One in eight middle-aged Brits could have a potentially serious form of liver disease through being overweight, research says.
Scans of nearly 3,000 individuals from the UK Biobank research project showed 12% had inflamed, fatty livers which can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and even death.
The good news is that the condition is reversible if caught in time. Here are nine ways to keep your liver in tip-top condition…
1. Watch your weight
Obesity is set to overtake booze as the leading cause of liver disease by 2020. Excess calories can cause your liver to become infiltrated with fat.
Being an apple shape – with a big tum and relatively smaller hips – makes you even more susceptible to fatty liver disease.
If you’re a woman it’s time to take immediate action if your waist size gets to 34in (40in if you are a man).
Faddy diets are best avoided. Opt instead for a steady weight loss of a pound or two a week with a diet based around fruit, veg, wholegrains and lean protein.
2. Be sensible with your alcohol intake…
It’s boring, but essential. If you want to keep your liver healthy you need to keep a watch on how much you drink.
“Someone always has a story about their grandad who lived to 102 and drank like a fish, but it’s dicing with danger to take the risk,” says Judi Rhys, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust.
“It’s safest for men and women not to drink more than 14 units per week and to have two to three consecutive alcohol-free days a week.”
Fourteen units equates to 1.5 bottles of wine, four pints of 5% alcohol beer or 14 single measure spirits per week.
3. …but enjoy a coffee
“Research suggests regularly drinking moderate amounts of coffee (three to five cups a day) is associated with a lower risk of liver diseases and could reduce liver cancer risk by up to 40%,” says Judi.
The World Health Organization confirmed the link between coffee and reduced liver cancer risk in 2016 after reviewing more than 1,000 studies.
Coffee also lowers the risk of other liver conditions including fibrosis (scar tissue that builds up within the liver) and cirrhosis. All types, including instant, cafetiere and filter seem to have the benefit.
4. Step to it
Even if you are still overweight, walking more and sitting down less could nudge levels of liver fat in the right direction.
Liverpool University researchers found for every hour of increased sedentary time, liver fat increased by 0.87%, while for every daily increase of 1,000 steps, liver fat decreased by 0.87%.
5. Don’t get a tattoo on your holidays
If you get your skin inked, always use a licensed tattoo parlour or you risk viral hepatitis.
Be particularly careful if you’re abroad. Hepatitis B and C viruses, which both infect and damage the liver, are easy to catch through blood-to-blood contact.
Even a tiny amount of dried blood – too small to be visible to the naked eye – is enough to pass on infection if it gets into your bloodstream.
6. Bump up the broccoli
Getting your five-a-day will boost your general health, but a regular serving of broccoli could be particularly good for your liver.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that long-term consumption of broccoli helped prevent the build-up of fat in the livers of mice.
More research needs to be done, but in the meantime it can’t do any harm to eat more of it.
7. If you’ve ever done drugs get checked out
Drug abuse involving syringe injections is one of the main ways hepatitis C is transmitted.
Some 25% of liver cancer globally is attributable to this virus but you can have it for years and not know as it often doesn’t cause symptoms.
The good news is that if you have ever taken drugs, there is now an effective cure for hepatitis C. So get to your GP and get yourself tested.
8. Easy on the painkillers
Paracetamol is one of the most commonly taken medicines that can hurt your liver, and it’s in a load of over-the-counter products including cold remedies, period painkillers and migraine tablets.
Take care not to double up on these products.
The maximum dose is four grams a day for a limited time – if you’re self-medicating and find you need painkillers for more than a few days, take medical advice.
Paracetamol with alcohol is particularly risky, so it’s best not to mix the two.
9. Ditch the detox
A healthy liver helps detoxify your body, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be detoxified.
“The liver is remarkable – because as long as it does not get too damaged it can regenerate,” says Judi.
“We advise people to ignore faddy diets or any claims products can ‘cleanse’ the liver.
Many suggested complementary and alternative medicines are processed by the liver, so can actually prove to be toxic to people with liver problems.”
- Take the British Liver Trust’s quiz to assess the health of your liver at britishlivertrust.org.uk/screener
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