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What can damage your liver?

Damage to your liver may result from alcohol, hepatitis viruses, poor diet and toxins (from substances such as paracetamol, tobacco and marijuana), as well as some genetic defects and autoimmune disorders. Once damaged, your liver requires extra care and can be assisted by limiting alcohol consumption and following a nutrition management program.

Are you the 1 in 10 with fatty liver disease?

A poor diet, unhealthy weight, lack of exercise, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease can put you at risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Affecting 1 in 10 Australians, it’s one of the most common causes of liver problems.

Fat builds up in the liver cells when the liver fails to break down, transfer and store fat effectively, causing abnormal liver function and inflammation,which can lead to liver scarring (known as cirrhosis).

How to prevent and reverse fatty liver disease

Keeping your diet low in fat and well balanced will reduce the processing work the liver has to do. But there’s also hard evidence that exercise (with or without weight loss) can help prevent and even reverse fatty liver disease. If you have diabetes or heart disease, consume only small amounts of fat, and make sure they’re unsaturated fats to keep cholesterol levels under control.

Does a detox diet do the trick?

There is no scientific evidence to prove that a detox diet is the answer to preventing and reversing fatty liver disease. As toxins do not build up in the liver cells, there is no real benefit to the liver itself. In fact, some herbal remedies labelled as ‘liver cleansing’ are harmful as the liver can go into overdrive to process and dispose of them. See our diet page for tips.

Proof from the lab rats

In a 2008 study, researchers gave obese rats access to running wheels for 16 weeks, after which they were tested and no signs of fatty liver disease were present. The wheels were then removed and within one week of living a sedentary lifestyle the rats began showing signs of fatty liver disease. So exercise really does play a big part in prevention.

The hard facts about hepatitis

The term hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. It can develop when the liver is damaged by viruses, alcohol, drugs and over consumption of other toxins. In less common cases, it can be a breakdown in the immune system that sparks the onset of hepatitis.

There are five viruses known to cause hepatitis: hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. The symptoms of all five viruses can be similar and all can infect and inflame the liver. The main difference between them is the way they are transmitted and the effects they have on your health. There have been reports of two other viruses, named hepatitis F and G – neither are true hepatitis viruses as they do not cause or exacerbate liver disease.

How serious is hepatitis?

Hepatitis viruses can lead to an acute or a chronic illness. An acute illness will only last a short time and although it may be severe, most people recover from the illness within a few weeks, with no lasting effects. A chronic illness is one that lasts a long time, often for a lifetime.

With chronic hepatitis the virus reproduces in the liver and can cause liver damage. As more liver cells are damaged and destroyed, scar tissue takes their place – a process known as fibrosis. Severe fibrosis can cause the liver to become hardened, preventing it from functioning normally. This is called cirrhosis of the liver. In a small number of cases, serious damage to the liver can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.

NATIONAL INFOLINE:

For more information on hepatitis B and hepatitis C, please contact the national infoline 1300 437 222 (1300 HEP ABC). The national infoline diverts to information and support lines at your local state and territory hepatitis organisation.

Hepatitis Australia, State and Territory Organisations:

Hepatitis Australia is the peak community organisation to progress national action on issues of importance to people affected by viral hepatitis. Hepatitis Australia aims to provide leadership and advocacy on viral hepatitis, and support partnerships for action to ensure the needs of Australians affected by, or at risk of viral hepatitis are met.

Hepatitis organisations developed in states and territories in the early to mid-1990, emerging from hepatitis C patient support groups. The hepatitis organisations generally define the core business as providing information and support services to people affected by viral hepatitis and to support the reduction of viral hepatitis transmission.

The list of state and territory based hepatitis organisations is below:

Recognising harmful foods and substances

To really love your liver, it helps to know what foods and toxins to avoid. Here are some of the main offenders:

  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes
  • Marijuana
  • Illicit drugs
  • Some herbal remedies
  • Large doses of vitamin A
  • Some prescription medicines
  • Some over-the-counter medications
  • Fatty foods
  • High levels of saturated fats
  • High calorie intake/obesity
  • High salt intake

See the alcohol and common toxins pages for more information on foods and substances to avoid. Then take a look at our liver-loving recipes, read our 12 healthy liver tips and find out more about the benefits of regular exercise.