Prevention Can Help Maintain a Healthy Liver

Carolyn Heintz's picture

Many Americans consume alcoholic beverages on a daily basis. From a cook battering food on the restaurant menu in beer, to a person drinking a glass of red wine for heart health, alcohol is being consumed in large numbers. While everyone certainly does not abuse alcohol, there are many that overuse the substance and unknowingly cause adverse effects on their liver.

The liver is the organ responsible for filtering blood before it passes to other areas of the body. Located on the right side of the stomach, the liver serves several other important metabolic functions as well. These include detoxifying chemicals and altering drugs. Enzymes can be found within the liver; it is their job to alter drugs through a process called drug metabolism.  As with any other organ, without care, the liver can be easily damaged through unhealthy activities. This is not limited to alcohol alone; fried foods or foods with high fat content can inflict irreparable damage on the liver and impede its functionality. The problem with alcohol in particular, however, is that the liver delays carrying out its other important functions in order to metabolize the additional alcohol in a person’s system.

Causes of Liver Disease

The abuse of alcohol (and other abuses) leads to the development of a fatty liver. Of the 15 million people in America that drink a moderate to large amount of alcohol, nearly all of those individuals develop fatty livers. A liver that consists of five to ten percent of fat could be a sign of liver disease. This disease occurs in a variety of people of various weight and fitness levels and is dependent upon several contributing factors such as a person’s heredity, iron levels, weight and diet.

Although the use of alcohol greatly increases a person’s chances of developing a fatty liver, it is also found in those who drink little to no alcoholic beverages. Around 30 percent of Americans are obese and this is another factor that can lead to fatty liver disease as well.  Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) often occurs as a result of insulin resistance, which develops in obese individual. Furthermore, BMI is an accurate determinant of the degree of liver damage; the higher it is the more damage likely inflicted on the liver. The disease has even been found in pregnant mothers and (perhaps most shockingly) has been found in increasingly high rates in children.

A fatty liver is not a large cause for concern as long as it does not lead to severe health problems and is properly monitored upon diagnosis. It is important to note that there are few symptoms for a fatty liver; it is often not diagnosed until the patient undergoes routine blood tests (revealing elevated levels of liver enzymes) or in ultrasounds. This fact is another reason why you should continue to regularly visit your physician.

Again, a fatty liver itself isn’t necessarily life-threatening, but it is a precursor to much more serious health problems that require immediate medical attention. One such health problem is Nonalcoholic Steatohepatisis, which happens when the liver enlarges and reaches a state of cirrhosis. When this occurs, liver failure or even death can occur.

With Nonalcoholic Steatohepatisis, there are risk factors that may be surprising.

  • Losing weight quickly
  • Constant use of medication
  • Lack of nutrition

Treatment and Diagnoses

As previously stated, often there are no signs of Fatty Liver Disease. Detection typically occurs during routine check-ups, and enzyme levels can be tracked with a blood test. If a physician believes there is presence of liver disease, they will perform a liver biopsy in order to correctly diagnose it. Without any specific treatment for Fatty Liver Disease, prevention is key. It is important that individuals make healthy choices that include:

  • Avoiding drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Choosing nutritionally rich foods
  • Staying physically active
  • Avoiding taking medication unless it is necessary (medication abuse can wreak havoc on your liver, especially if it is in tandem with alcohol abuse)

Even upon fatty liver diagnosis, it is vital to adopt these lifestyle changes to prevent the development of any further health issues.

Fatty liver disease is quite prevalent but can be managed with the right lifestyle choices. Focus should be placed on opting for those activities and foods that will benefit one’s health.  Making the decision to improve the health of one’s liver will ultimately affect their overall health. Liver disease does not have to be a reality that everyone faces. Small steps towards a better life are all it takes.

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Carolyn Heintz who is a nutritionist, mother, and writer. She is a staff writer/content editor for Life Line Screening and runs her own personal health blog.

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