When it comes to our health, we place a lot of focus on primary organs such as our heart, kidneys, and brain. But there is one organ that tends to get overlooked – our liver! The liver is the second largest organ in the body and is vital to us living a healthy life. It’s important to make liver health a priority.
The liver is responsible for numerous functions in the body, including filtering our blood from toxins and waste. In addition to cleansing our blood, the liver produces bile, a fluid that helps digest fats and carry away waste. This helps to support metabolism, immunity, digestion, detoxification, and vitamin storage.
We often associate our liver with alcohol and the damage it can endure from excessive drinking, known as fatty liver disease. However, even non-drinkers need to take caution and steps to ensure a healthy liver. Because age leads to changes in liver blood flow, volume, morphology, and normal physiology, seniors become more susceptible to liver conditions, such as hepatitis and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Hepatitis is a viral infection that causes inflammation and damage to the liver. There are several types of hepatitis, including A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis can also leave patients more at risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD occurs when too much fat is stored in liver cells. This can lead to advanced scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure.
What Causes Liver Damage?
Liver diseases can be genetic or can be caused by a variety of factors. For example, hepatitis is caused by an infection due to parasites and viruses. They infect the liver and cause inflammation. The virus can be spread through contaminated food and water, blood, or close contact with an infected person.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated blood sugar, prediabetes, and obesity are all risk factors for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Certain medications and herbal supplements can also damage the liver.
“Seniors should watch out for supplements that are commercialized, such as ginkgo biloba, ginseng, echinacea, and black cohosh,” said VIPcare provider Dr. Katie McClelland. “Often, these issues are preventable or modifiable with lifestyle modifications. What patients are eating and how much they are moving can influence their health.”
Warning Signs of An Unhealthy Liver
Early stages of liver disease may not produce noticeable symptoms. But there are some signs to watch out for signaling your liver health is comproised.
“Signs that the patient may be suffering from liver disease include weight around the belly, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, abdominal discomfort, fatigue, yellowing of the eyes, spider-like blood vessels in the skin, and itching,” said Dr. McClelland.
Other symptoms include:
- Dark urine color
- Pale stool color
- Chronic fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Tendency to bruise easily
If you notice or experience any persistent signs or symptoms that suggest you may have liver disease, schedule an appointment with your provider immediately. “Don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor about your concerns,” said Dr. McClelland. “Be open to making lifestyle changes.”
Liver Damage Prevention
Although you may not be able to completely prevent liver damage from developing depending on your genes, there are things you can do to lower your risk. Modest lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on your liver health.
To prevent live disease or damage:
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Get vaccinated
- Be careful about medications
- Avoid contact with possible infected people
- Practice safe food handling
- Maintain a healthy weight
Diet and nutrition are key to maintaining a healthy liver. Dr. McClelland recommends following the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes plant-based foods and healthy fats, to help prevent some of the issues associated with NAFLD.
“I recommend eating foods that have a low glycemic index, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” she said. “Avoid foods that are high in sugar, such as white bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, cookies, candies, soda, fruit juice, and alcohol. I would suggest shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and avoiding packaged or premade foods.”
Our liver is an amazing organ that can help repair itself. It has the unique ability to regenerate itself after damage. However, the liver isn’t invincible. Irreversible damage can be one. That’s why we must do all that we can to help keep it healthy and properly functioning.
About Dr. Katie McClelland
Dr. Katie McClelland is an Internal Medicine specialist. She earned her medical degree from Lake Erie College Of Osteopathic Medicine and completed her Internal Medicine residency at the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. McClelland is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and remains a distinguished member of the American Osteopathic Association and the American Medical Association.
She enjoys teaching her patients and empowering them to be proactive partners in their healthcare decisions. Schedule an appointment with Dr. McClelland in North Port by calling 866-926-3831.