The Health Index
The liver is the largest of our internal organs. Like the heart, it is connected to two blood circuits. About 2,000 litres of blood flow through it every day. The liver has a wide range of functions.
It is involved in:
The metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins
Detoxification and excretion of toxic substances
Production of important blood proteins e.g. clotting factors
Production of bile acids for fat breakdown
Storage of excess glucose for emergency use
Storage of vitamins and trace elements such as iron, copper, zinc and manganese
Too much alcohol and fat damage the liver. The tricky thing is that the liver is insensitive to pain, so disease can often go unnoticed at first. Common diseases of the liver are hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), alcoholic-fatty liver disease and – a condition that has emerged relatively recently – non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). If left untreated and nothing changes, any one of these liver conditions can progress into cirrhosis of the liver and ultimately liver cancer.
What are the causes?
There are many possible causes for liver disease. The most common cause of liver inflammation is having a fatty liver due to being overweight (NAFLD), diabetes, or alcohol; medication, and viral infections (hepatitis). Cirrhosis of the liver is the final stage of many permanent liver diseases: liver cells die off and connective tissue takes their place. The liver is then no longer able to perform its tasks.
This can lead to metabolic disorders, hormone imbalances, and blood clotting. Harmful substances are no longer broken down effectively. In contrast to other liver diseases, cirrhosis of the liver usually does not regress, however, further progression of the disease can be halted by switching to a healthy lifestyle. About half of all liver cirrhoses are caused by alcohol, and a quarter by permanent viral infections of the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver leads to liver cancer in about 2 out of 100 cases.
What are the symptoms?
The physical signs of liver damage are usually very general, such as fatigue, tiredness, or a feeling of pressure in the right upper abdomen. Liver disease therefore often goes unnoticed for a long time. Visible signs and symptoms such as yellowing of the eyes and skin, itching, vomiting, or pain often appear very late. A doctor can detect damage to the liver much sooner by monitoring liver function via blood tests. Liver function tests are routine tests.
How can a nutrition practitioner help?
In the vast majority of cases, liver damage is diet and lifestyle related. Even if it isn’t, changes to diet and lifestyle habits can help take a load off your liver and support its resilience and recovery. A nutrition practitioner will ask questions about your overall health and health history, diet, lifestyle and exercise habits. They will look at your food diary to see where there may be room for improvement. Your nutrition practitioner may also recommend functional testing to assess your nutrition status. They will then develop a customised diet, supplement and lifestyle plan that works for you.