Did you know two of the most common risk factors for liver disease are having diabetes and being overweight? Because these are so prevalent, the American Liver Foundation has launched a new awareness campaign to help people determine their risk, especially for fatty liver disease. October is National Liver Awareness Month. Are you at risk?
The liver typically contains some fat. However, when more than 5% of the liver's weight is fat, it is considered to be a fatty liver. When the primary cause of a fatty liver is not excessive alcohol, it is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. As the fat continues to build up towards the 10% range, it causes the liver to swell and cells to become damaged. This disease is known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH. If untreated, NASH can lead to liver failure.
Because fatty liver disease generally tends not to have symptoms, it is typically discovered during routine blood tests or screening for another medical condition. It is essential to know your risk so you can make lifestyle behavior changes to limit disease progression and promote health. Having worked with people with end-stage liver disease and those that underwent a liver transplant, I have seen the value of early detection and treatment firsthand.
Here are the primary risk factors for developing fatty liver disease:
Being overweight or extremely overweight
Having Type 2 Diabetes
Having high cholesterol or high triglycerides
Having high blood pressure
Being of Hispanic or Asian descent
A healthy liver is essential for a healthy life because your liver is your body's largest solid internal organ. It conducts more than 500 vital functions daily, serving as a storehouse, manufacturing hub, and processing plant. Only your brain functions more than the liver.
The liver contains two separate sections called lobes that perform many essential functions, from filtering toxins and managing blood clotting to making bile and digesting fat. Your liver also turns extra glucose into glycogen for storage and makes it available for energy when the body indicates it is needed. It completes all its functions by continuously filtering your blood.
Did you know that your liver filters more than a liter of blood every minute? That's about 22 gallons of blood in an hour and more than 250 gallons daily. It can be easy to ignore or forget this vital organ because we can't feel it working as we can our hearts or lungs. Here is a short list of just some of the essential work your liver performs daily.
Bile production helps carry away waste products and breaks down fats in the small intestine during digestion.
Protein production for blood plasma. Blood plasma is vital for transporting blood components like red and white blood cells, platelets, nutrients, hormones, proteins, and waste products.
Cholesterol production and other specialized proteins necessary for carrying fats through the body.
Converting unused glucose into glycogen for storage. Glycogen is converted back into glucose when the body needs it for energy or to help balance blood sugar levels.
Regulates amino acid levels in the blood, ensuring the body has these necessary building blocks.
Iron storage from processed hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.
Converts poisonous ammonia into urea as it is made during digestion.
Processes drugs and other poisonous substances.
Regulates blood clotting so our body can stop bleeding.
Makes immune factors and removes bacteria from the bloodstream to fight infection.
Removes bilirubin and red blood cell waste products from the blood.
These processes and many more ensure harmful substances are broken down into minor byproducts to leave the liver through bile or blood. Byproducts in bile are removed through feces. Byproducts in the blood are filtered by the kidneys and released in the urine.
With the liver participating in so many bodily functions, it is easy to see why a poorly functioning liver could have broad health implications. Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver. Persistent inflammation signals repair cells to deposit more and more collagen, which stiffens and creates scarring, known as fibrosis. Many times fibrosis damage is reversible when diagnosed and treated early. However, when the damage becomes too great, the liver loses its ability to repair itself, limiting its ability to function correctly. This type of damage is known as cirrhosis. There is no treatment to cure cirrhosis.