The Link Between Liver and Heart Health

Learn about astherosclerosis (a health condition that causes high blood pressure, heart disease and can even contribute to some liver diseases), as well as the study that undoubtedly demonstrates the interconnectivity between liver and heart health. You’ll also discover seven lifestyle choices that are beneficial for liver and heart disease prevention or managing your health while living with one of these conditions – tips that can help prevent and reduce astherosclerosis.

Our culture may be propelling us to new technological heights, but it is also initiating our spiral down into ill health. Only by being conscious of how every personal choice affects our physical well being can we begin to make the changes necessary to see our grandchildren grow. As the connection between living an unhealthy lifestyle and the development of chronic disease is more fully realized, researchers are uncovering an increasing number of connections between different health conditions.

Liver and Heart
Although the liver and heart partner together to ensure blood circulates healthfully throughout the body, few people consider the two to be a team. However, research on atherosclerosis confirms a tight connection between liver and heart pathology.

Physiologically, blood and bile intimately tie liver and heart health together:

· Blood – The liver receives 25 percent of the blood pumped by the heart and filters over two quarts of blood a minute. To ensure optimal circulation and filtration, the heart pumps blood while the liver cleans it.

· Bile – To dissolve fat in the blood vessels, the liver produces up to two cups of bile a day. Without bile, our arteries would be as hard as rocks without any hope of circulating blood throughout the heart, liver or remainder of the body.

Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis comes from the Greek words athero (meaning gruel or paste) and sclerosis (hardness). It describes the process in which deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and other substances build up in the inner lining of an artery. Called plaque, this buildup can grow large enough to significantly reduce the blood’s flow through an artery. In addition to the danger of breaking off and throwing a blood clot into circulation, this restriction of blood flow can cause high blood pressure, heart disease and can even contribute to some liver diseases.

Study Confirming the Link
Although the heart and liver share in the responsibility of keeping us healthy, scientists are now discovering similarities in these organs during illness. In the June 2007 Journal of Hepatology, Italian researchers reported on their trial indicating early signs of atherosclerosis are linked with several types of chronic liver disease. By studying the thickness of the carotid arteries in the necks of over 200 patients with one of three forms of chronic liver disease – chronic Hepatitis B, chronic Hepatitis C and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (a kind of fatty liver disease) – a relationship between the two was discovered.

An increase in the thickness of carotid neck arteries is considered by experts to be an indicator of early atherosclerosis. Found to be independent of other factors contributing to atherosclerosis, the researchers realized the following about carotid artery thickness:

· It was lowest in healthy controls with an average value of 0.84.
· It was elevated in people with Hepatitis B with an average value of 0.97.
· It was elevated in people with Hepatitis C with an average of 1.09.
· It was highest in people with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis with an average value of 1.23.

The authors concluded that Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis are strongly associated with early atherosclerosis. This study clearly demonstrates the interconnectivity between heart and liver health. Based on the Italian research results, we can predict that lowering the amount of plaque accumulation in the arteries may lower susceptibility to several liver diseases.

Minimizing Atherosclerosis
There are many approaches to keeping your body healthy and resistant to the increasingly common occurrences of heart and liver disease. By understanding that the health of our arteries impacts more than just blood pressure, we realize how important it is to keep our blood circulation system at an optimal level of operation.

Experts advise lifestyle choices as the number one way to stave off atherosclerosis. Being conscious of health is crucial as an increasing number of people:

· work at a desk in front of a computer, with only their finger and eye muscles getting a workout

· eat poorly, as demands on time recruit quick, nutritionally-devoid, processed foods for nourishment

· juggle many responsibilities without making the time for stress release.

Making careful lifestyle choices is important to prevent and reduce atherosclerosis. While you have likely heard this information before, including healthy habits in your routine is more necessary than ever – whether you wish to prevent liver disease or even if you already have it. The seven basic elements of atherosclerosis reduction include:

1. Achieve and maintain normal weight – Best achieved with good eating habits and regular exercise, this helps you look good, feel good and live longer.

2. Control other health conditions – Work with your physician to manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other disorders that may contribute to the buildup of plaque in arteries. This will aid your blood vessel health as well as your liver’s health.

3. Avoid cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke – Although quitting this habit may be the hardest thing you ever do, it is proven to reduce the buildup of plaque in your arteries. Additionally, make sure you have minimal exposure to other people’s toxic cigarette fumes.

4. You are what you eat – Eating a diet low in saturated and hydrogenated fats and cholesterol, and high in starches, fiber, fruits and vegetables is the key to reducing arterial sludge.

5. Move it – If you were a car, you would need to be driven regularly to keep your oil thin and properly lubricate all of your moving parts. Similarly, exercising three hours per week or more (such as 30 minutes per day, 6 days per week) keeps your blood pumping healthfully.

6. Reduce stress – Allowing stress to buildup affects your whole body’s ability to keep all fluids moving smoothly. When constantly stressed, your body initiates an inflammatory response, which causes blood clot formation. Finding ways to reduce stress will stop this inflammation.

7. Supplement wisely – While there are many vitamins and herbs that benefit heart health or liver health, few will do both. Milk thistle has proven to be an exception. In addition to protecting the liver from damage and helping new liver cell growth, milk thistle has also been touted for blood vessel health. As reported in the 2004 American Botanical Council’s publication, milk thistle shows promise in moderating effects of a high-cholesterol or high-fat diet, especially in protecting against development of fatty livers and other liver damage. It appears to reduce total serum lipid levels and raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (the good cholesterol), thus decreasing the risk of atherosclerosis.

The correlation between living a healthy lifestyle and preventing illness go hand in hand. While we used to think about eating right, exercising and quitting smoking as ways to help your heart, we now know that it helps the liver, too. Likewise, the herbal supplement milk thistle is not just for the liver, it also benefits the heart. For liver and heart disease prevention or managing your health while living with one of these conditions, make sure to include these seven tips to reduce atherosclerosis. By changing your lifestyle for the better, you can also change your health for the better.

References:

http://content.herbalgram.org, Beyond Liver Conditions: Other Uses for Milk Thistle with Clinical Guidelines, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., American Botanical Council, 2004.

www.americanheart.org, Atherosclerosis, American Heart Association, Inc., 2007.

www.americanheart.org, Inflammation, Heart Disease and Stroke: The Role of C-Reactive Protein, American Heart Association, Inc., 2007.

www.americanheart.org, Metabolic Syndrome, American Heart Association, Inc.k 2007.

www.hivandhepatitis.com, New Data Suggest that Patients with Chronic Liver Disease are at Increased Risk for Heart Disease, Liz Highleyman, hivandhepatitis.com, 2007.

www.medicalnewstoday.com, Spotlight on Liver Disease: Improving Today’s Treatments, MediLexicon International Ltd., May 2007.

www.umm.edu. Atherosclerosis, University of Maryland Medical Center, 2007.

www.webmd.com, The Hard-Liver’s Guide to the Liver, WebMD Corporation, 2007.

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