Feeling tired? No appetite? Stomach ache? Your liver could be crying out for help.
We don’t really worry about our liver until something goes wrong. But the British Liver Trust warns that one in five of us are at risk of liver damage.1
If left unchecked, liver problems could develop into serious conditions such as liver disease, cirrhosis, and – ultimately – liver failure. However, you can take simple steps to look after your liver, starting today.
What does the liver do?
The liver is the largest organ inside our bodies. It performs hundreds of functions, including:2
- processing food
- fighting infection and diseases
- cleaning the blood
- destroying toxins
- producing and regulating hormones
- controlling cholesterol levels
- producing bile for digestion
- maintaining blood sugar (glucose) levels
A healthy liver will carry out all these roles without complaining, but overloading it can lead to problems.
If your liver is starting to suffer, you may notice:3
- feelings of tiredness
- loss of appetite
- abdominal pain and/or swelling
- jaundice – yellow skin and whites of the eyes
- itchy skin
See your GP if you spot any of these symptoms, but don’t wait until you experience them to start looking after your liver.
How to support your liver
There are a number of healthy habits you can adopt today to help support a healthy liver.
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1. Cut down on the drinking
Too much booze is a major cause of liver disease. Regularly drinking over the recommended amount – 14 units a week for men and women – can cause liver damage, which can lead to alcohol-related liver disease and liver cancer.4
Our livers treat alcohol just like a poison; it can process a small amount but when you overwhelm it, levels start to build up and cause damage to the liver, such as cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis is major scarring of the liver, caused by long-term damage. The scar tissue then stops your liver working properly, leading to liver failure.5
To stop this happening, don’t binge on all your weekly units at once and go alcohol-free for at least 48 hours every week.6
2. Keep an eye on your waistline
Obesity is another major cause of liver disease.7 Being overweight or obese can cause fat to build up in the liver, triggering non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD can then develop into cirrhosis.8
Cut down on any unhealthy foods, like junk food or sugary treats, make sure you’re eating a liver-friendly diet (see below), and take up regular exercise – losing more than 10% of your body weight can help remove fat from your liver, reducing your risk of NAFLD.9
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3. Up your intake of liver-supporting foods
Everyone should follow a healthy, balanced diet, but some specific foods can be good for supporting liver function.
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, contain compounds called glucosinolates that have been found to have a protective effect on liver cells.10,11 A study published in the Journal of Food Science in 2011 discovered that glucosinolates were still effective on liver cells even after cooking.12
A 2014 Mexican review of studies concluded that some fruits such as grapefruit, cranberries and grapes could help prevent damage to the liver,13 while a lab study published in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition in 2005 found a high-fibre diet could ‘significantly reverse the effects of fatty liver’.14
4. Don’t put yourself at risk
Hepatitis is one of the major threats to a healthy liver. Hepatitis A is normally transmitted via infected food or water; you’re more likely to catch it if you go travelling to areas with a high rate of infection but it tends to clear up by itself.15
Hepatitis B and C are much more serious and if left untreated, can cause serious liver damage. They are passed on through blood and bodily fluids, so don’t share razors or toothbrushes, always use a condom, only go to registered tattoo parlours, and check any dental work you have done abroad uses sterilised equipment.16
5. Reduce your stress levels
Stressed? It’s not just your work-life balance that suffers. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh carried out a 10-year study to look at the link between psychological wellbeing and liver failure.
They found that those suffering from severe stress, anxiety and depression were more likely to develop a fatal liver disease.17 Taking up yoga, mindfulness or talking to a counsellor can all help reduce your stress levels – and the stress on your liver.
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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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1. British Liver Trust. Looking after your liver. Available from: https://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/liver-information/looking-after-your-liver/
2. British Liver Trust. Liver health. Available from: https://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/liver-information/
3. Mayo Clinic. Liver disease. Available from; https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/liver-problems/symptoms-causes/syc-20374502
4. British Liver Trust. Looking after your liver – alcohol. Available from: https://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/liver-information/looking-after-your-liver/alcohol/
5. NHS Choices. Cirrhosis. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cirrhosis/
6. As Source 4
7. NHS Choices. Liver disease. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/liver-disease/
8. NHS Choices. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/
9. As Source 7
10. Yoshida K, et al. Broccoli sprout extract induces detoxification-related gene expression and attenuates acute liver injury. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26401074
11. Robbins MG, et al. Induction of detoxification enzymes by feeding unblanched Brussels sprouts containing active myrosinase to mice for 2 wk. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20722931
12. Robbins MG, et al. Heat treatment of Brussels sprouts retains their ability to induce detoxification enzyme expression in vitro and in vivo. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21535814
13. Madrigal-Santillán E, et al. Review of natural products with hepatoprotective effects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4209543/
14. Lai HS, et al. Effects of a high-fiber diet on hepatocyte apoptosis and liver regeneration after partial hepatectomy in rats with fatty liver. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16224031
15. British Liver Trust. Hepatitis A. Available from: https://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/liver-information/liver-conditions/hepatitis-a/
16. British Liver Trust. Viral hepatitis. Available from: https://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/liver-information/looking-after-your-liver/viral-hepatitis/
17. The University of Edinburgh. Stress linked to liver disease deaths. Available from: https://www.ed.ac.uk/news/2015/stressliver-190515