January is Love your Liver awareness month and there are loads of ways you can show your liver some love, whether it’s starting a fitness challenge, improving your diet or cutting back on alcohol.
The campaign, set up by the British Liver Trust, highlights an important message, as one in three of us is at risk of getting liver disease and it’s a silent killer with those affected unlikely to show symptoms until it is too late.
Our livers are incredible and they carry out vital work, such as fighting infection and disease, balancing our hormones, cleaning the blood, controlling cholesterol and breaking down food and turning it into energy.
Sian Richardson, a specialist nurse from the Alcohol Liaison Team, said: “Our liver works hard so it’s only right that we make sure we’re not overloading it. The liver is the only organ that can regenerate itself, but while it can take a lot of abuse, it’s like an elastic band – it can only stretch so far before it breaks.
“There are three simple steps to improving liver health and they are cut down on alcohol, stick to a healthy weight and protect yourself from viral hepatitis.
“We know from the increasing popularity of ‘Dry January’, that the message about giving your liver a break by cutting down on alcohol is something the public is aware of. But what people may not realise is that eating an unhealthy diet, which is high in saturated fats, becoming overweight and not getting enough physical exercise can also cause liver disease.”
When fatty deposits build up in the liver they cause damage and prevent the liver from working properly, leading to a condition called non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NALFD). The British Liver Trust recommends keeping to a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and getting more exercise to help reduce your risk of NAFLD. Visit their website to download an Eating Well factsheet.
There are also several blood-borne viruses, such as Hepatitis B and C, which can cause permanent liver damage and it’s important to know the risk factors for these and get tested or vaccinated if you are at risk. Find out more about the risk factors and check your liver health online by doing the British Liver Trust’s online screening test.
As Sian explains: “We all have an idea of who might be affected by liver disease or be more at risk but actually it can happen to a much wider audience than we may realise. The Alcohol Liaison Team assesses many patients who don’t feel they are at high risk of alcohol related issues, though they have been drinking above the recommended levels for 20 to 30 years and as a result are now suffering from liver damage. So the recommendations to limit drinking to no more than 14 units a week and take three days off alcohol every week to give your liver a chance to repair itself is an important one to get across.”
Michelle Gallagher, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, said: "Hepatitis B and C are both treatable, and Royal Surrey leads the way in the management of viral hepatitis in Surrey. The hospital is commissioned to manage one of the 22 Hepatitis C treatment networks in England. For Hepatitis C, a short course of treatment (eight to 12 weeks for most) results in eradication of the virus. In addition to the physical health benefits, managing hepatitis infection can be hugely beneficial, as some of our patients have experienced social stigma whilst living with chronic Hepatitis C infection. With Hepatitis B, the aim of therapy is to control the virus (in a similar way to HIV where those diagnosed and treated may expect to live a long and productive life).
“Some people living with chronic hepatitis infection may be unaware of their diagnosis, and without intervention, like alcohol and fatty liver disease, there is a risk of developing complications including liver cancer. At-risk individuals include those with a history of injection drug use, medical treatment including vaccination overseas or blood transfusion outside the UK or in England prior to 1991.”
By making small lifestyle tweaks such as staying active, eating well, cutting back on alcohol and getting tested for blood borne viruses – we can look after our liver and if you love your liver, it will love you back.
For more information about looking after your liver, please visit the British Liver Trust website.