The importance of looking after your liver
The importance of looking after your liver
Charlotte Rose Daniells
The third leading cause of premature death in the UK is liver disease with a staggering 90% of liver disease being preventable. That’s right, 90% is preventable, or in other words the majority of liver disease can be avoided but do you know what the preventable causes are outside of alcohol? Why is the health of your liver so important? What lifestyle changes can you make to look after your liver and prevent liver disease?
We are supporting Love Your Liver awareness month by exploring preventable causes of liver disease and sharing tips and guides around lifestyle choices to look after your liver and keep your overall health in check. We also think it is extremely important to debunk the popular myth around alcohol solely being the cause of preventable liver disease. We want to help remove the stigma and share the truth around the less well-known causes.
How can you get involved? There are a variety of pledges that you can get behind during Love Your Liver awareness month including making a pledge towards completing a fitness challenge, committing to your 5 A day, and committing to no alcohol for a month. Commitment to the above pledges will ultimately help to reduce the risk of liver disease as a result of obesity or alcohol which are both preventable. We will be exploring healthy eating, exercise, and reducing alcohol intake to help you put practical steps in place for any pledges that you are going to commit to during Love Your Liver awareness month.
You may be surprised to learn that your liver has over 500 vital functions. This includes carrying out important jobs such as processing digested food and controlling fats and glucose in the blood. It also carries out less well-known, but still extremely important jobs, such as helping to combat infections by destroying bad bacteria. The liver plays a big part in keeping infections at bay, providing the body with vital energy, and storing essential vitamins and iron. This is just to name a few!
You may be aware that the liver can be forgiving in that it has the capacity to regenerate itself after damage has taken place. But that doesn't mean it can withstand endless damage and there comes a point where there is a limit to the damage it can endure. Diseases and certain exposures can ultimately lead to irreversible damage which can come from fatty liver disease and alcohol-related liver disease which has a number of stages.
We will be exploring below how you can take important steps to a healthier lifestyle, and in turn, keep your liver healthier and get ahead of reversing any damage whilst it is also possible. We delve into better eating habits, the importance of exercise, and managing alcohol intake.
As the Christmas period has drawn to a close and we see in the new year, many of us are looking for some clean and healthier eating which is great news for your health. However, it is not uncommon that by the end of January that many of us fall back off the wagon as we fall back into old habits, lose motivation, and start to over indulge more than we should. Lifestyle changes when it comes to your diet are ultimately more sustainable, easier to keep to, and less restrictive than you may initially think.
How does a balanced diet help with the health of your liver? Getting a good balance between enough nutrients and vitamins and keeping sugar, fat, and salt to small amounts keeps the risk down of fatty liver disease developing.
5 A day: the more vegetables and fruits the merrier when it comes to getting a sufficient amount of nutrients, fibre, and vitamins that your body needs. Aiming for 5 A day is the golden number but it can be hard if you are not sure of the quantities required for one portion. How much is needed for one portion? You will need 80g of fresh, canned, or frozen fruit or vegetables which would look like two heaped tablespoons of spinach for example. Top tip: dried fruit and vegetables in convenience foods and soups all count towards your 5 A Day.
Cutting down on sugar: as well as reducing the risk of fatty liver disease it will also reduce the risk of tooth decay and obesity. It is the added (or ‘free') sugar added to food and drinks that should be avoided or cut down on. Top tip: checking food and drink labels for sugar content will help you make informed choices. If you see above 22.5g of total sugars per 100g then the sugar content is high and for low sugars, it needs to be 5g or less. In real terms, it means less alcohol, sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, fizzy drinks, and sugary breakfast cereal. The NHS provides support on less sugary alternatives to your favourite foods such as cereal.
Liver healthy food: fruits with antioxidants are great for your liver health as they help to rid free radicals which can cause disease and damage your liver. What are the best fruits for antioxidants? Grapefruit has plenty of antioxidants along with vitamin C, and blueberries and cranberries are packed full of antioxidants. What are the best vegetables for liver benefits? Cruciferous vegetables are ideal as they help to protect liver from damage which include broccoli and brussels sprouts. If you have any left over from Christmas then there are plenty of delicious recipes for brussels sprouts on the BBC good food website to add flavour to them, and healthy dessert and breakfast recipes for blueberries.
Liver healthy drink: you may be very pleased to learn that your morning cup of coffee may just provide you with health benefits for your liver. A report published by the British Liver Trust includes evidence that drinking moderate amounts of coffee is linked to the prevention of liver cancer and to reduce the risk of conditions such as fibrosis and cirrhosis. It is of course important to consume coffee alongside a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water to keep hydrated. However, it is great news that your daily coffee may just be contributing towards good liver health.
Incorporating exercise into your lifestyle is a key way to not only reduce levels of liver fat and ultimately disease, but helps to manage your weight and keep it at a healthy place. Added benefits include better quality sleep, brain function, and reduced anxiety and stress. Studies have linked exercise with improving fatty liver disease through decreasing fatty acid synthesis. Exercise is really important as it helps to prevent obesity which is a risk factor for liver disease.
Starting with small, manageable goals is the best way to go with exercise especially if you are starting to build it into your lifestyle. How much should you be exercising? The NHS guidelines recommends that adults should do 150 minutes of exercise in a week that includes moderate and/or vigorous intensity exercise. But what does moderate exercise look like? Brisk walking, dancing, and riding a bike all count as moderate exercise. What does vigorous exercise look like? Running, swimming, aerobics, and football all count as vigorous exercise. There are plenty of online classes available and even a short and gentle yoga class is a great place to start. For more exercise ideas and resources, check out our blog post: growing stronger at any age.
Make your pledge to Love your Liver – review different pledges on British Liver Trust, here.
Take the Love Your Liver Screener here to find out if you are at risk. It is also important to speak with your GP if you have concerns around your liver or general health.
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