5/13/2011: You and Your Liver

Your liver’s ability to perform vital functions depends on your care and lifestyle choices.  So what exactly does the liver do? Your liver continually detoxifies the food and substances you consume or take in, while also converting nutrients into muscle, energy, clotting factor and immune proteins.  The liver also stores certain vitamins and minerals while regulating the production and excretion of cholesterol.  You cannot survive without your liver!  Unfortunately, some people don’t realize the importance of the liver until it stops functioning properly and develops permanent scarring, called cirrhosis.  The good news is you can keep your liver healthy by eating right, exercising regularly, and avoiding substances or behaviors that can cause liver damage.  Below are tips to help you maintain the health of your liver.

1. Avoid excessive alcohol.

Because your liver acts as the filter to remove alcohol from your blood, too much alcohol can permanently damage liver cells.  Hepatologists, which are liver specialists, state that more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women may be too high for some individuals.  If you already have an underlying liver disorder, like chronic hepatitis, it is best that you avoid any alcohol consumption.

2. Beware of medications which may cause liver damage.

Medications taken to treat a certain condition can have harmful side effects on the liver.  Acetaminophen may be taken to treat pain or fever, but it can cause liver damage if taken incorrectly or if taken with alcohol.  Consumers may be unaware that some cold medications contain acetaminophen.  Always ask your physician or pharmacist about the possible risk of liver cell damage with new medications and remember that even over the counter medications can be harmful if taken incorrectly.

3. Products labeled as “natural” are not necessarily safe.

Before new medications are released into the market they undergo rigorous scientific testing to determine their safety profile.  This is not the case with herbal remedies and alternative treatments.  In fact many “natural” herbal remedies can be dangerous for the liver.  For example, plants such as mistletoe, skullcap, margosa oil, mate tea, Jin Blu Huan, pennyroyal, Senecio, and many others are all toxic to the liver.  Use herbal supplements with care and always consult your health care provider.

4. Maintain a healthy weight.

Excess adipose tissue, or fat cells, surrounding your midsection can cause fat deposits in the liver resulting in liver dysfunction.  This is a common cause of liver damage within the United States.   People with an underlying liver condition should especially avoid excess weight.  Weight loss requires hard work and discipline but the health care team at the IHTC can support you through this process.  And maintaining a healthy weight has other health benefits beyond improved liver health.

5. Keep your vaccinations current.

There are many types of viral hepatitis that can cause liver inflammation and lead to liver damage.   You are probably most familiar with hepatitis A, B, and C.  Vaccinations for hepatitis A and B are available; speak to your health care provider to determine if you should receive these vaccines.  These vaccines are available from the IHTC, the local health department, and many primary care providers.  Presently there is no vaccination for hepatitis C.   Because many Americans have hepatitis C and are asymptomatic, it is important to be tested for hepatitis C if you are at risk.  Speak to your health care provider about testing if you are at risk for exposure:  Risk factors include a history of intravenous drug use or multiple sex partners, having tattoos or body piercing completed with unsterile instruments, having received blood or blood products, and receiving hemodialysis.

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