Dr Anurag Shrimal tells you how simple lifestyle changes can keep your liver healthy.
The liver is one of the largest organs in the human body.
It sits in the right upper part of the abdomen protected by the rib cage and serves more than 200 functions in our body.
It is the metabolic factory essential for processing digested food and eliminating waste products and toxic substances from the body.
Liver diseases can be caused by a variety of factors that damage the liver, such as viruses, alcohol use and obesity etc.
While some of the liver diseases may be hereditary, over time, conditions that damage the liver can lead to scarring (cirrhosis), which can lead to liver failure, a life-threatening condition.
Unfortunately, liver is also one of the most neglected organs of our body.
Since it has got a lot of functional reserve, most of the time, liver diseases may not cause any symptoms or signs early on.
Some warning signs your liver isn't functioning well:
- Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (can be a sign of jaundice)
- Abdominal pain and swelling (ascites) associated with swelling in the legs and ankles (pedal oedema)
- Altered sleep cycle and confusion (hepatic encephalopathy)
- Vomiting of blood or dark tarry stools (gastro-intestinal bleeding)
- Chronic fatigue
How to prevent liver disease
- Consume healthy, clean and safe food and water.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before eating or preparing food. While traveling, use hygienic drinking water.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Get vaccinated. Hepatitis B vaccine is now available to all children as a part of universal immunisation. Individuals at risk should get Hepatitis B vaccine if not vaccinated already.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Avoid risky behaviour. Use a condom during sex.
- If you choose to have tattoos or body piercings, be picky about cleanliness and safety when selecting a shop. Seek help if you use illicit intravenous drugs, and don't share needles to inject drugs.
- Use medications wisely. Follow prescription and avoid buying drugs from over the counter. Strictly use drugs in recommended doses.
- Seek timely medical advice. Most liver diseases can be treated medically if diagnosed early.
Important aspects of treatment include:
A high protein diet
Nutrition is the mainstay for management of early liver disease. A high protein diet is of paramount importance.
Important sources of good quality protein include milk and milk products like paneer, whey protein powder, pulses and legumes, eggs, chicken and fresh water fish.
It is advisable to avoid red meat and sea food. The amino acid composition of red meat can precipitate confusion.
Sea food is best avoided due to its salt content.
If you are unable to meet your daily protein requirement through food, a lot of protein supplements are commercially available in the form of biscuits, protein bars or powders.
Consult a nutritionist to see how you can meet your protein requirements.
Low salt diet
With established cirrhosis, it's recommended to reduce salt content to 2 gm a day.
Excess salt intake leads to fluid accumulation in the belly.
It is important to avoid bakery products, savoury snacks, pickles etc due to their high salt and soda content.
Complete abstinence from alcohol
Anyone with liver disease should abstain completely from alcohol.
Avoid alternative medication
Avoid over the counter medication and alternative medication. This is very important as we are seeing a lot of patients coming with acute liver failure due to alternative medication.
Consult your doctor early
Liver diseases can be managed with medication when diagnosed and treated early.
In advanced stages, a timely liver transplant surgery can be life saving.
Remember, a healthy liver lives in a healthy body. Invest in a healthy lifestyle to keep liver infections at bay.
Dr Anurag Shrimal is senior consultant-HPB, liver and pancreas transplant surgeon lead-paediatric and transplant pancreas transplant programme, Global Hospitals, Mumbai.