Here’s what may be harming your liver

Here’s what may be harming your liver

As long as our liver is working like it should, few of us give it much thought.  The second largest organ in our body, our football shaped liver is located on the right side of the body under the rib cage weighing about 3 pounds.  Every day, your liver wears many hats – it processes what you eat and drink into energy, makes cholesterol, stores various vitamins and minerals, removes bilirubin from the blood along with other harmful substances, makes bile to help digest fat, and regulates the composition of blood. 

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As long as we are treating this jack of all trades with tender loving care, it should remain healthy helping your body to run smoothly. 

However, the most common liver disorder in the U.S. is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  In fact, 25% of adults in the United States have NAFLD.  There has been a steady rise in NAFLD over the years and it is believed to be due to the progression of obesity.  NAFLD is directly associated with and proportional to the degree of obesity, particularly abdominal fat. 

NAFLD is the buildup of extra fat or triglycerides in liver cells not caused by alcohol.  The liver normally contains some fat but if more than 5-10% of the liver’s weight is fat, it is then called a fatty liver.  It can range from simple steatosis which is excessive fat accumulation to steatohepatitis which is liver cell injury and inflammation.  When there is excessive dietary fat for the liver to process, it can get overtaxed by the fat accumulation leading to scarring, inflammation, fibrosis, and cirrhosis – the progressive stages of NAFLD.

NAFLD is asymptomatic, meaning it usually has no physical symptoms.  Doctors use a variety tests to diagnosis the condition such as blood tests, an abdominal ultrasound scan or a liver biopsy.  You may believe you are doing all you can to protect your liver from NAFLD; however here are habits or conditions you either have or are doing secretly harming your liver:

·      Binge eating

If you are always feeling hungry or have intense cravings for sugar, these could be an early sign of liver disease.  Even if they are not, binge eating on sugary foods and beverages are bad habits only adding to the fat already accumulating in the liver.  Eating too many calories, especially calories from sugar-rich foods over a long period of time, can result in not only excess weight gain but also possibly NAFLD. 

·      Belly fat

NAFLD is more common in people who are overweight to obese.  Those who tend to store excess weight gain in the abdominal area, what is known as belly fat, is particularly bad.  This is known as visceral fat which can contribute to increasing a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease or stroke.  As a person’s body mass index increases, especially if it reaches over 30, the prevalence of NAFLD increases also. 

·      High blood lipid levels

From high total cholesterol, high triglycerides, or LDL cholesterol, all can signal there is too much fat in your liver.  The cholesterol reading on receives from a blood test is mainly a product of what is coming from the liver.  The liver makes cholesterol on its own and circulates it into the bloodstream.  If we eat foods high in saturated and trans fats, it can cause the liver to release more fat raising cholesterol even more. 

·      Having a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes

Anyone with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is at a greater risk for developing NAFLD.  A study was conducted which tested 100 individuals with type 2 diabetes who had no symptoms of fatty liver disease.  Each person had an MRI of their livers with the results showing 65 percent of the participants had NAFLD and didn’t know it. 

·      Having high blood pressure

Researchers from Germany looked at data from over 3,000 individuals and found that those with NAFLD were three times more likely to have hypertension than those who did not.  Monitoring blood pressure is important for everyone but especially so for those who think they may have NAFLD.  Hypertension is already a known risk factor for heart disease and anyone having NAFLD is also at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease too.

·      Having a family member with NAFLD

It looks like there could be a possible genetic predisposition to NAFLD.  NAFLD is only about weight but also appears to be highly familiar and likely genetic.  Researchers who have studied this possibility recommend that if one family member tests positive for NAFLD, other family members should talk to their doctors immediately.  Early detection could catch NAFLD at a stage where the disease is reversible and further complications may be prevented before cirrhosis sets in. 

·      You always feel tired

There are no physical symptoms of NAFLD which makes it virtually impossible to identify without blood tests or a liver biopsy.  But once it progresses to cirrhosis, you may start to notice symptoms such as fatigue and weakness.  The effects of cirrhosis are permanent and could lead to liver cancer making it very important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you develop fatty liver symptoms. 

·      Pain in the upper right abdomen

This symptom will not appear until cirrhosis has begun.  The pain is caused by fluid beginning to accumulate in the abdomen and if there is an infection associated with it.  Loss of appetite is another symptom of cirrhosis.