11 ways to keep your liver happy and healthy
Your liver is an organ you likely don’t think much about, but it is vital for your health.
The second largest organ in the body, the liver performs hundreds of functions necessary to sustain life, including the digestion of proteins and fats, ridding the body of toxins, clearing alcohol and medication from your system, regulating hormones, and adjusting cholesterol levels.
A number of factors affect liver health, including genetics, heavy alcohol consumption, obesity, and infections such as hepatitis.
Problems with liver health are quite common. But since it is a silent organ, liver issues often go undetected. Signs of liver issues may not show up in the early stages, so you may not realize anything is wrong until significant damage has occurred. For this reason, blood tests are the best way to make sure that your liver is functioning as it should be.
The liver responds well to interventions and has a unique ability to regenerate. That’s why it’s important to practice healthy habits to ensure that it continues to work properly. If blood tests indicate that your liver health is less than optimal, there are plenty of evidence-backed lifestyle changes you can implement to correct this.
In this article we’ll explore just what the liver does, symptoms of liver issues, how to test your liver health, and practices you can adopt to help keep your liver healthy.
Liver health: What is the function of the liver?
The liver is located on the upper right side of the abdomen above the stomach, right kidney, and intestines. It carries out more than 500 functions essential for health.
- The production of bile, a fluid that breaks down fats during digestion
- Filtering toxins out of the blood
- Metabolizing proteins, carbohydrates, and fats to be used by the body
- Storing vitamins and minerals
- Regulating cholesterol levels in the body
- Producing albumin, a protein that helps prevent fluid from leaking out of the blood into other tissues
- Removing excess sugar from the blood and storing it as glycogen, which can then be converted back to sugar when needed
- Breaking down damaged or old blood cells and regulating blood clotting
- Clearing bilirubin, a by-product of the breakdown of red blood cells, elevated levels of bilirubin can lead to jaundice
- Regulating the balance of hormones
Signs of liver dysfunction
Health issues pertaining to your liver may not come with any symptoms, especially if you’re at an early stage of disease. Still, signs your liver is not working well can include:
- Jaundice, or the yellowing of the eyes and skin
- Urine that is dark in color
- Pale-colored stool
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Nausea or vomiting
- Little or no appetite
- Swelling of the ankles and legs
- Chronic fatigue
- Itchy skin
- Bruising easily
How to test for liver health
Several blood tests can help you monitor your liver functioning and can also help diagnose liver issues. Common blood tests for the liver include:
- Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT) This test measures the amount of ALT in the blood. This enzyme is found in the liver, and elevated levels in the blood signal liver problems.
- Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST) This test measures blood levels of AST, an enzyme that metabolizes amino acids. Like ALT, higher levels of AST in the blood than normal can indicate liver damage.
- Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP) ALP is another enzyme found in the liver that plays a vital role in breaking down proteins. Elevated levels of ALP in the blood may indicate liver problems.
- Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) High levels of the enzyme GGT in the blood may signal liver disease or damage to the bile duct.
- Bilirubin Test This test measures bilirubin, a substance released when red blood cells are broken down. An accumulation of bilirubin can lead to jaundice and indicate liver issues.
- Albumin Test Albumin is a protein found in the liver that helps fight off infections and keeps fluids in the bloodstream from leaking into the body’s tissues. If you have low levels of albumin in the blood, you may have liver damage.
Tips to improve the function of the liver
The liver functions automatically and ensures we stay healthy without us being aware of it working.
Similarly, problems with the liver are often asymptomatic in the early stages and signs may not show until issues have progressed.
However, there are proactive steps you can take to improve the function of the liver and protect its health. These include:
1. Drink alcohol in moderation
Alcohol is broken down by the liver. If you drink more than it can process, this can cause liver issues. Overtime, this can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) and liver disease.
While the only way to avoid the damaging effects of alcohol completely is to abstain from drinking, if you are going to drink, do so in moderation.
This means no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.
2. Eat healthily and maintain a moderate weight
Obesity increases the chance of fatty liver disease, a form of liver disease that is steadily increasing in incidence across the world.
Maintaining a healthy weight, eating nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and limiting saturated fats, red meat, and added sugars will help protect your liver and improve overall health.
3. Exercise regularly
Exercise not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, it can reduce liver fat.
The World Health Organization advises that adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.
4. Keep your cholesterol within a healthy range
Your liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs, but we also consume cholesterol in the food we eat.
Too much cholesterol increases the chances of fatty liver disease. A healthy total cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dL.
5. Don’t smoke
Cigarettes contain chemicals and toxins that are harmful to the liver.
If you smoke and need help quitting, talk to a doctor about proven ways to help you stop.
6. Limit your exposure to toxins
Aerosols, cleaning products, insecticides, and other chemicals contain toxins that can damage liver cells.
If using these products indoors, make sure the room is well-ventilated and wear a mask when spraying insecticides, fungicides, or paint.
7. Practice safe sex
Having sex without a condom and having sex with multiple partners increases your risk of hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections, which can damage the liver.
8. Use medications and supplements wisely
Many medications and supplements contain compounds that can damage the liver, especially when taken in large quantities or when mixed with other drugs.
When taking medications, be sure to follow directions closely and take only as prescribed. Talk to your doctor about any over-the-counter medication, supplements, or herbal remedies you use.
Make sure you are vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, so it’s important to take preventative measures, such as practicing safe sex and avoiding contaminated needles.
10. Avoid recreational drugs
Recreational drugs, such as cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamine, and heroin contain toxins that can harm the liver.
11. Avoid infections
Hepatitis infections – which can damage the liver – can occur due to contamination from people sharing used needles or from unsterilized needle equipment.
If you’re planning any kind of treatment involving needles, such as acupuncture, tattoos, piercings, or permanent make-up treatments, you should always use a reputable licensed practitioner who always uses properly sterilized equipment.
The bottom line
The liver plays an essential role in our health.
Liver issues can often occur without symptoms in the early stages, so it’s important to take proactive steps like maintaining a healthy weight, limiting exposure to toxins, and avoiding infections, to keep the liver healthy.
To get an inside look at your liver health, sign up for the Aware early access program and improve your health with us.
December 5, 2022
August 9, 2023