You may not realize it, but your liver plays a major role in your health and weight. The liver is a busy worker and it’s involved in many body functions. Here are a few items on the liver’s daily agenda:
- Converting fats, carbs, and proteins into energy and nutrients
- Breaking down fats
- Assisting digestion
- Regulating glucose
- Regulating estrogen and testosterone levels
- Metabolizing medicines
- Removing toxins from the body
- Breaking down alcohol
- Producing and removing blood cholesterol
- Supporting the immune system
Because the liver is responsible for so much, it’s easy to see why we need to keep this organ healthy. You may think that alcohol is the liver’s biggest healthy enemy, but that isn’t the case. The foods you eat along with your weight have the most significant effect on your liver.
The most common liver condition is called fatty liver disease. There are two main types- alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is the most common liver disease, and according to the American Liver foundation, about 25 percent of Americans have it.
It is believed that insulin resistance, a consequence of obesity and excess abdominal fat, causes NAFLD. Fatty liver affects about 70 and 90 percent of people suffering from obesity and diabetes.
A fatty liver hurts your health in a variety of ways:
Weight Gain. The liver is responsible for regulating glucose levels. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can cause you to feel hungry and fatigued, which can lead to overeating and weight gain. For people with liver disease, the hypoglycemia is chronic, and they have the urge to eat all the time.
Liver Failure and Increase Cancer Risk. Fatty livers can cause inflammation. Liver inflammation can lead to fibrosis, a buildup of fibrous tissue, and cirrhosis a buildup of scar tissue. Cirrhosis is irreversible and can lead to total liver failure. People with cirrhosis have an increased risk of developing liver cancer.
Increased Risk of Heart Disease. In an article featured in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers argued that a fat-afflicted liver pumps out inflammatory materials and other chemicals that damage arteries and make blood more likely to clot, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to improve liver health:
1. Reduce or eliminate alcohol. There’s continual debate about health risks associated with alcohol consumption, but when it comes to your liver, less is more. As soon as you stop drinking, your liver begins the repair process.
2. Losing weight and improving your diet can unburden the strain on your liver. A study published in The Journal of Hepatology had a favorable impact on liver fat and insulin resistance and helped reverse NAFLD. Avoid high-fat, fried, sugary foods, refined grains, and processed meats which increase inflammation.
3. Exercise! A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that physical activity helped improved insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant populations.
So do all you can to lighten your liver’s workload so it can succeed in helping you achieve your weight loss goals and keeping your overall health in tip-top shape!
Suja Pilli, MD – Shaun J. Adams, MSN, FNP-C