One of the most frequently asked question from patients is how to keep liver healthy. The second most frequently asked question is what are the signs of a healthy liver. The third is what entails healthy liver diet. These questions are mutually related and very broad but the answer are relatively simple. There are several books on the market that discuss about healthy liver diet. In fact, one of them is actually titled exactly as such ! To keep everything simple and easy to digest, lets discuss several basic facts.
- Following a healthy lifestyle will keep your liver healthy. Healthy liver diet means low calorie and low fat diet with minimal alcohol intake. High carbohydrate diet can lead to high triglyceride content in the blood causing hyperlipidemia. This can occur in any age, race and gender. Hypertriglyceridemia is associated with development of fatty liver disease. When this is diagnosed by your primary care physician, diet modification and antihyperlipidemic medication are needed. Strict adherence to healthy liver diet can reverse the fatty liver disease (steatohepatitis) within few months. From diet perspective, this is the answer on how to keep liver healthy.
- Exercise and weight loss can reverse fatty liver disease. Weight loss is one of the most important goal for patients with fatty liver disease to reach. Following a low calorie and low fat diet regiment (healthy liver diet) is very important, in addition to regular exercise (of any kinds). Morbidly obese patients undergoing bariatric surgery (gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy) also gain significant benefit by losing the excess weight. There have been several journal publications describing resolution of severe fatty liver disease following a successful bariatric surgery.
- Alcohol can induce alcoholic hepatitis and fatty liver disease. Excessive alcohol intake negatively affects the liver cells (hepatocytes). Chronic alcoholic hepatitis leads to diffuse scarring of the liver and ultimately liver cirrhosis. When advanced stage liver cirrhosis is diagnosed, there is nothing you can do to reverse it (except having a liver transplantation). Patients with end-stage liver cirrhosis show signs of poor liver function, such as fluid accumulation within the abdomen (ascites), jaundice (inability of liver to adequately metabolize the bilirubin leading to yellowing of skin and eyes), gastrointestinal bleeding episode (caused by development of varices within the stomach and rectum called portal hypertension), gynecomastia (hormonal imbalance due to liver failure-high blood estrogen level), and confusion (hepatic encephalopathy due to inability of liver to clear up blood ammonia).
- Liver cirrhosis induces development of a liver cancer (Hepatocellular carcinoma). Patients with liver cirrhosis have a high risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma. A routine surveillance using an ultrasonic examination every 6 months is mandatory to detect an early liver tumor. Once a new liver tumor is diagnosed, a referral to a liver surgeon or a liver cancer doctor must be initiated. Liver resection to completely remove the liver cancer is curative, whenever technically feasible. Minimally invasive robotic liver resection method is available in our liver surgery center in Tampa. Many patients come from other cities in Florida and not uncommonly patients come from out of State.
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes) is a sign of advanced liver disease in the absence of biliary obstruction. Patients with a known chronic liver disease who end up developing jaundice has a poor prognosis. An immediate referral to a liver surgeon is needed in this circumstance to evaluate the cause and formulate treatment plan. Liver resection must be cautiously considered when jaundice is present.
- Hepatitis C is one of the leading causes of liver damage and liver cirrhosis. Hepatitis C virus affecting the liver is a relatively common disease in the US, affecting men and women. Hepatitis C virus causes chronic inflammation of the liver cells and ultimately destroys them. The virus is transmitted via blood transfusion, needle sharing, sexual contact, and fetomaternal (mother to baby) route. Currently, hepatitis C is curable by oral administration of antiviral drug treatment for 8-12 week duration. In our liver cancer program, we routinely treat hepatitis C by working closely with our liver specialist, hepatologist, and liver cancer doctor. If you have multiple sexual partners, please practice safe sex to minimize transmission of hepatitis C.
- Avoiding toxins and illicit drugs will keep your liver healthy. Many types of toxin can injure liver cells. Limiting direct contact with insecticides, industrial chemicals, pesticides, etc is important to avoid liver damage. In 2012, nearly 24 million people were using illicit drugs. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin can negatively affect your liver in a long run. In short, avoiding unnecessary chemical exposure is how to keep liver healthy. Healthy liver diet does not include toxins or illicit chemicals.
- Having a routine diagnostic colonoscopy at the age of 50 is important to detect colon and rectal cancers. The most common type of metastasis (cancer spread) to the liver is from the colon and rectal cancers. In fact, 50% of patients with this diagnosis will develop liver metastasis during their lifetime. By reducing the number of patients diagnosed with colon and rectal cancers, the incidence of liver tumor/cancer will be minimized. Once diagnosed with a colorectal liver metastasis, an immediate referral to see a liver surgeon is mandatory. An early intervention by removing the liver metastasis is potentially curative. Dr. Sucandy and his colleagues are seeing patients with colorectal liver metastasis in a daily/weekly basis.
For further information, you can refer to 13 ways to a healthy liver