With simple lifestyle changes. you can have a healthy liver. Your liver is the largest solid organ in the body and it keeps your body’s regulatory, detoxification and metabolic functions in optimal condition. Fortunately, most liver problems are reversible or treatable if discovered early.
What does your liver do?
The liver is your body’s major cleaning factory, it removes toxins from the blood that are ingested from contaminated food, alcohol and medicines. It regulates blood sugar (glucose) levels and removes bilirubin from the bloodstream. The liver also processes food, extracts essential nutrients, and produces bile to aid digestion of fatty and oily foods. Any excess nutrients are also stored in the liver. While it performs all these functions, it also generate heat to keep our body warm.
10 tips for a healthy liver
- Exercise reduces stress on the liver, increases energy levels and helps to prevent obesity.
- Aim for a total of 20-30 minutes of exercise a day or 150 minutes per week -such as brisk walking or swimming. However, if you cannot spare that time, remember that any exercise is better than none.
- High levels of fat (hyperlipidaemia) and high levels of cholesterol (hypercholesterolaemia) are common in patients with fatty liver.
Reduce the amount of saturated fats, transfats 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 accumulation can eventually cause fatty liver.
- Eat more high-fibre foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
- For proteins, choose more fish, white meat, beans and nuts and less red meat.
- Obesity is a major risk factor for developing fatty liver. Together with a balanced diet and regular exercise, a healthy weight can be achieved and maintained.
Aim for the ideal body mass index (BMI) target. The healthy cut-off values recommended for Singaporeans are between 18.5 and 22.9.
o BMI = Weight (kg)
Height x Height (metres)
- Our liver can only break down a small amount of alcohol every hour. Beyond this, it can damage liver cells and lead to inflammation and scarring (cirrhosis).
- Men should limit their alcohol intake to 2 standard drinks a day while women should only have 1.
- A standard drink is equivalent to e.g. 1 glass of beer, 1 small glass of wine or a small shot of whiskey, hard liquor such as tequila, vodka.
- A way to keep your liver healthy is to prevent viral liver infections such as Hepatitis A and B by getting vaccinated.
- There is no vaccine currently available for Hepatitis C.
- Talk to your family doctor or a liver doctor about these vaccinations.
- Hepatitis A is contracted from contaminated food and water e.g. raw and contaminated seafood.
- Hepatitis B and C can be contracted through sexual contact, contaminated blood and needles. Practice safe sex and avoid sharing of personal care items.
- If you are a Hepatitis B or C carrier, go for regular screening to detect problems early – e.g. liver ultrasound scan. If your parents or family are carriers and/or if you are not sure, ask for a Hepatitis screen.
- New Hepatitis B and C medications can now cure or be effective treatment.
- Over-the-counter traditional medicines or “internet” remedies may contain heavy metals or unknown toxins. They can result in liver toxicity or affect the regular functioning of your liver.
- Over-supplementation of traditional medicine may cause liver inflammation and can lead to irreversible liver damage or even failure. Please consult your doctor prior to consumption if in doubt.
- Over-the-counter or “internet” weight loss pills which are available without a prescription may contain toxins and ingredients which can be harmful to the liver. such as:
- Fad diets that make your weight swing up and down aggressively put additional stress on your liver. Be wary of any diet that promises large amounts of weight loss in an unrealistically short time. These diets are usually lacking in essential nutrients and are not beneficial but may be harmful to your liver.
- Contrary to popular belief, no particular diet or regime (so-called “liver-cleansing and detox diets” ) has been proven to be liver cleansing or beneficial.
- Diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol are part of a metabolic syndrome with obesity. These are strongly linked to fatty liver and its associated diseases.
- Some medicines can hurt your liver if you drink alcohol when you take them, or if you take many medicines in combination.
- Some studies that link smoking with the development of liver cancer. Smoking can also enhance the toxic effects that some medications (such as paracetamol) have on the liver.
Senior Consultant Hepatopancreatobiliary Surgeon
MBBS, MMed (Surgery), MSc, FAMS, FRCSEd
Prior to private practice, liver surgeon Dr Lee Ser Yee was a founding member and Senior Consultant at the Department of Hepatopancreatobiliary (HPB) and Transplant Surgery at Singapore General Hospital (SGH). He served as the Director of the Laparoscopic programme and the Director of the Surgical Skills Training Program and the SingHealth Surgical Skills Centre.
He started his medical training at the National University of Singapore in 1996 and completed his training in General Surgery, HPB surgery and Liver Transplantation at SGH and National Cancer Centre, Singapore.
He also completed dual USA-fellowships in Advanced Laparoscopic HPB surgery and Liver Transplantation under Professor Daniel Cherqui at the New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center and a Complex Surgical Oncology clinical fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.