Your liver is a large organ that’s found in the upper right-hand side of your abdomen. It has several functions that are critical to your health, including:
- Detoxification. Your liver works to break down drugs, alcohol, and other harmful substances in order to clear them from your blood.
- Bile production. Your liver produces a substance called bile that helps you digest fats and absorb vitamins in the food you eat.
- Energy storage. Your liver can store extra glucose in the form of glycogen, which can be converted back into glucose when you need additional energy.
Several substances and conditions can damage your liver and potentially lead to scarring. When scar tissue accumulates in your liver, it can replace healthy liver tissue. This means that your liver has to work harder to do its job.
In its early stages, it may be possible to reverse liver damage. In fact, there are several ways you can help give your liver a rest and prevent permanent damage.
In this article, we’ll look at the steps you can take to improve the health of your liver.
Alcohol is a leading factor in liver damage. During moderate alcohol consumption, enzymes in your liver work to effectively break down alcohol.
However, when you drink too much alcohol, it can’t be broken down as quickly.
Alcohol and its byproducts can damage liver cells and lead to an increase in inflammation in your liver. Alcohol can also inhibit the breakdown of fats, leading to an accumulation of fat in your liver (fatty liver).
Alcohol isn’t the only factor that can lead to liver damage. Other potential causes of liver damage include:
- infections affecting the liver, such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C
- autoimmune conditions, such as autoimmune hepatitis and primary biliary cholangitis
- accumulation of excess fat in the liver that’s unrelated to alcohol consumption (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)
- some types of medications or supplements, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), certain antibiotics, and ma huang (ephedra)
- genetic conditions, like hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease
- exposure to industrial chemicals
- liver cancer, or cancer that starts elsewhere and spreads to the liver
The early stages of liver damage may not have any symptoms. When symptoms are present, they may include:
- pain or swelling in the upper right-hand part of your abdomen
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- nausea or vomiting
It’s important to be able to recognize the early signs of liver damage so that you can take steps to improve your live health and prevent additional damage.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve the health of your liver or to prevent liver damage from happening in the first place. Let’s explore some of these steps more closely.
Consume alcohol in moderation or not at all
Excess alcohol consumption can stress your liver and lead to damage. You can help give your liver a rest by focusing on moderate alcohol consumption or not drinking alcohol at all.
Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
The volume of a standard drink can differ based on the type of alcohol you’re drinking. For example, a standard drink is typically considered to be:
- 12 ounces (oz) of beer (5 percent alcohol content)
- 8 oz of malt liquor (7 percent alcohol content)
- 5 oz of wine (12 percent alcohol content)
- 1.5 oz of liquor (40 percent alcohol content)
Fatty liver, the earliest type of alcohol-related liver disease (ALRD), can potentially be reversed by abstaining from alcohol for 4 to 6 weeks.
However, for some individuals with ALRD, this abstinence period may need to be longer or permanent.
Prolonged abuse of alcohol can lead to continuing liver damage, which can eventually result in cirrhosis. Damage from cirrhosis can’t be reversed.
Monitor your medications and supplements
Some types of medications and supplements can place an extra strain on your liver. Some examples of these include:
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin
- amoxicillin-clavulanate, an antibiotic
- statins, which are medications used to treat high cholesterol
- phenytoin, a type of epilepsy drug
- azathioprine, an immunosuppressive drug
- herbal supplements like ma huang (ephedra), black cohosh, and kava
You can help ease stress on your liver by only taking these medications or supplements when it’s absolutely necessary.
If you do take them, carefully follow all dosing instructions and avoid taking them in combination with alcohol.
Manage your weight
Having obesity can increase your risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition where excess fat builds up in your liver. This can lead to liver damage and inflammation, which can affect your liver’s ability to function.
One way to help lower your risk of NAFLD is to focus on maintaining a healthy weight. Some of the best strategies for losing excess weight or maintaining a healthy weight include:
- staying physically active
- eating a well-balanced diet
- eating appropriate portion sizes
If you have NAFLD, your doctor can work with you to help ease the strain on your liver. This typically involves a gradual weight loss program along with dietary changes.
Focus on a healthy diet
Another way you can help give your liver a rest is by eating a liver-friendly diet. This includes:
- getting sufficient fiber from sources like whole grains as well as fresh fruits and vegetables
- choosing lean protein sources, such as seafood, skinless poultry, or legumes, as opposed to fattier meats
- reducing your intake of foods or drinks that are high in sugars, salt, or unhealthy fats
- limiting your intake of processed foods and choosing whole foods instead
- avoiding raw or undercooked shellfish
- drinking plenty of water each day to stay hydrated
Certain types of liver conditions may require more specific dietary adjustments. Be sure to discuss what these may be with your doctor.
Viral hepatitis can cause inflammation of your liver, which in turn can lead to liver damage. Some examples of these infections include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A is self-limiting, meaning that it typically resolves on its own. However, a hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection can potentially become chronic, leading to additional liver damage over time.
So, what can you do to lower your risk of viral hepatitis? You can:
- get vaccinated for hepatitis A and hepatitis B
- use a condom or other barrier method during sex
- avoid sharing personal items like razors, nail clippers, or toothbrushes
- avoid reusing needles
- make sure a tattoo artist or piercer uses disposable needles and sterile equipment
See your doctor regularly
Seeing your doctor on a regular basis is important for your overall health. Your doctor can help identify and treat any underlying health conditions early on, before they become more serious or complicated.
Also, if you notice any early signs of liver damage, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor or healthcare provider. They can help evaluate your condition and outline a treatment plan to ensure your liver gets the rest and treatment it needs.
One of the unique qualities of your liver is that it has the ability to regenerate.
This means that after it’s injured or after tissue is removed during surgery, the liver tissue can grow back.
It does this by making the existing liver cells (hepatocytes) enlarge. Then, new liver cells start to grow and multiply in the area that’s been removed or injured.
Liver regeneration can be impacted by chronic liver disease. This means that chronic liver conditions can hinder regeneration due to the presence of scarring and chronic inflammation.
Because of this, liver regeneration in the context of chronic liver disease is an area of ongoing study. It’s hoped that further research into this area can help unlock new strategies for treating these conditions.
Your liver is an essential organ that serves many purposes in your body, including detoxification, digestion, and nutrient storage.
Various factors can place stress on your liver, potentially leading to damage that can affect its ability to function effectively.
If you’re concerned about your liver health, you can take steps to help improve the health of your liver and prevent damage. This includes drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all, monitoring your medications and supplements, and maintaining a healthy weight.
If you suspect that you may have liver damage, it’s important to follow up with your doctor or healthcare provider. The sooner a liver condition can be diagnosed and treated, the higher the chance of a positive outcome.