As one of the body’s largest internal organs, the liver affects nearly every physiological process of the body and performs over 500 different chemical functions. Liver disease hampers these functions, putting enormous strain on an individual’s health. Learn to separate the key facts from the many myths surrounding the health of your liver.
Although millions of people are affected by liver disease, the magnitude of the problem and the role wellness can play in its prevention are often misunderstood. Only a conscious movement toward practicing liver wellness can improve the rising problem of liver disease.
Not only is liver disease on the rise in our society, but its statistics are staggering:
1. Thirty million Americans – one in every 10 – are or have been affected by a liver, biliary or gallbladder disease.
2. Liver disease and cirrhosis are the 7th leading cause of death among adults between the ages of 25 and 64 in the US.
3. Chronic hepatitis C and alcoholic liver disease are the leading causes of cirrhosis in the US.
4. Hepatitis C is the number one reason for liver transplantation in the US.
Important Liver Facts
There are many misunderstandings and myths surrounding the liver’s physiology and pathology.
5. The liver is the only organ that can regenerate itself.
6. The liver filters over a liter of blood each minute, removing toxins such as air pollutants, pesticides, cigarette smoke, environmental chemicals, alcohol, and prescription and non-prescription drugs.
7. Cirrhosis is the irreversible condition marked by the accumulation of scar tissue in the liver. Cirrhosis can be caused by alcohol consumption, hepatitis, right-sided heart failure and other conditions.
8. While alcoholic hepatitis is found mostly in alcoholics, it also occurs in people who are merely social drinkers.
9. Liver disease often develops undetected over years, without obvious symptoms. Many people are diagnosed with liver disease after abnormalities are detected during routine blood tests.
10. Permanent liver damage can be the result of excessive chemical or toxin exposure. This damage can manifest as chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and liver tumors.
While there is increasing accessibility to information about the Hepatitis C virus, myths still abound. Below are the facts clarifying two frequently encountered misconceptions:
11. Hepatitis C is not lethal to everyone infected. Multiple factors affect the course of hepatitis C infection such as: alcohol consumption, underlying health conditions which may suppress the immune system, the strength of the strain of virus infecting a person and steps taken toward liver wellness. The virus can run a relatively short course to liver destruction in a few brief years or a person can be infected for more than 60 years without the development of liver failure.
12. Hepatitis C is remarkably difficult to transmit through sexual intercourse. On the other hand, Hepatitis B is easily spread through sexual contact. Hepatitis C has been associated with a slightly increased risk of transmission in people with a history of multiple sexual partners and those infected with other sexually transmitted diseases. Nevertheless, in monogamous couples where one partner is infected with Hepatitis C, the rate of transmission over decades of intercourse is relatively negligible.
Without a cure for liver disease, taking care of your liver and the rest of your body gives the best chance for a healthy future. Some facts about liver wellness include:
13. With the exception of alcoholic liver disease and liver disease found among starving populations, poor nutrition is not generally a cause of liver disease. Poor nutrition is likely the result of chronic liver disease, not the cause. However, a balanced diet can actually help a damaged liver to regenerate new liver cells. In the case of some liver diseases, nutrition is actually an essential form of treatment. Since most of what we eat, breathe, and absorb through our skin must be refined and detoxified by the liver, special attention to nutrition and diet can help keep the liver healthy.
14. While high protein diets are generally well-tolerated by healthy adults, a dramatic increase in protein-rich foods may be dangerous for people with severe liver disease. A high protein diet can be a problem for individuals who lack the ability to eliminate waste products left over from protein metabolism. Such a diet may also limit the intake of other foods critical to liver wellness, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
15. Fried and processed foods can also damage the liver. Hydrogenated fats and the chemicals found in processed foods cause the liver to work harder, increasing the burden on an already taxed organ.
16. Antioxidants neutralize the toxins processed by the liver and represent an important element to include when practicing liver wellness.
17. In addition to being an antioxidant, the herb milk thistle contains a powerful liver ally, silybin. Silybin prohibits toxins from entering the liver, protects the liver from further damage and has even been shown to assist in the production of new liver cells.
18. A strong immune system has a greater ability to fight against liver disease’s progression. For this reason, practicing liver wellness means staying healthy by getting enough sleep and reducing stress levels.
As the prevalence of liver disease rises in our society, so must our understanding of keeping the body strong to resist its potentially unfavorable consequences. Separating the facts and myths surrounding this amazing organ removes fear while inspiring us to take liver wellness to heart.
www.aasld.org, Liver Facts, American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, 2006.
www.canoe.healthology.com, Hepatitis C Myths and Facts, Frederick K. Askari, MD, PhD, Healthology, Inc., 2006.
www.heppoworld.com, Liver Facts, Heppo World, 2006.
www.liverfoundation.org, Frequently Asked Questions, American Liver Foundation, 2006.
www.liverfoundation.org, The Liver and Liver Disease, American Liver Foundation, 2006.