By Cheshire Que, RND, RN, RD
We commonly focus on how to prevent and manage conditions of the heart, lungs, and kidneys as many suffer from illnesses of these vital organs. There is one organ, however, that is also impacted by mostly the same factors that damage the other abovementioned organs—the liver. It is the largest and the heaviest internal organ. Its size and weight alone tell us that it plays a significant role in the human anatomy, so significant that we must also be aware of its existence and that it must be taken care of just like the rest of our body parts.
The liver, which is approximately the size of a football, mainly aids in proper digestion of carbohydrates, protein, and fat by producing bile. It also stores glucose for energy and makes new proteins. It is one of the body’s main “detoxifying machine,” which flushes out toxic substances such as medicines and alcohol.
Diseases of the liver can be caused by genetic factors, viral infection, metabolic disorders, an underactive pituitary gland, an underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism, Type 2 diabetes mellitus, polycystic ovary syndrome, sleep apnea, obesity, high cholesterol, triglycerides in the blood, and alcohol abuse. Even if you haven’t had a drop of alcohol in your lifetime your liver can still accumulate fat and get damaged. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) affects individuals who drink little or no alcohol at all. NAFLD is characterized by excessive fat stored in liver cells.
A more serious form of NAFLD is called Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis, which involves inflammation of the liver in addition to it being fatty. When left untreated, this serious condition will lead to scarring, known as liver cirrhosis, which may lead to liver cancer, both of which are life-threatening.
When the liver malfunctions, your eyes and skin will turn yellowish (jaundice), you may experience abdominal pain and swelling (ascites), swollen extremities, itchy skin, tea-colored urine, clay-colored stools, chronic fatigue, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and may also get bruises easily.
When the liver fails and unable to get rid of wastes, toxins build up. These affect the brain and cause confusion. This is called Hepatic Encephalopathy.
By now, you must have realized the severity of having a damaged liver. How then do we keep our liver healthy and skinny?
- Keep a healthy weight range through a sensible and well balanced diet composed of fiber rich carbohydrates (whole grains, vegetables, and fruits), lean protein sources (fish, egg, poultry without the skin, and lean cuts of meat), healthy fats (fatty fishes, avocado, plant oils, nuts, and seeds) and lots of plain water.
- Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation. A serving of alcohol for women is equal to one bottle of beer or 1.5oz. glass of wine and double the amount for men in a day.
- Have a regular health check, especially if you have a family history of liver disease, gallstones, diabetes, thyroid disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides.
- Be physically active to help manage your weight and keep your body fat down. Even if you are not a gym rat, you can find creative ways to move anywhere, anytime.
- Never combine medications with alcohol. Take prescribed medicines as recommended and only take over-the-counter medicines when needed, even those that seem to be harmless or less potent.
- Avoid the use of illegal substances and unprotected sex. Blood and body fluids can spread Hepatitis virus, which greatly damages the liver. Ask your physician about vaccination and protection.
- Avoid exposure to chemicals and pesticides. Protect yourself with proper gear if use is unavoidable in order to prevent inhalation and direct contact with any part of the body.
January is Liver Cancer and Viral Hepatitis awareness month. Do not be caught unaware. Protect yourself against liver damage.
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