So you think drinking alone will damage your liver? Think again. Caring for the liver goes beyond being concerned about alcohol intake. Read on to find out what other lifestyle habits are making that hardworking liver of yours vulnerable.
This month, HiDoc Pulse celebrates the body’s hardest-worker: the liver. We show you the many ways you can recalibrate your life, through diet and lifestyle choices that promote optimal liver function. Download our app to experience specialist healthcare with the ease of a phone call.
A common line of thinking goes: If you don’t drink, you don’t need to worry about liver disease. Well, think again. People who drink excessively are indeed susceptible to liver disease such as cirrhosis or fatty liver disease. But, to a degree, those who drink little to no alcohol also share that risk of liver disease.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease results mainly from excessive levels of fat being stored in the liver. Symptoms present themselves in the form of increasing levels of fatigue, upper right abdomen pain and an enlarged liver. However, there are usually no signs and symptoms, which makes the disease easy to overlook.
If left untreated and unmanaged, it could progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (swelling of the liver), and even cirrhosis (significant liver scarring), liver failure and liver cancer. Put simply, liver disease does not discriminate between those who drink and those who do not.
While you’re pondering that fact, here are five other myths about liver disease that should be busted to ensure that your liver gets the optimal care it needs to function as your body’s regulatory factory.
Myth 1. Fatty liver disease is rare and I don’t have to be overly concerned about it.
Not true. A 2017 report on the incidence of fatty liver disease in Singapore found that the disease is becoming widespread, and may well exceed the Asian average of 30% of the adult population. Fatty liver has even been labelled as the “new epidemic of liver disease” with estimates of up to half the adult population in Singapore being affected by it. In America alone, an estimated 80 to 100 million people suffer from the condition, making it the number one form of liver disease there.
Myth 2. I can keep treating myself to rich foods as my liver will be able to handle it.
Along with binge drinking, unhealthy diets and the associated rise in obesity rates have been suggested as the main reasons why fatty liver disease is a growing problem worldwide. In fact, being obese significantly increases the risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and leaves you vulnerable to more complications as 15% of people with fatty liver go on to develop cirrhosis and liver cancer. In America, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is projected to surpass hepatitis C as the leading cause for liver transplant within the next 30 years.
Myth 3. Wine is a safer option than whiskey and other hard liquor.
Although it brings certain health benefits, wine is no safer than hard liquor or beer as your alcohol of choice. Just how much alcohol needs to be consumed before damage to the liver is done? The short answer is: Any amount. Anytime the liver has to filter alcohol in the body, some of its cells die. We have to thank the liver’s amazing ability to regenerate itself (it’s the only internal organ capable of doing so) every time we reach for the next glass of champagne.
Myth 4. As long as I keep to the recommended number of drinks, I am free to indulge daily in alcohol.
A “safe limit” or recommended number of drinks varies between person to person due to differences such as gender, age and weight but it can be broadly defined as 14 units of alcohol per week with a single unit corresponding to these alcohol types:
· Half a pint of beer
· One shot of hard liquor
· A glass of wine (125ml)
However, there needs to be a limit on not just quantity but also frequency as those who drink daily or near daily face an increased risk of liver disease (such as alcoholic fatty liver disease) compared with those who occasionally drink. While the liver is able to regenerate itself, it needs time to carry out the process properly. That’s why, in the United Kingdom, the Royal College of Physicians has called for both men and women who drink to set aside two or three alcohol-free days a week. The safe limit for drinking needs to take into account both the amount of alcohol and the frequency of its consumption.
Myth 5. There are no available treatments for liver disease other than a liver transplant.
Even in cases of cirrhosis, it is possible to treat and minimize existing liver damage so long as there is early diagnosis of liver disease. Here is a list of liver diseases and their available treatments and preventions:
· Hepatitis A and B
If you have any other underlying liver disease or are not immune to hepatitis A and B, you should get vaccinated against them. If you prefer to avoid needles, oral medications also exist for patients with chronic hepatitis B infection.
· Hepatitis C
Like hepatitis B, oral medications are available to treat those suffering from hepatitis C.
· Alcoholic fatty liver disease
Consumption of alcohol should cease immediately to allow the liver sufficient recovery time to repair damage caused by drinking. Exercise, especially in a group setting, can also alleviate boredom, one of the biggest causes behind the binge-drinking impulse as identified in a three-year study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of America.
· Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Weight loss (sustainable and not sudden) is the most efficient treatment as this decreases the amount of fat that the liver has to store in the cells and prevents further inflammation caused by the fat. Exercise can also mitigate stress and anxiety, which are some of the most common reasons behind stress-eating and otherwise unhealthy eating habits.
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