1. What does my liver do?
Give your liver credit for being one of the hardest-working organs in your body, as it performs hundreds of functions. “I call it the Grand Central station of your body,” Dr. Decker says. In a nutshell, your liver processes anything you eat or drink, and either repackages it for your body to use or eliminates it.
2. What’s the best habit I can follow to keep my liver healthy?
Focus on healthy eating. “Because the liver stores most of our nutrients – it’s the major organ for nutrient processing – anything bad you consume will be associated with potential for damage,” says Timothy T. Nostrant, MD, professor emeritus of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
3. What’s the best diet for my liver?
Keep three nutritional guidelines in mind: Get your fill of protein mainly from plant-based sources, focus on natural foods, and reduce fat in your diet, Dr. Nostrant says. For the protein your body needs to function properly, your best sources are plant-based foods like beans, legumes, and lentils. Although you can also get protein from animal sources, keep meat to a minimum. Then load up on foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains that aren’t processed or loaded with chemicals.
Finally, although your body needs fat, avoid trans-fats. Opt for monounsaturated fats like those from avocados and nuts, and include polyunsaturated fat sources like fatty fish, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds. Limit your total fat intake to 20 percent of your diet, Nostrant adds.
4. What else can I do to keep my liver healthy?
Although diet is key, so, too, is keeping your weight in check by controlling portionsand exercising regularly. Why? “Obesity is linked to fatty liver disease,” Nostrant says. That can lead to scarring or cirrhosis of the liver, and even liver cancer or liver failure. If weight is an issue, set a goal to lose 20 percent of your current weight, which will substantially reduce risk of liver damage, Nostrant says.
Then limit alcohol, which can cause cirrhosis, to one drink a day for women and two for men. Even if you were once a heavier drinker and have since cut or eliminated alcohol intake, the damage may not show up until years later. That’s why Decker recommends being honest about this with your doctor, who might then want to test for underlying liver damage.
Also, avoid other risky behaviors such as abusing over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen, a pain reliever that can cause damage if taken in large amounts over a small amount of time (take no more than two grams a day, Nostrant says).
Finally, decrease your risk of liver damage from hepatitis C and hepatitis B by avoiding such things as having multiple sexual partners, IV drug abuse, and body piercing or tattoos with unsterilized needles.
5. What symptoms will I notice if my liver isn’t working right?
Fatigue is the most common. You might also experience nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, brown urine, or even jaundice, which causes yellowing in the whites of your eyes.
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