Liver disease. I know what you're thinking and NO this is not just a condition of alcoholism. Since this is part of a series on health literacy, let's get that piece out of the way. In honor of Health Literacy Awareness Month, we're bringing you the information you need to make informed decisions about your day to day health management. Part of health literacy is knowing your risk factors and how to decrease them. What's a risk factor? A condition, situation or behavior that makes it more likely that you will develop certain chronic diseases.
Liver Disease- what's that? So liver disease is an umbrella term that covers hepatitis and cirrhosis. Hepatitis is inflammation (irritation) of the liver and can be caused by viral infections (what you usually think of when you think hepatitis) or ingested irritants (alcohol, medications, foods). Why does it matter? your liver is also a filter. Constant inflammation is a risk factor for the progression of liver inflammation to cirrhosis- which is scarring of the liver- to liver cancer. Why am I talking about it? Because there's a change in what is causing our livers to fail. Back in the day, the connection people made to liver disease was alcohol- now it's.....OBESITY and POOR DIET. Shocking, I know.
I know a poor diet hurts my heart, but what in the world does it have to do with my liver?!?! I'm about to tell you...
First, liver disease related to non-alcoholic causes is called NASH: Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (stee-AT-o-hep-a-TIGHT-us) meaning "fatty inflamed liver". The more weight we gain, the more processed foods we eat, and certain medications will cause fatty deposits in the liver, which greatly reduces it's ability to filter effectively. The longer and more extensive the fat deposits are, we then end up with cirrhosis, which means that the liver tissue is scarred and now instead of having a harder time filtering, it cannot filter. Whats the urgency? The urgency is that NASH related additions to the liver transplant list have risen 170% between 2004 and 2013- and it's still not widely known about by the public. In short, the rise in NASH is directly related to the current obesity epidemic, but- this can be managed and even reversed!
So, let's get down to it- what are the risk factors?
Modifiable Risks (Things we can change)Nonmodifiable Risks (Things we can't change)
-Obesity -Genetics/Family history
-Diet high in fat
-Highly processed diet
-Medications (certain types)
All this is scary right? (believe me, I know) YOU CAN CHANGE IT! That's important to know. If you're in the early stages or have just been told you have a fatty liver, talk to your doctor about what you can do. I'll start you off with some generalized information. If you think you're at risk- talk to your doctor. Ask about your last liver enzyme results (these are usually drawn with your annual physical bloodwork). If your liver enzymes are elevated, you can ask if any of your medications might be the cause. In order to slow down the progression or begin the path to reversal, you must get rid of the offending agent- or cut it back as much as you possibly can if it can't be all together eliminated. This is going to mean losing weight (getting moving 5-6 days/week in addition to dietary changes), cutting back or eliminating processed foods (anything boxed, pre-made, fast food, deli meats), carbohydrates (white/refined breads, pastas, potatoes, sugar), fatty/greasy foods. Well dang! That's everything I eat!
I know, me too. You can do it. One thing at a time, one foot in front of the other, baby steps. Every day is a new day, 100 pennies make a dollar, and small changes add up to make big ones. So, don't give up. Got questions, give us a ring- that's why we're here!