8 tips for a healthy liver

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Most liver problems are reversible if discovered early. (Thinkstock photo)

Your liver may not be functioning at its optimal level if you have constant fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, and yellowing of skin and whites in the eyes. To improve the health of your liver, you need to give your diet and lifestyle an overhaul.

A healthy liver keeps your body's regulatory, detoxification and metabolic functions in tip top condition. Fortunately, most liver problems are reversible if discovered early.

"The liver is an amazing organ which can rejuvenate itself. Liver failure develops over time. You can stop a fatty liver condition from deteriorating into more serious liver cirrhosis and liver cancer by making significant changes to your diet and lifestyle," says Dr Victor Lee Tswen Wen, consultant, Department of General Surgery at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

What does the liver do?

The liver is the body's major cleaning and clearing house.

A healthy liver regulates blood glucose levels and removes bilirubin from the bloodstream. Bilirubin is a byproduct from the normal breakdown of red blood cells.

In addition, the liver processes foods, extracting nutrients, and produces bile to digest fatty foods. Any excess nutrients are stored in the liver.

The liver also detoxifies. It removes toxins that are ingested through alcohol, medications and contaminated food, from the bloodstream.

8 tips for a healthy liver

1. Moderate your alcohol intake

The liver can only process or break down a small amount of alcohol every hour. For this reason, men should limit their alcohol intake to two drinks a day while women should only have one. A standard drink is equivalent to one ordinary beer or one small glass of wine.

2. Cut down on fatty foods

Reduce the amount of saturated fats, trans fats and hydrogenated fats in your diet. Saturated fats are found in deep fried foods, red meats and dairy products. Trans and hydrogenated fats are found in processed foods. The liver stores excess dietary fat, and fat buildup can eventually bring on fatty liver disease.

Related article: Fatty liver is on the rise in young Singaporeans

3. Reduce body weight

Obesity, particularly, abdominal or central obesity, is a major risk factor for developing fatty liver disease. Eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight. A fatty liver slows down the digestion of fats. Do aim for the ideal body mass index (BMI) target. The healthy cut-off values recommended by MOH and HPB Singapore are between 18.5 and 22.9.

4. Avoid over-supplementation with traditional medicine & remedies

Over-supplementation may cause liver inflammation. As the liver detoxifies, supplementation with certain traditional medicine or remedies can lead to liver damage or even failure. This is because some of these remedies contain heavy metals, which taken in large quantities can result in liver toxicity or affect the regular functioning of your liver.

Related article: Could taking antioxidants actually increase your risk of cancer?

5. Eat more fibre

Eat more high-fibre foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. For proteins, choose more fish, beans and nuts, and cut down on red meats.

6. Get vaccinated

Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, both viral liver infections. Hepatitis A is contracted from contaminated food or water and hepatitis B, from sexual contact, contaminated blood and needles.

Related article: True or false? Hepatitis B carriers are 100 times more likely to develop liver cancer than non-carriers

7. Get regular exercise

Regular exercise is key to a healthy liver. Exercise increases energy levels, decreases stress on the liver, and helps to prevent obesity — a high risk factor for liver disease. Aim for a total of 150 minutes of exercise, such as brisk walking, per week.

8. Be cautious of weight loss pills

Over-the-counter weight loss pills which are available without a prescription may contain ingredients such as Ephedra (ma huang in Chinese) which are harmful to the liver.

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This article was written by Teresa Cheong for Health Xchange, with expert input from Dr Victor Lee Tswen Wen, Consultant, Department of General Surgery, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

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Health Xchange's articles are meant for informational purposes only and cannot replace professional surgical, medical or health advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment.