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Liver Health

Our Liver. Our Life.

Without the liver, we couldn't digest food and absorb nutrients, get rid of toxic substances from our body or stay alive. Everything we eat, drink, breathe and absorb through our skin eventually reaches the liver.

What Does Our Liver Do?
  • Acts as a filter
  • Converts foods into nutrients
  • Detoxifies substances that are harmful to the body
  • Processes the medications we take
  • Serves as a storage depot for sugar (glucose), which it releases when we need energy
  • Works as a chemical factory, producing many substances that perform vital tasks in the body

Liver Problems
Excessive alcohol consumption over many years is a leading cause of liver disease. Too much alcohol can make a normal liver swell with fat, causing a condition called fatty liver. If the fat becomes inflamed, it can lead to either alcoholic hepatitis, a liver problem that causes serious but often reversible liver damage, or cirrhosis, which causes irreversible liver damage. Because of extensive scarring, a cirrhotic liver shrinks to a fraction of its normal size.

Viral hepatitis can lead to serious liver problems and is the most common type of liver disease. Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver. The three types of hepatitis viruses - hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C - can all be prevented.

Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of liver problems include:
  • Discolored skin and eyes that appear yellowish
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Itchy skin that doesn't seem to go away
  • Dark urine color
  • Pale stool color
  • Bloody or tar-colored stool
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite

To keep our liver healthy and avoid any potential liver problems, see the doctor if we have any signs or symptoms that concern us.

Protect Our Liver
Here are the most important things we can do to protect our liver:

  • Be careful what gets into the body. This includes what we breathe, eat, drink or take. Limit intake of fatty foods and drink alcohol in moderation. Ventilate the room, wear a mask, cover skin with clothing, and wash well after using aerosol sprays, insecticides, paint sprays and other toxic chemicals.
  • Get vaccinated. If we're at increased risk of contracting hepatitis, talk to the doctor about getting the hepatitis A and B vaccines.
  • Avoid contact with other people's blood and body fluids. Hepatitis viruses can be spread by accidental needle sticks, improper cleanup of blood or body fluids, and sharing intravenous needles. It's also possible to become infected by sharing razor blades or toothbrushes or by having unsafe sex.
  • Exercise regularly. Regular exercise helps keep our liver healthy.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can cause a condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which may include fatty liver, hepatitis and cirrhosis.
  • Nutrients. Lecithin is a key building block of cell membranes, without it the cell membrane would harden and lose its integrity. Lecithin, a natural source of choline, helps to overcome fatty liver syndrome. Fatty liver syndrome is a disorder whereby healthy liver tissue is replaced with unhealthy fats. Scientists have found that lecithin supplementation helps reverse the damage caused by fatty liver syndrome.

Milk Thistle
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has been used since Greco-Roman times as a herbal remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly liver problems.

Milk thistle is believed to have protective effects on the liver and improve its function. It is typically used to treat liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis (liver inflammation), and gallbladder disorders. Silymarin, which can be extracted from the seeds (fruit) of the milk thistle plant, is believed to be the biologically active part of the herb.

Silymarin, which actually consists of a group of compounds called flavonolignands, helps repair liver cells damaged by alcohol and other toxic substances. Silymarin also keeps new liver cells from being destroyed by these same substances, reduces inflammation (important for people with liver inflammation or hepatitis), and has potent antioxidant effects.

Source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, U.S. National Institutes of Health; University of Maryland Medical Center.

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