Keeping your liver fit and trim

by Karen Bowen

We often link liver disease to excessive drinking. However, the most common chronic liver disease in North America, Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), is experienced by people who drink little or no alcohol. With this condition, because individuals’ livers are unable to efficiently break down fat, fat accumulates in their liver tissues.

Some fat is always stored in the liver, but when over 10% of your liver’s weight is fat, you may have NAFLD. In its mildest form, NAFLD is no concern. However if the condition progresses, the accumulated fat can cause inflammation and scarring, leading to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. The scarring in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a more serious condition, can become so severe that it prevents the liver from functioning adequately, leading to liver failure. Fortunately, if recognized and treated early, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can be reversible.

The actual cause of NAFLD is currently unknown, since the condition is linked to such a broad range of diseases, conditions, and triggers. Yet, the following are all known to increase the risk: genetic predisposition; viral-hepatitis; malnutrition; Type 2 diabetes; obesity; rapid weight loss; medications, especially those with liver warning labels; toxins and chemicals; high cholesterol; and high levels of triglycerides in the blood.

As well, Wilson’s disease, an inherited disorder, causes too much copper to accumulate in the liver. Metabolic syndrome, a combination of conditions that occur together, including increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels, can also accompany NAFLD.

If you have any of these risk factors, take note if you have any of the common NAFLD symptoms below.

You may feel unexplainably weak or confused, since your circulatory system may be affected. When your liver is stressed, your body redirects blood from your muscles and brain to your liver to help your liver heal. This change in blood flow may cause impaired judgment and concentration, and low energy levels.

You may see changes in your skin. Because bile cannot be properly excreted by the liver, it may back up into your system, causing jaundice. If so, your skin and the whites of your eyes will take on a yellowish hue. As well, your skin may also form tiny yellow bumps, particularly around your eyelids. In addition, the skin on your neck or underarms may become discolored, dark and patchy.

You may see changes in your digestive system. Your urine may become dark and strong smelling, while your feces may become pale (whitish or clay-coloured) and very foul smelling.

Your abdomen may become painfully distended. Excess fluid may be retained in the abdominal cavity and liver. This condition, Ascites, is a sign of serious liver disease. Two signs that liver disease has progressed to this stage are: the person’s naval becomes visibly pushed out and the person has trouble breathing because the lungs and other internal organs are being compressed by the excess liquid.

People with advanced liver disease can also develop muscle wasting, and/or Dupuytren’s Contracture, which affects a layer of tissue that lies under the skin of the palm. Knots of tissue form under the skin that eventually create a thick cord that can pull one or more fingers into a permanently bent position

Taking these next steps will help reduce your risk of developing NAFLD. Choose a healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. Maintain a healthy weight, combined with moderate exercise. Handle chemicals with caution; follow directions for medications, as well as industrial and household chemicals.

If you exhibit ongoing signs of NAFLD, consult your doctor. If NAFLD is diagnosed, collaborate on a plan for controlling or reversing the disease. You could even get started now on the following usual recommendations.

Attain a healthy weight: Reduce calories and increase physical activity, as needed. Being overweight increases a person’s chance of developing people NAFLD by 75%.

Adjust your diet: Include plenty of fruits and vegetables. Increase your intake of foods with healthy saturated fats, like: fish, olive oil and nuts, while reducing unsaturated fats. Switch to whole grain products and brown rice.

Maintain an even blood sugar level: Eat smaller, balanced meals more often. Avoid high sugar snacks and refined white sugar and flour. Instead, choose foods that take longer to metabolize.

Keep your bad cholesterol low by eating plenty of fiber, particularly oat fiber, and avoiding unsaturated fats.

Become more active: Make yourself walk more by parking further away from the entrance to the truck stop. Thirty minutes per day, five days a week can really make a difference.

Reduce your liver’s stress. Drink plenty of water to allow the liver to easily flush out toxins. Avoid unnecessary medications and alcohol. Fifteen million people in North America overuse alcohol; over 90% develop fatty livers.

Keep your liver fit and trim. Avoid NAFLD.

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