Let’s be real, when was the last time you thought about your liver health? We get it, liver health may not be something you think about regularly, or ever, especially since its symptoms can be hard to identify. Did you know that in 2015, 42% of Americans thought you could live without your liver? While it appears that many Americans undervalue the role of your liver, it is extremely critical to your overall health. It processes what you eat and drink and turns it into nutrients, making it essential for digestion and ridding the body of toxic substances.
Since the liver doesn’t get the attention it deserves, our friend April Morris, Nurse Practitioner at the Liver Institute of Virginia, thought it would be helpful to share some tips on liver health maintenance, including questions you could ask your healthcare practitioner during your next checkup!
1) How do I keep my liver healthy?According to April, “The most important way to maintain liver health is by living a healthy lifestyle.” That can consist of monitoring your diet and weight, since manageable health conditions like obesity and diabetes are major risk factors for liver disease. Additionally, April advises to limit the amount of alcohol you consume, as alcohol can destroy liver cells. Other factors to keep in mind include:
- Manage your medications properly.
- Avoid mixing alcohol with other medications.
- Avoid smoking.
2) What is the best diet for my liver?“There is no ‘fool proof’ diet to avoid liver diseases,” April said. However, she had some helpful tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet and regular exercise:
- The best diet for liver health is one that is balanced. Always remember that moderation is key!
- Eat foods from the major food groups, such as vegetables, proteins, fruits, dairy, whole grains and “good” fats – like avocado and olive oil.
- Minimize simple carbohydrates, foods high in saturated fat, sweets, and fatty or fried foods.
3) What are the most common symptoms of liver disease that I should look out for?While certain symptoms may vary depending on the specific disease and its severity, common symptoms for liver diseases include:
- Itchy skin
- Chronic fatigue
- Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (also known as jaundice)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swelling around the ankles
- Dark urine color
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
While some of these symptoms may sound benign, such as itchy skin and chronic fatigue, they also may be indicators of rare but serious liver diseases, such as Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC). PBC is a chronic, progressive autoimmune disease that mainly affects women, particularly those in the prime of their lives.
4) How do I check on my liver health?“Routine blood tests such as a comprehensive metabolic panel, which checks kidney and liver function, is a quick and easy test and can be requested from your healthcare practitioner,” April said. However, if you suspect you might have a liver disease, April suggests talking to your healthcare practitioner about more thorough evaluations of your alkaline phosphatase or ALP levels. ALP is an enzyme that is normally present in the bloodstream, but high amounts of this enzyme can indicate certain liver diseases, like PBC as well as hepatitis, liver cancer, cirrhosis and gallstones. According to April, “This simple liver blood test can help identify liver diseases, such as PBC, and allow patients to get a leg up on managing their disease.”
This content is sponsored by Intercept Pharmaceuticals, Inc.