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.

Description: Ways To Love Your Live

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?

The facts

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 rise.”

Description: “Nowadays women consume more alcohol and eat more refined high-energy foods”

“Nowadays 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 conditions?

“Women are also more vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol because they have different metabolic factors to men.”

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,” she says.

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.

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