January is ‘Love your Liver’ month. After overindulging during the festive period, it is time for all of us to show our livers some much needed love.
Liver disease is on the rise in the UK. The main causes are preventable, the three main ones are alcohol, obesity and viral hepatitis.
What does the liver actually do?
- The liver is the largest organ in the body and carries out a number of different functions, the most important one is to break down food and convert it into energy.
- The liver changes potentially harmful substances and makes them harmless. If the liver gets damaged, then it cannot function properly.
- It stores vitamins, fat, sugars, and minerals and sends them around the body to where they are needed.
- It produces a digestive juice called bile which breaks down fats so they can be absorbed by the body.
- The liver is like an elastic band, it can only be stretched so far before it breaks!
- Improving your liver health can affect your overall health. The immune system, digestive tract, kidney, brain and cardiovascular system all depend on a healthy and well-functioning liver.
Risks and causes of Liver disease
Anyone can develop liver disease, but some things make it more likely. Some causes can be out of our control such as genetic and autoimmune disease. However, some causes are within our control such as alcohol intake, weight, diet and exercise and viral hepatitis.
Alcohol is the biggest cause of liver disease in the UK. The liver breaks down alcohol which produces harmful chemicals that can damage or kill liver cells. The liver is really good at repairing itself, however, damage from regular drinking can cause scarring, which builds up and leads to cirrhosis.
The best way to minimize the risk of alcohol related disease is to keep to low levels of alcohol.
What are the guidelines for alcohol?
- Don’t drink more than 14 units per week
- Spread your drinking out over several days
- Have 2-3 alcohol free days a week
Weight, diet, physical activity and liver disease
Keeping a healthy weight helps to reduce the risk of liver disease and liver cancer. Fat can build up in the liver when you are overweight. This can cause non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease. Over time the fatty liver disease can cause cancer or liver failure.
How to keep your weight at a healthy level?
- Make your diet healthier
- Plan your meals in advance
- Cut down on ready meals and take aways
- Watch your portion sizes
- Cut down on sugary drinks
- Don’t forget your five a day
- Grill, bake, boil and steam rather than fry or roast.
- Look for extra ways to get an extra portion of vegetables into a meal like adding lentils to curries or casseroles.
Be more physically active
You should aim for 150 minutes of physical activity every week. Something that makes you out of breath for 30 minutes on five days of the week. If you aren’t able to do 30 minutes at one time, 10-minute slots are fine.
- Walking is great exercise, and it is free, and no special equipment is needed.
- Walk or cycle instead of using the car.
- Get your friends and family involved.
- Why not try the NHS couch to 5k
Hepatitis is simply inflammation of the liver. Viral hepatitis is caused by a viral infection and can be either A, B, C or E. If left untreated, then viral hepatitis can damage the liver causing scar tissue which can lead to cirrhosis.
Symptoms of viral hepatitis:
- High temperature
- Mild abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Nausea and vomiting
However, some people have no symptoms at all.
If you think you have come into contact with someone with hepatitis or you have any of the symptoms above speak with your GP to get investigated.
1 in 5 adults in the UK could be at risk of developing liver disease. Take the time to look at your risks and make a change.