It’s common knowledge that excessive drinking can lead to a whole host of health problems: High blood pressure, heart disease, digestive issues, liver disease and the list goes on.
Aside from excessive alcohol consumption, there are other habits that could be harming your liver, too—many of which may surprise you. We spoke to experts to find out aspects of your lifestyle that could use a few tweaks.
Habits That Can Harm Your Liver
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is a relatively common finding. In fact, it’s the most common reason people have elevated liver function testing on labs. It can sometimes lead to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, cirrhosis and liver failure, which is a potentially lethal condition, Dr. Allison Edwards, MD, Medical Director at Sesame, explains. It is associated with obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance, but the good news is that by carefully monitoring your diet, you can often get ahead of this progression if caught early.
Too much refined sugar can lead to liver disease, so limit your intake of soda, candy and processed foods.
Not being up to date on your vaccines
Getting immunized is important for numerous reasons, including liver protection.
There are hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines that can dramatically reduce the risk of contracting viral hepatitis which can significantly damage the liver. Moreover, chronic hepatitis B can lead to cirrhosis and possibly liver cancer, so this is a vaccine that can actually prevent cancer, Dr. Edwards states.
Ingesting toxic natural substances
It’s crucial to keep in mind that natural does not mean non-toxic.
Be careful about herbs, mushrooms and other things that occur naturally in nature—some of these things can be toxic to the liver at varying doses, Dr. Edwards explains.
Ignoring labels and failing to follow package directions
Follow labels for over-the-counter items and be smart about their use. A handful of items sold as over-the-counter medicines or sold as supplements—like vitamin A, certain green tea extracts and others marketed as diet or weight lifting aids—can actually harm the liver when not taken according to package directions, Dr. Edwards states.
Always follow package directions when taking over-the-counter medicines, and keep a high index of suspicion when taking supplements, as many are not closely regulated or monitored for effect or harm.
Cleanses and “detox” elixirs
Your liver is a powerful organ that does its best when, frankly, we leave it alone.
Most of what you can do to help your liver keep your body healthy is to power it with healthy, whole foods and avoid untested cleanses and detox regimens. While most won’t overtly harm your liver, they just aren’t necessary and can hit the pocketbook hard, Dr. Edwards explains.
There is data to show that OSA (obstructive sleep apnea), can actually induce Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. This seems to happen based on increasing levels of insulin resistance, or an imbalance of lipids (like cholesterol (LDL AND HDL) and triglycerides, Dr. Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in sleep research and education, states. If the OSA patient also has metabolic syndrome and obesity, this can make NAFLD, worse.
Sleep deprivation can also cause insulin resistance, which leads to liver dysfunction, Dr. Breus adds. There are numerous studies to show this relationship.
How to Keep Your Liver Healthy
Here's what to do if you want to keep your liver healthy:
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet is important for overall health, and it can also help to protect the liver. Avoid processed foods and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, Alice Williams, MD, explains.
Working out has numerous benefits, which include keeping your liver in top shape.
“Exercise can help to prevent obesity and other health problems that can damage the liver,” says Dr. Williams.
Get enough sleep
Sleeping helps the body to repair and regenerate, so it's important to get enough rest. Poor sleep can lead to increased feelings of stress and weight gain, which can be damaging to the liver, Dr. Williams states.
Limit alcohol consumption
As the most well-known cause of liver damage, it’s important to be mindful of your alcohol intake and not overdo it.
“If you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Excessive alcohol consumption is the leading cause of liver disease,” says Dr. Williams.
Smoking is damaging to the liver in several ways. If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health. Remember, a pack of cigarettes a day can take years off your life, Dr. Williams explains.
Dr. Allison Edwards (MD), Medical Director at Sesame
Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in sleep research and education
Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology: “Soft drink consumption linked with fatty liver in the absence of traditional risk factors”
World Journal of Gastroenterology: “Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and fatty liver: Association or causal link?”
Journal of Applied Physiology: “Sleep loss: a novel risk factor for insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes”