How to Keep Your Liver Healthy
This is the second of two blogs looking at non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). You can read the first one.
As we continue to sweep away the myths that go along with fatty liver disease, one we must consider is the often-mentioned point that the condition is irreversible. That’s just not true. You can take steps to reverse NAFLD before it becomes a more serious problem. Yet non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) cannot be reversed as easily or at all. That’s why our next myth is so important for everyone to consider.
Another Myth: There’s Nothing I Can Do
Actually, you can do so much to keep your liver healthy!
The most effective treatment for fatty liver does not involve taking medications. You have to change your lifestyle. It may sound simple, but it’s often hard to achieve and maintain. One way for people to stick with the change is when they truly believe the benefits will come. These lifestyle changes will not just improve liver health, but they also lower your risk for diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease considerations such as high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke.
If you want to stop the possibility of fatty liver disease, give your best effort to taking these steps:
- Lose weight. If you lose about 5 percent of your body weight, it might be enough to decrease the amount of fat in the liver and normalize your liver tests. A good goal is a gradual weight loss of one to two pounds per week. Crash diets are no good, and they can in fact lead to further liver damage. If you are heavily overweight and your health is suffering, you might want to speak to your doctor about weight-loss surgery.
- Get moving. Besides helping you lose weight, exercise has been shown to decrease fat in the liver.
- Eat well. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts will be beneficial. Replace butter with olive or canola oil. Limit red meat, and try to eat more fish and lean poultry. Avoid sugar, including soda – this diet is often called the Mediterranean diet.
- Limit alcohol. How much is too much remains controversial. It's probably best to avoid it all together. Also alcohol is high in calories and therefore counterproductive if you want to lose weight.
- Check your medication. Make sure that none of your medications, over-the-counter drugs or herbal supplements are toxic to your liver. Even acetaminophen, the ingredient in Tylenol and other cold or pain medicines may be harmful if you take too much for too long.
- Get vaccinated. If you are not immune to hepatitis A and B talk to your doctor about the vaccine to protect you against these viruses.
- Control contributing health conditions. High blood pressure, diabetes and high blood fat are linked to NAFLD. Check with your physician if you may have those underlying treatable diseases contributing to your fatty liver.
If you’re concerned about your risk of fatty liver, resources can help you. I wish you health and happiness and hope you’ll remember just how important the liver is to your overall health and happiness!
By Christine Pocha, MD, PhD, MPH, FAASLD, Avera Medical Group Liver Disease Sioux Falls