March is Liver Health Month

This post was written by Wiley H in Health & Wellness, Nutrition

Check out these tips for a healthy liver.

All that your liver does for you
Did you know that the liver is the largest solid organ in your body and works 24 hours a day performing over five hundred different functions? The Canadian Liver Foundation calls the liver “your power source, your engine, and your pharmacist”. Here are just some of the major tasks your liver performs:
  • Cleanses your blood: processes chemicals, alcohol and other drugs 
  • Regulates the supply of energy, vitamins, and minerals for the body
  • Produces bile for eliminating toxins and aiding digestion
  • Makes proteins for blood plasma and clotting
  • Regulates hormones, including sex and stress hormones
  • Fights off infections.
The liver does all this – and much more – silently and efficiently…unless it’s diseased. Surprisingly, a compromised liver can function without symptoms, even when two-thirds of it has been damaged. 
Risks to liver health
There are more than 100 different types of liver disease, some genetic (born with it), some caused by toxins in the environment and some transmitted by virus (e.g. hepatitis A, B, C). Chronic infection, overconsumption of alcohol and obesity all pose a great risk for developing liver cancer.
One of the most worrying trends in Western countries is the increase in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is a term for liver disease in people who drink little to no alcohol. NAFLD or “fatty liver” is now the most common liver disease, affecting over 7 million Canadians. Fatty liver is linked to obesity, insulin resistance, and high cholesterol. People with fatty liver are also at risk for diabetes and heart disease. Once liver disease becomes chronic, symptoms may manifest as fatigue and pain in the upper right abdomen. Often, however, there are no symptoms until the disease is advanced. 
Scary stuff. So, how do we keep our livers healthy?
Tips for a healthy liver
Fortunately, there are precautions we can take and healthy habits we can cultivate to protect our liver health, which goes a long way to protecting our overall health. 
Here are the main recommendations of the Canadian Liver Foundation:
  1. Be aware of the chemicals you are putting into your body. This includes over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, vitamins, and diet supplements, many of which are unregulated. If you are unsure, consult your doctor about all medications and supplements.
  2. Follow correct dosing instructions and never mix medication with alcohol (e.g. acetaminophen combined with alcohol can lead to liver failure).
  3. Avoid “street drugs” and paraphernalia. They can put you at risk of contracting hepatitis B or C.
  4. Limit alcohol consumption. When you drink alcohol, your liver must process it and detoxify your blood. As far as your liver is concerned, the safest amount of alcohol is no alcohol at all.
  5. Take precautions with body art, piercings, painted nails and toes. Make sure the business sterilizes tools and equipment between clients (e.g. an autoclave machine for needles to neutralize the hepatitis virus).
  6. Vaccinate before vacations. At least one month before your trip, visit your doctor and ask if immunizations are recommended for hepatitis A and B (none exists for hepatitis C) or other diseases like malaria and yellow fever. Many immunizations take time to become effective.
  7. Practise safe sex. Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B. Use a condom if you don’t know your partner’s sexual history, and do not share personal hygiene items like toothbrushes, razors or nail clippers. If you suspect that you or your partner may have been exposed to hepatitis A, B or C, contact your doctor right away.
  8. Keep your home liver-friendly. Avoid the use of pesticides, harmful cleaners and paints. Use a mask when necessary.
  9. Eat nutritious food and drink lots of water. Eat small regular meals. Drink 6-8 glasses of fluids (preferably water) per day.  Eat a variety of whole foods. Avoid processed foods, which often contain too little fibre and too much sugar, salt and saturated fat.
  10. Exercise regularly. Regular exercise is an important way to combat liver disease. ParticipAction recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week for adults, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. 
Take a few minutes to review your lifestyle and consider any changes you can make to ease the load on your personal “power source, engine, and pharmacist”. And, thank your liver for the 500+ functions it performs for you every day! 

Wiley H.

A long-time North Vancouver resident, Wiley works as a technical writer and is the current newsletter editor for the North Shore Writers’ Association. She spends her free time reading, hiking and discovering new things to try at North Vancouver Recreation & Culture!


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