Liver detoxing, drinking celery juice, going a month without alcohol – what is the fuss about this organ? It seems that supporting your liver is all the rage. There’s no doubt it’s key to survival, but what does it do exactly? And what happens when it is in distress? To sort out the facts from the hype, we asked Satinder Pal Kaur MD, Primary Care Physician, for some clarity on the subject.
Why is the liver important?
You probably don’t think much about your liver, neatly tucked under your ribs on the right side of your body. Yet as your body’s largest internal organ, it deserves some respect. In fact, it plays a central role in your metabolism – breaking down fats, carbohydrates and proteins. This multitasking, three pound organ, also does the following:
- Filters your blood for nutrients
- Stores vitamins, iron and glucose (sugar) for energy
- Clears the blood of alcohol, drugs and other toxins
- Helps blood to clot
To sum it up, it’s a workhorse. But as the damage to the liver cells gets worse, its function can start to slow down and eventually stop.
Ways to Protect Your Liver
Unlike other organs, like the lungs giving its responsibility to a respirator, nothing can take the place of your liver. However, it can regenerate – replacing damage with new cells. This is why it’s important to catch disease early. Since everything you consume affects your liver, be mindful of your diet.
Specifically there are diet changes you can make to help it function at its best. According to the American Liver Foundation these include the following:
- Load up on fiber. Fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains aree rich in many nutrients. Studies show eating them regularly lowers blood pressure.
- Avoid foods high in fat, sugar or salt. Stay away from fast food and also fried foods.
- Keep clear of raw or under cooked shellfish. Enjoy your clams or oysters fully cooked.
- Be honest about your happy hour. Limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day (for women) and two drinks a day (for men). Discuss with your doctor what a healthy intake of alcohol is for you.
- Drink water. Water helps your liver function at its best.
Will drinking celery juice help my liver?
While drinking celery juice won’t harm you, there are currently no human studies available to support the many health claims out there. Animal studies show benefits, such as lowering blood pressure in rats.
Liver Disease Symptoms
Dr. Kaur explains when function is declining, you may experience non-specific symptoms such as:
- Fatigue or weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
As function starts getting worse, you may have these symptoms:
- Yellowing of your skin and the white of eyes
- Easily bruising
- Itchiness of the skin
- Pain and swelling of the abdomen, caused by water build up
- Blood in the stool
- Blood in vomiting
When you are unable to clear toxic waste from your body, you may also experience the following:
- Disordered sleep
Surprisingly, gender may play a role in the different signs of liver disease. “Females may experience irregular menstrual cycles or an absence of menstrual cycles,” shares Dr. Kaur. “Males may experience signs of low testosterone such as loss of sexual drive, impotency, and infertility. Men may also develop more feminine features, such as loss of chest hair and enlargement of the breast tissue.”
What causes liver disease?
The many causes include:
- Infections. Viruses and parasites can cause inflammation and can affect liver function. The viruses can spread through contaminated blood, food or water, and unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person. The most common causes are Hepatitis C virus, Hepatitis B virus, and Hepatitis A virus.
- Alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver leading up to buildup of fat, inflammation, and scarring.
- Excess fat. This includes non-alcoholic fatty liver, which means fat deposits in liver cells, but no damage and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, meaning fat deposits with signs of inflammation and damage.
Other causes are:
- Genetics. An abnormal gene inherited from one parent can cause metabolism problems of certain substances.
- Immune disease. When the immune system attacks different parts of the liver.
- Heart disease. Diseases like congestive heart failure, when your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should, can cause blood to back up in your veins, causing the liver to grow larger.
- Bile duct disease. The liver makes bile to digest food. Recurring bile duct infections and bile duct narrowing blocks bile duct flow, causing back up into the liver.
- Medications. Many medicines can cause liver cell injury and damage. With this in mind, be sure to share all medications and supplements you are taking with your doctor.
What are the tests for liver disease?
First, basic laboratory tests are done which may include various function tests and a complete blood count (CBC). If you are having clinical signs and symptoms of disease and/or abnormal function test results, more testing is done. This may include an abdominal ultrasound. Additionally, a biopsy is recommended when there are serious concerns or conflicting findings.
Do you think you have liver disease symptoms? Seek help from a primary care doctor to discuss your concerns.