lipid, and weight controls in subjects with fatty liver disease. Recommendations about daily fibre intake vary from 20 to 40 grams /day. (7)
Good fibre choices are supplements of acai berry (44.2g of fibre /100g of content) and psyllium husk which is non-calorific and provides 30% insoluble fibre and 70% soluble fibre. (12-13)
Omega 3 fatty acids
According to a study published in 2013, omega-3 fatty acid treatment may affect beneficially the hepatic lipid metabolism, adipose tissue function, and inflammation. Additionally, there are studies suggesting omega-3 fatty acids intake to treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (14)
Several studies have proved the antioxidant capacity of Vitamin E. Since oxidative stress is considered as one of the causal factors of liver injury and fatty liver disease, Vitamin E, has been proposed as part of the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (7)
According to a study among Europeans, there is evidence that suboptimal selenium levels in Europeans may be associated with an appreciably increased risk of liver cancer. Thus, selenium supplementation can be part of a preventive strategy against liver cancer. (15)
Liver is one of the most important and hard- working organs of the human body. Liver’s health is directly associated with alcohol consumption, body weight and eating habits. Consuming foods that protect the liver is vital. In case your diet doesn’t include plenty of fruits and vegetables, you should get specific food supplements to meet your nutrient requirements and protect your liver.
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