Did you know that 1 in 4 Canadians may be affected by liver disease?!
In Canada, March is Liver Awareness Month where organizations such as the Canadian Liver Foundation share resources, tools, and information about the importance of prevention and education on Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).
NAFLD is a liver disease which starts with fat accumulation in the liver without excessive alcohol consumption.
If left untreated, NAFLD may progress to more advanced disease, but thankfully NAFLD can often be prevented or even reversed if detected before any permanent liver damage has happened.
Functions of the Liver
Your liver is the largest internal organ in the human body. It works 24-hrs a day providing your body with energy, fighting off infections and toxins, helping clot the blood, and regulating your hormones.
According to the Canadian Liver Foundation, your liver performs the following tasks every day:
Regulates your supply of body fuel by producing, storing and supplying quick energy (glucose) to keep your mind alert and your body active.
Adjusts your body’s cholesterol levels by producing, excreting and converting cholesterol into other essential substances.
Produces bile to eliminate toxic substances from your body and assist with your digestion.
Controls your body’s supply of essential vitamins and minerals as well as iron and copper.
Cleanses your blood by metabolizing alcohol, drugs and other chemicals.
Neutralizes and destroys poisonous substances.
Manufactures many of your essential body proteins which allow your body to transport substances in your blood, clot your blood and resist infections.
Regulates the balance of hormones including sex, thyroid, cortisone and other hormones.
Performs hundreds of other functions that your body simply cannot live without.
Just as the engine in your car may stall, require consistent maintenance, and works best with the best fuel sources, your liver is the body's engine and if it fails or is damaged in some way, the rest of your body will be affected.
Due to the liver's everyday responsibilities, it is often under attack by progressive diseases like obesity, toxic substances (i.e. alcohol), and other contaminants. It is important to note that even as the liver becomes severely damaged, such as with cirrhosis, it is still strong enough to work hard each day to perform its necessary functions. This often makes it difficult to recognize the symptoms of liver disease.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) begins when fat builds up in the liver of someone who drinks little to no alcohol. The extra fat and sugar from the food we eat are stored in the liver as fat cells, making the liver more vulnerable to injury. The most common cause of NAFLD in Canada is obesity, and it can develop in children as young as two years old. In general, people with NAFLD have no symptoms, with very few reporting ‘flu-like symptoms’ or discomfort in the right-upper side of their belly.
The Candian Liver Foundation lists the following Risk Factors for developing liver disease:
Poor eating habits.
Other medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and insulin resistance.
Prescription or over-the-counter drug use.
Past blood transfusions.
Occupational exposure to blood.
Exposure to toxic chemicals.
Body beautification (tattoos, piercings, etc.).
Current or past use of injection drugs.
A family history of liver disease.
Being born in or travelling to a country with high rates of viral hepatitis.
Being born between 1945 and 1975.
There are a variety of ways to help prevent liver disease, specifically NAFLD.
Hazard Protection, such as avoiding contaminants from harmful substances, prescription and non-prescription drugs, alcohol and other chemicals. Consider getting immunized against hepatitis A and B.
Warning Signs, such as flu-like symptoms, fatigue, or lack of appetite. If you have any of these symptoms and/or abdominal pain, dark urine, or jaundice, be sure to see your doctor right away.
We all know how important proper nutrition is to our whole body, but did you know that a change in your diet plays a significant role in preventing NAFLD? Reducing the amount of sugar and saturated fat we consume in our diet will reduce the likelihood of fat building up in our liver.
According to the Canadian Liver Foundation, here are a few more ways that you can improve your nutrition to keep your liver healthy and happy:
Eat small regular meals. Do not skip meals or over-eat.
Drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluids (preferably water) a day.
Regularly choose a variety of whole foods including fruits and vegetables, protein sources (legumes, lean meats), whole grains (quinoa, wild rice), dairy (low-fat yogurt, milk and cheese) and sources of healthy fat (nuts, avocado, fatty fish).
Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially brightly coloured ones with deep bright pigments such as oranges, yellows, reds and greens. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, which are vital for overall liver health.
Maximize consumption of raw vegetables with high sulphur content (i.e. broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic and onions).
Moderate your consumption of saturated fat and simple sugar, as high intakes of sugar (fructose) sweetened beverages and fatty foods high in saturated fat have been associated with an increased risk of developing a fatty liver.
Consume vitamin D-fortified dairy products, and vitamin D-fortified plant-based foods to ensure your vitamin D needs are met. This is important to promote liver health and healthy body weight.
Choose whole-grain products over white/bleached/refined products.
If you feel that you or a loved one may be at risk or have developed liver disease, consult your doctor. You can also learn more information on the Canadian Liver Foundation website at www.liver.ca and view a variety of resources, quizzes, and support.
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