A leading expert shares the best ways to keep this vital organ strong…
Most people assume that liver disease happens only to people who abuse alcohol. But that is not true.
Surprising facts: More than 30 million US adults suffer from chronic liver disease—and many of these people don’t even know that they have it. Liver problems can be caused by a number of conditions such as fatty liver disease (see below) and hepatitis C and hepatitis B. The result can range from mild dysfunction to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
An under-recognized problem: A condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Affecting as many as one in four adults in this country, it is marked by a buildup of extra fat in the liver cells. This can allow a more serious condition to develop that can result in liver scarring and cirrhosis—problems that may lead to liver failure or cancer, requiring a liver transplant.
KEEPING YOUR LIVER HEALTHY
Your liver is one of the hardest-working—and underappreciated—organs in your body. It’s responsible for more than 500 critical functions, ranging from digesting and storing nutrients to processing and excreting toxic substances that sneak into your body via food, drink and air. If your liver gets sick, you get sick—it’s that simple.
Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to help protect your liver health. My advice…
• Fight unwanted weight gain. This is key to liver health. For most people, a crucial part of maintaining a healthy body weight is to cut back on their sugar intake.
Besides promoting system-wide inflammation and weight gain, excessive sugar (typically from sweets, soda, fruit drinks and other flavored beverages) can cause your liver to become fatty and inflamed—thus contributing to NAFLD.
Important: The just-released 2015–2020 edition of the federal Dietary Guidelines calls for us to limit our added sugar intake to less than 10% of daily calories—the equivalent of roughly 10 to 15 teaspoons of sugar per day.
Some easy ways to cut back on sugar in your diet: Switch from flavored yogurt to plain Greek yogurt topped with fruit…and substitute unsweetened applesauce for refined white sugar when baking.
• Drink coffee. Scientific evidence continues to shore up coffee’s protective effect on the liver—perhaps due to its inflammation-fighting properties.
Important recent findings: A March 2015 World Cancer Research Fund study found that each cup of coffee you drink per day reduces your risk for liver cancer by 14%. An analysis of other studies showed that drinking two cups of coffee per day may reduce risk for cirrhosis by 44%.
Helpful: Opt for caffeinated coffee and, if possible, have it black. Sugar, of course, causes inflammation, and decaf java has not been shown in research to have the same liver-friendly benefits.
• Try wheat germ. With its mild, nutty taste, wheat germ is an excellent source of vitamin E. Two tablespoons of ready-to-eat wheat germ provide 5.4 mg of vitamin E—about one-third of your daily needs. Why is this vitamin so important? Animal studies suggest that wheat germ can help protect the liver against toxins. While human data is limited, a study of 132,000 Chinese adults found that as vitamin E intake rose, the likelihood of liver cancer dropped.
Wheat germ is also rich in essential fatty acids, potassium and magnesium—all of which help ease oxidative stress on the liver by protecting the body’s cells from free radical damage.
Helpful: Sprinkle wheat germ over oatmeal, yogurt or popcorn…or mix it into meatloaf or smoothies. For other good sources of vitamin E, try almonds, spinach, avocado and sunflower seeds.
• Choose seafood wisely. Fish is an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. However, many types of fish can accumulate heavy metals, such as mercury, lead and cadmium, from the water and the aquatic life they consume. When we eat such fish, we ingest these toxins, which, over time, can cause liver damage.
Self-defense: Select seafood that is less likely to contain heavy metals. For example, you can safely enjoy 12 ounces a week of smaller fish such as anchovies…catfish… flounder…herring…perch…wild salmon…sardines…and trout.
Caution: Limit your intake of fish that may contain higher levels of heavy metals such as Chilean sea bass…grouper…mackerel…and yellowfin and white albacore tuna to less than 18 ounces per month.
Avoid large fish such as marlin…orange roughy…ahi tuna…and swordfish—these fish usually contain the highest levels of heavy metals. Helpful: Visit the Natural Resources Defense Council for a complete list of the safest seafood options.
• Don’t forget water! Water makes the liver’s job easier by helping flush toxins out of the body. It’s also a sugar-free substitute for juice, soda, sweetened tea and other sugar-enhanced beverages.
Helpful: Keep a glass of water on your nightstand, and start your morning with it, then continue sipping all day long. To jazz up your water, try adding freshly cut slices of citrus.
A healthy liver functions like a fortress, defending your body from toxins. A frequently overlooked source of toxins: Household cleaning agents. Every time you spray your counter or wipe down a table, you release irritating chemicals (such as chlorine, ammonia, alcohol and others), which are inhaled. Fortunately, safer alternatives are readily available…
• For an all-purpose cleaner (good for appliances, counters and inside the refrigerator), dissolve four tablespoons of baking soda in one quart of warm water.
• To polish stainless steel, olive oil works great.
Still want the convenience of a store-bought cleaner? Choose brands labeled “phosphate-free”…“VOC-free”…and/or “solvent-free.” Also, look for products with the green-and-white USDA Organic Seal or ones with nontoxic, plant-derived ingredients.