The liver is one of the most important organs in the body. Situated on the right part of the abdomen, just below the rib cage, it plays an integral role in various bodily functions and processes that keep you alive.
The different functions of the liver
The largest internal organ in the body, the liver is key to the following bodily functions and processes:
- It stores essential nutrients and chemicals, including folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin K, and iron, which help in nutrient absorption, blood clot, vision, and others.
- It helps metabolize toxins that are found in foods, alcohol, medications, and other substances that you eat or consume.
- It produces bile, which is a bodily fluid that contains bile acids that facilitate the digestion and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and fats in your small intestine.
- It is in charge of making cholesterol and triglycerides, which are stored in your fat cells to be used for later.
- It breaks down the different hormones produced in your body, including insulin.
An overview of liver disease
If your liver is not taken good care of, it may be at risk of liver disease. While a liver disease can sometimes be caused by family history or genetics, a significant number of cases are brought about by viruses, excessive alcohol consumption, and unhealthy lifestyle habits.
Below are examples of diseases that affect the liver:
This is a disease in which cells in the liver become unhealthy and spread. Its risk factors include excessive alcohol consumption, diabetes, obesity, metabolic diseases, exposure to aflatoxins, and autoimmune diseases.
This is a condition characterized as the swelling of the liver due to the hepatitis A virus. It is usually spread by consumption of undercooked or raw shellfish that are harvested from polluted waters, drinking water that is polluted by the Hepatitis A virus, having unprotected sex with someone who has Hepatitis A, and using illicit drugs.
This is a type of liver disease that is characterized by the swelling of the liver, leaving it unable to perform its functions right. It can be passed on from one person to another through direct contact with bodily fluids that have been infected by the Hepatitis B virus (such as semen, vaginal secretions, and blood), having unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who has Hepatitis B, sharing used syringes and needles to inject drugs, and from a pregnant woman who has Hepatitis B to her child.
This is a liver disease that is caused by the Hepatitis C virus, which can be typically spread through direct contact with infected blood (such as in blood transfusions), having unprotected sex with an infected person, and using infected and non-sterile needles to inject drugs or for tattoos and body piercings.
Below are some common signs and symptoms of liver disease that you should watch out for:
- Pain and swelling in the abdomen
- Jaundice, or the yellowing of the eyes and the skin
- Dark-colored urine
- Blood in the stool
- Itchy skin
- Appetite loss
- Vomiting or nausea
- Chronic fatigue
- Swelling in the ankles or legs
If you encounter any of the warning signs above, you should go see your doctor right away.
Tips to have a healthy liver
Prevention is always the best cure, so to keep your liver strong and healthy for a long time, you have to be aware of the things that you have to do to avoid liver disease. The following are ways to maintain optimal liver health:
Eat a healthy and balanced diet
Eating foods that are high in calories, saturated fat, sugars, and refined carbohydrates is not good for your liver. It only increases your risk of liver disease and several other health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity. What you need to do to protect your liver is to eat a high fiber diet that is made up of lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and have some moderate amount of lean meat.
Increase your physical activity
Being physically active is key to a healthy liver and a long and disease-free life. Health and fitness experts recommend that you get around 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise for good overall health and wellbeing. If you can exercise even for just 30 minutes a few times a week, it can make a huge difference to not only your liver health but also your heart and brain function, strength and endurance, and others. Examples of beginner-friendly exercises are brisk walking, running, cycling, and swimming.
If you are overweight or obese, you are at a higher risk of a variety of diseases than someone who has a healthy weight. An unhealthy weight increases your likelihood of a heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney damage, liver disease, and even erectile dysfunction and infertility. For your own good, you should strive to get rid of those extra pounds and fats by eating healthily and exercising regularly.
Cut down your alcohol intake
Too much alcohol can be detrimental to your liver function. Alcohol contains compounds that can harm and damage your liver cells, preventing them from performing their jobs properly and increasing your risk of liver disease. If you want your liver to remain in good condition, you should be responsible for your drinking. According to medical professionals, to not endanger your health, you should not drink more than 2 drinks per day if you are a man or 1 drink per day if you are a woman.
Observe the proper precautions when handling chemicals
Exposure to toxins contained in insecticides, cleaning products, aerosol products, and other chemicals can damage your liver cells, so you have to be very careful. You should wear a mask, gloves, or other protective gear to prevent direct contact. Do not forget to read the labels thoroughly to know how to use them without putting yourself in danger.