Did you know that your liver does hundreds of jobs for you (like 500 jobs)? That’s tons of work! Since your liver is one of the hardest working organs you have, you should support your liver to the best of your ability.
Even though your liver tries its best to keep you healthy, there are many things that can make your liver less effective. If you ignore your liver health, you may cause permanent, severe liver damage over time. Since the liver has so many functions, it also can wreak havoc all over the body when it doesn’t work well.
In this article, we will talk about what the liver does, what can happen to an unhealthy liver and how to keep your liver healthy.
What does the liver do?
As mentioned above, the liver is involved in countless functions. Here’s a list of major liver functions:
- Gets rid of waste that naturally occurs in the body
- Makes bile to help break down fat
- Makes cholesterol
- Creates proteins needed in blood plasma
- Stores glucose for later use
What can happen if I don’t take care of my liver?
Not taking care of your liver can have severe effects on the body. As you can see from the short list of liver functions above, if your liver is not working well, any of those processes can be affected. There are several signs that may occur if your liver is not healthy:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Abdominal swelling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark urine or tarry, bloody stools
There are also many conditions that can impact the liver such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, cancer of the liver or bile ducts, alcohol abuse or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (1). Liver conditions can range from minor to severe to deadly over time, so everyone should live a life that supports a healthy liver!
How to Keep Your Liver Healthy
The bad news is that there are many things that affect liver health. However, the good news is that most risk factors are within your control! Here is what you can do to optimize your liver health:
Tip #1: If you use tobacco, then quit.
Tobacco use can put you at greater risk of many serious chronic diseases such as emphysema, cancer and heart disease to name a few. In terms of liver health, not only would quitting tobacco decrease the amount of toxins your liver has to detox, but it also decreases several risk factors that can lead to liver disease (2, 3). A double win! The time to quit tobacco is today! Click here to take the first step towards quitting tobacco! Talk to your doctor before using this product.
Tip #2: Stay well hydrated.
Proper hydration helps with a variety of bodily functions, but it can also help with natural detoxification processes. Give your blood, kidneys and liver enough fluid to work with so that they can perform at their best! Smart Healthy Living has a whole article on how to detox. Check it out!
Tip #3: Control your alcohol intake.
Don’t reach for an alcoholic drink to stay hydrated! Alcohol can wreak havoc on your liver, especially if you have chronic, excessive intake. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, alcohol is not a necessary item that we need in our diets. However, if you do want to still enjoy alcohol, there are recommended limits based on gender:
Recommended Alcohol Limits
|Women of legal drinking age (excludes pregnant women)||1 drink per day|
|Men of legal drinking age||2 drinks per day|
It is important to note that when it comes to your daily alcohol intake, you “use it or lose it.” In other words, even if you do not drink alcohol Monday through Thursday, that does not mean that you can have several drinks on a weekend night. Regardless of if you did or did not drink alcohol the day(s) before, the daily limit always remains the same.
Tip #4: Avoid drug use.
Your liver can be damaged if you use drugs such as heroin or inhalants (4). Cocaine is another substance that can cause liver damage (5). If you or someone you know suffers from substance abuse, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.
Tip #5: Check your prescription medications, supplements and over-the-counter products.
Unfortunately, even over-the-counter or doctor-prescribed medications can lead to liver damage. Check the list below to see if you may be taking drugs that may affect your liver.
- Acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol)
- Cholesterol-lowering statins
- Vitamin A supplements
- Iron supplements (if taken without an iron deficiency)
This list is derived from the American College of Gastroenterology. While some of these medications may be necessary for you to take, talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your liver. Most medications are safe on the liver if taken as prescribed.
Tip #6: Achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
Being obese or overweight can be a risk factor for liver disease. While billions of people worldwide are overweight or obese, we all can take many steps to control our weight. Even weight loss of as little as 5-10% of your current weight can yield significant benefits to manage or reduce chronic disease. Start losing weight at home with our favorite elliptical machine by Sole Fitness.
Tip #7: Manage or decrease your risk of chronic disease.
Along with getting to a healthy weight, it is important to manage your risk of developing other diseases such as prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or metabolic syndrome. If your doctor has warned you about your risk for any of these conditions, it’s time to pay attention because your liver health is in jeopardy! Managing these conditions can also help you manage your liver health.
Tip #8: Try tried-and-true eating plans for overall healthy living.
Review the 7 tips for liver health above. You may see that most of these involve developing an overall healthy lifestyle. Also, having a healthy diet can help you maintain good liver health (and overall health).
Strive to limit the amount of unhealthy saturated fat that you consume. We get saturated fat from meat, lard, full fat dairy, processed foods and fast food. Also, try to decrease the amount of added sugar you eat. Added sugar is found in soda, pastries, candy, processed foods, syrups, sugar and flavored dairy.
You may also choose to follow these dietitian-approved healthy eating plans that are backed by substantial research:
- Mediterranean diet (Buy this how-to guide!)
- DASH diet
- TLC diet
These diets focus on making healthy changes that can last a lifetime!