The low-down on liver health

Susannah Hickling 18 March 2022

You probably know lots about the heart and brain, but you might be surprised by these facts about another equally crucial organ

Your liver performs 500 vital functions to keep us alive.

It processes what we eat, drink, breathe and put on our skin. It cleanses our blood, keeps our glucose, hormones, cholesterol, vitamins and minerals at the right levels and it produces bile to rid the body of toxins and help with digestion.

The liver also helps fight infections and give us energy. Impressive, huh?

Liver disease is on the increase.

Compared to other major diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, deaths from liver disease have rocketed, increasing 400 per cent since 1970. Most cases are preventable, according to the British Liver Trust.

Liver disease isn’t just caused by drink.

The fact that a lot of people associate liver disease with alcoholism has led to stigma. But, in fact, one in five people drink in a way that could damage it.

In fact, along with regularly drinking too much alcohol, the main causes are obesity and viral hepatitis.

There are at least 100 forms of liver disease In the UK.

Some of the most common are alcohol-related liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (caused by being very overweight, which can lead to a build-up of fat around the liver), hepatitis (there are several different types) and liver cancer.

Most cases of liver cancer occur in people who already have liver disease.

Whatever the original cause of the disease, inflammation leading to scar tissue is the end result.

This build-up of scar tissue is called cirrhosis. Liver cancer is more common in people who have cirrhosis.

What’s good for the heart is good for the liver.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help prevent liver disease, including drinking within recommended guidelines. There’s evidence losing ten per cent of your body weight can improve liver function in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. 

Vaccines are available for hepatitis A—often contracted from contaminated food or drink—or B, which can be spread by unprotected sex or injecting drugs.

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