Liver disease affects 4.5 million adults in the US, according to the CDC. "Your liver removes all toxins, clears medication from your body and metabolizes [breaks down] all your food," says Saleh Alqahtani, director of clinical liver research for Johns Hopkins Medicine. "If your liver stopped working, toxins would accumulate, you couldn't digest your food and medications would never leave your body." Here are five ways to protect your liver, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Moderating alcohol or avoiding it completely can lower the chance of developing liver disease. "Data would suggest modest alcohol consumption would be beneficial (in reducing the patient's CVD risk) if you don't take liver disease into account. When you do take liver disease into account, however, the usual medical recommendation is no alcohol whatsoever," says Jeffrey Schwimmer, MD, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at UC San Diego, director of the Fatty Liver Clinic at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego.
Watch Out For Dangerous Supplements
Many over-the-counter dietary supplements have ingredients that are toxic to the liver. "The number one reason clinical [medicine] trials are stopped or drugs removed from the market is the liver," warns Dr. Alqahtani. "20 percent of liver injury in the U.S. is caused by supplements."
Eat a Healthy Diet
A healthy, nutritious diet can play a significant role in preventing liver disease. "For patients with fatty liver disease, the country's most common chronic liver condition that affects about 100 million Americans and can lead to cirrhosis and cancer, it's important to focus on diet and lifestyle changes," says Annie Guinane, RD, LDN, CNSC. "We recommend patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease drink three cups of coffee per day, eat four tablespoons of olive oil a day and follow a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods and healthy fats."
Studies show regular exercise can help prevent—and even treat—liver disease. The American College of Sports Medicine and their Exercise Is Medicine program suggest that patients with chronic liver disease engage in moderate-intensity aerobic activity, (e.g., walking at a pace where you can maintain a conversation with the person next to you), for at least 150 minutes per week," says Jonathan Stine, MD MSc, FACP. "This should be coupled with at least two days of resistance training, which can include body weight exercises. With that said, the bottom line here is any physical activity is good and having a conversation with your patients about what they enjoy as physical activity can help improve adherence to and encourage long-term success with living a healthy, active life."
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being obese or overweight can increase the risk of developing liver issues, doctors warn. "The average person, and even many doctors, don't appreciate there's a growing risk of advanced liver disease among patients who are obese, have type 2 diabetes and have the so-called metabolic syndrome," says Scott Friedman, MD, dean for therapeutic discovery and chief of liver disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City. "Many of them can be harboring silent but progressive liver disease that can be lethal eventually."