The liver is the engine room of the body –
but you could unknowingly be putting yours at risk. Here are 10 ways to give it
the care it deserves.
While we often persuade ourselves that our
healthy eating regime can wait until Monday, or that an extra glass of wine
doing (besides fooling ourselves) is putting extra strain on our livers. This
miraculous organ helps to cleanse our bodies by filtering toxins and bacteria
while metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
According to the World Health Organisation
(WHO), an estimated 257 000 South Africans died of liver-related diseases in
2008. So it’s imperative to understand how nutrition and lifestyle choices can
affect this little cleanser.
“Seeing as one can live healthily without
100 percent functioning of one’s liver, it can silently endure years and years
of abuse until damage is far advanced,” says Monique dos Santos, from The Good
Life Dietitian. So why are so many of us neglecting it?
Liver disease is increasing in SA as
women’s lifestyles alter with changing social conditions, says Joburg-based
gastroenterologist Dr Apostol Pappas. “Nowadays women consume more alcohol and
eat more refined high-energy foods,” he says.
The causes of liver disease are diverse and
range from substance abuse to the contraction of viral hepatitis, says
Professor Wendy Spearman, head of hepatology at UCT. “While the number of cases
varies, there has certainly been an increase in the prevalence of liver
diseases in South Africa. Types including non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases
(NAFLD), hepatitis C, and drug – or toxin-included liver disease are all on the
women consume more alcohol and eat more refined high-energy foods”
Most people know that alcohol is highly toxic
to the liver – but few realize the harmful effects of light or occasional
drinking. “The fallacy that one to two glasses of wine a day is safe is not
always true and applicable to all,” says Dr Pappas. “What about the size of the
glass, the types of medication you are on, and any underlying medical
“Women are also more vulnerable to the
damaging effects of alcohol because they have different metabolic factors to
Melissa van der Westhuizen, from Th Good
Life Dietitians, explains how metabolizing alcohol prevents the body from
properly digesting and absorbing essential nutrients. “Alcohol decreases the
absorption of fats, as well as important vitamins, such as folic acid, zinc and
vitamin B12. This is why nutritional deficiencies are common in alcohol abuse,”
You may not even be a drinker, but your
unhealthy eating habits could also be impacting your liver’s health. Obesity
is, in fact, one of the primary causes of liver disease. Recently, the WHO
reported a shocking obesity rate of 42.8 percent among South African women.
“A high fat intake on a regular basis
affects not only your heart, but also your liver,” says Van der Westhuizen.
“there’s a limit to the amount of fat that your liver can process before it
starts to compromise its other functions.”
Both alcoholic liver disease and NAFLD
result from the accumulation of extra fat within the liver cells, says Prof
Spearman. “The spectrum of liver injury seen with both alcoholic and
non-alcoholic fatty disease (NAFLD) ranges from a fatty liver to
steatohepatitis, which can then progress to cirrhosis and liver failure.