Types of liver disease
Your liver is an organ that filters your blood and balances chemicals in your body. Drinking too much alcohol or having too much fat on your liver may affect the organ’s function over time. Learn about ways you can reverse liver damage and make your liver healthy again.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This condition affects your liver when there is excess fat but no damage. It is a silent disease that doesn’t present any symptoms for years. Around 10%-20% of Americans will be diagnosed with this condition during their lifetime. Without making lifestyle changes to improve liver health, this disease may progress into NASH.
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). If your liver is inflamed and shows signs of cell damage, you may have NASH. Around 2%-5% of Americans will be diagnosed with this condition during their lifetime. Over time, damage results in permanent scars to your liver tissue, causing your liver to become hard and lose function. When your liver damage progresses to hardening, it is called cirrhosis.
If you have NASH, your symptoms may include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Overall weakness
- Unexpected weight loss
- Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Spider veins
- Persistent itching
As NASH progresses into cirrhosis, your symptoms may include:
Know the risk factors
If you hope to heal your liver you must know liver disease risk factors. Doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes fatty liver disease, but there are some things these factors can put you at a higher risk:
Moderate drinking usually doesn’t damage your liver. Men under the age of 65 can safely consume two to three servings of alcohol per day without liver damage. Men over the age of 65 should limit drinking to one beverage per day. Women can safely consume a single serving of alcohol per day without liver damage. A single serving can be:
- 12 ounces of beer
- Five ounces of wine
- One and a half ounces of hard liquor
It is important to know the risk factors since fatty liver may not present symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Early identification is the key to reversing liver damage. Routine blood work is the most common way to diagnose a fatty liver.
If you don’t have other medical problems, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes to improve your liver function. Severe liver damage is not reversible. You can make a difference if you identify excess fat deposits early.
Lose weight. If you have extra weight all over, you’re more likely to have fat on your liver. Weight loss reduces your fat everywhere – including your liver. It’s important to pursue healthy weight loss. Don't crash diet to improve your liver health.
Eat healthy. A great place to start is to cut back on how much you eat. Focus on prioritizing healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and whole grains. Eating too much fatty food can still impact your liver even if you’re eating less than before. You should also drink plenty of water each day to help your body stay hydrated.
Lower bad cholesterol levels. There are good fats and bad fats. If your diet is high in saturated and trans fat, you may have more fat in your blood. This fat can deposit into your liver when your liver filters blood after digestions.
Trade out bad fats for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Sources of healthy fats include:
- Olive and other vegetable oils
- Nuts and seeds
Stop drinking alcohol. Your liver is designed to process toxins. But alcohol damages your liver’s enzymes. Over time, drinking too much alcohol can lead to permanent damage and cirrhosis. Your liver begins to heal within a few days or weeks of stopping drinking. For severe damage, healing may take several months.
Exercise regularly. Exercise burns calories. When you eat a healthy diet to lose weight, your body begins to burn the excess stored fat you have. Aim to be active for 30 minutes or more each day. If 30 minutes is too much at once, break your activity down into three 10-minute activity sessions. Build up your endurance over time.
Manage diabetes. Some health conditions like diabetes may contribute to liver damage. By controlling your other health conditions, you can improve your liver health. Talk to your doctor and follow any diet, exercise, and weight loss recommendations. Take medications as prescribed and ask your doctor before you stop taking anything.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Alcohol and Public Health."
John Hopkins Medicine: "Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease."
University of Michigan Health: "Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease."
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