Maintaining A Healthy Liver

Summer is here and the time is right for thinking about getting and staying healthy. It is a time to be outdoors, to exercise and to eat right. Now is the time to prepare ourselves for the upcoming change in seasons when diets change, exercise slows down and we hope to be able to fit into our clothes by winter. Summer is a time of concern for our livers.

How can we keep our livers healthy? For most of the population, this is easy, as most do not have any underlying chronic liver problems. The key to a healthy liver is a healthy diet. What is a considered a healthy diet? I would argue that a good healthy diet requires common sense. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, minimizing fatty foods, drinking plenty of water and watching alcohol intake can keep a liver healthy. This does not mean that anything is off limits. The common sense approach means that people have to use their brains when deciding upon what to eat and knowing when you have had enough. In general, a good healthy, heart friendly diet is good for the liver. This means concentrating on a diet that is low in fat and cholesterol and minimizes carbohydrates. I am a true believer in portion control. My recommended diet is to eat what you like, within reason, eat slowly, do not let yourself become ravenous and drink plenty of non-caloric liquids during the day. That’s right, sodas are out, even diet ones! Water is truly the best fluid.

Many people ask about all these health food store products that fall under the category of “liver cleanser?” I have never truly understood what that means from a physiologic standpoint, as the liver cannot be cleansed. To sum up my thoughts on “liver cleansers,” nonsense.

What can people with liver disease do to stay healthy? The answer is also simple. Diet and exercise are the keys to health. Since the most common liver conditions is fatty liver, whether from poor eating habits, obesity, diabetes or alcohol, and the incidence of complications of this condition are on the rise, weight loss, following a good diet and exercise may prevent disease progression and lead to disease regression. The floodgates of liver related complications are opening as our population keeps growing (around the waist) and the incidence of diabetes, especially among our youth, it rising exponentially. Perhaps with an emphasis on healthy living we can prevent disease.

What can people with liver diseases other than fatty liver do to help their livers? The answer again comes down to diet and exercise. In addition, alcohol should be taken judiciously and in limited quantities. A good healthy heart diet will also help the liver, minus the two glasses of red wine per night recommended by cardiologists. Avoidance of health food store products and herbal products may also help prevent disease exacerbation. Although 99% of these products are safe, some may still cause problems. Before someone with liver disease starts one of these products, they should make sure that they have discussed it with their doctor.

Most liver disease in the United States can be prevented. Aside from specific liver diseases with specific therapies such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and primary biliary cholangitis, following a healthy diet, exercising, minimizing alcohol intake and using common sense will keep the liver healthy and may help prevent disease progression in livers affected by chronic disease.

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David Bernstein
David Bernstein, MD, is a columnist for Long Island Weekly and chief of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

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