Our bodies are incredible – made up of numerous biological systems and vital organs that carry out the functions necessary for everyday living – and we often take this for granted, especially when it comes to our livers. The liver is an incredibly strong and resilient organ that will continue to function even when more than two-thirds has been damaged. Diseases of the liver can be acute or chronic, inherited or acquired. Statistics show that liver disease is on the rise and 1 in 4 Canadians may be affected, but the good news is, some can also be prevented. At Excel Health we believe prevention is key and with March being both Liver Awareness and Nutrition month, we decided to sit down with our registered dietitian Andrea Clarke, to better understand how the two are associated and get her tips for keeping your liver healthy.
Why is liver health important?
Your liver is essential to life. Without a healthy liver, you’re not going to be in good health and it will cause a domino effect with a multitude of related health problems. The main functions of the liver include metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fat; storage and activation of vitamins and minerals; detoxification of substances, including drugs and alcohol; and protection against infection by filtering bacteria and debris from the blood.
What impact does lifestyle have on liver function?
Many of the lifestyle choices we make can have an impact on our liver.
Too much sugar or a diet high in saturated or trans fats can put you at risk for a plethora of illnesses including diabetes, cardiovascular and liver disease. Foods high in sugar or fat cause inflammation, which creates an environment that is more susceptible to disease. However, it’s important to remember that not all fats are created equal. Saturated (mainly from animal sources of food or full-fat dairy) or trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are more inflammatory than your polyunsaturated (can be found in walnuts, fish, sunflower seeds) or monounsaturated unsaturated (plant-based oils) which are anti-inflammatory.
Consuming alcohol, recreational or over-the-counter drugs can have a negative impact because your liver will have to work overtime to metabolize and cleanse your blood. Poor lifestyle choices including alcohol or drug abuse can eventually lead to liver inflammation, high blood pressure, fatty liver, gall stones, cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Can nutrition assist in reversing liver damage?
We really don’t know the status of our livers until there is a reason for concern, which is why it’s so important to be making those healthy lifestyle choices such as, getting blood sugar under control, increasing healthy fats, monitoring your alcohol intake and exercising before the damage is done. When it comes to a healthy liver, prevention is key and what you eat and drink every single day matters.
What are your top tips for keeping the liver healthy?
It starts with cooking at home more and when you are, include more plant-based proteins, choose a variety of whole foods, increase healthy fats and fiber while being aware of saturated and trans fats. Ensure your Vitamin D needs are met through supplements or fortified foods. Vitamin D promotes liver health and healthy body weight.
When you are eating out, be conscious of the choices you are making. If you’re having a cocktail, skip dessert. Choose dishes that highlight vegetables. If you’re going for fast-food, skip the fries and opt for a side salad instead. These tips may sound cliché but all of these small choices add up.
What is the one thing that someone could do today to improve liver health?
When it comes to our health, the substantial increase in disease attributed to alcohol is a leading global concern. It is difficult for our livers to process alcohol and ideally, cutting it out would be the healthiest thing you can do to improve liver health. If you are going to consume alcohol, Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines recommends no more than two drinks a day, 10 per week for women, and three drinks a day, 15 per week for men. These guidelines set a limit, not a target and can be used to provide information on how to reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms in both the short and long term.
Prevention is the best way to ensure that your liver is functioning optimally. It’s important to see your doctor for regular check-ups so he or she can identify any potential problems before it’s too late. If you are concerned about potential health risks, ask about our Executive personalized assessments that allow us to detect disease early.
If you’re ready to take control of your health and start living your best life, our Registered Dietitian, Andrea Clarke Is here to help you. Book an appointment today.