Your liver is an important organ that helps keep the rest of your body healthy, and by looking after it you can reap many health benefits now and in the years to come.
The liver helps process food into energy, remove toxins and protect against infections. Dr Richard Aspinall, Consultant Hepatologist at Spire Portsmouth Hospital, says: “The liver is a bit like a housekeeper from Downton Abbey, keeping the rest of the body clean, well fed and protected. It’s an important first line of defence.”
One way you can look after your liver is to avoid excessive alcohol. The recommended guidelines currently state that you should limit your intake to 14 units of alcohol per week, which amounts to just under a bottle and a half of wine or six pints of 4% beer.
“Ideally, you should spread your units across the week rather than saving them up and try to have two or three days a week without alcohol too,” Dr Aspinall says. “The main risk is to drink more than the recommended amount over a long period of time, so try to cut back and stay within the limits.”
Another important factor is a healthy and balanced diet: too much saturated fat and sugar can lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, NAFLD. “This is an increasingly common disease which is strongly linked to being overweight or having diabetes,” Dr Aspinall says.
“It is estimated that about a quarter of adults in the UK have NAFLD. Not all of those affected will go on to have serious problems with the liver, but it can be an important risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.” Some viral infections, mainly Hepatitis B and C, are also linked to liver disease. They are blood-borne viruses transmitted through unprotected intercourse or injection of recreational drugs, and can be carried for years without symptoms. Patients who received blood transfusions prior to the introduction Hepatitis C testing in 1991 are also at risk of having contracted Hepatitis C.
“If you are aware of anything in your past that may put you at higher risk for Hepatitis B or C, you should have a blood test to check as the viruses can persist for many years,” Dr Aspinall says.
Most liver diseases can slowly develop over several years and not present any symptoms until the liver is badly damaged. If you are worried about your liver, simple blood tests can show if you are at risk.
“The liver is quite unique amongst your organs in that it can repair itself,” Dr Aspinall explains. “If you have had a relatively short period of heavy drinking, your liver can usually repair itself within two to three weeks if you stop drinking."
“You don’t have to do anything too drastic to look after your liver,” Dr Aspinall says. “Drink within recommended guidelines, eat healthy and try to do a bit of exercise. Just use your common sense to look after your general health, and your liver will look after you in return.”