Undeniably, the way you eat can impact on the risk of developing some forms of liver disease, such as Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH is a fancy way of saying fatty liver not caused by alcohol. Within 10 years NASH will be the leading cause of liver cirrhosis. So if more Australians are developing liver disease, it’s normal to ask “can I fix my liver through diet?”. When most people think of cirrhosis they think of alcohol abuse. While alcohol is the current leading cause of liver disease it is soon to be over taken by NASH. NASH is caused by a typically western diet. In Australia typically 50% of the food we consume are processed or ultra-processed foods. This typically means more salt, sugar and fats. It means whole foods, less fruit, vegetables, wholegrains or lean proteins. The western diet is known to cause diabetes, heart and kidney disease and now we can safely add liver disease, cirrhosis and liver failure to that list.
If liver disease is caught early, dietary changes and ceasing alcohol intake can reverse liver damage. However if the liver becomes too damaged, diet can only help to slow progression and manage symptoms.
What is Liver Disease?
The liver is a powerhouse organ. It stores and releases the body’s main energy source carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It produces vital proteins, and breaks down toxins in the blood. The liver also produces bile, which is a key component of your digestion. So, yep, it’s a pretty important organ.
Fatty liver is just as it sounds, fat accumulating between cell walls in the liver. If left undiagnosed, it will lead to liver scaring and failure.
There are many causes of liver disease like viral infections (Hepatitis), excessive alcohol intake, excessive drug use or (more typically) an unhealthy lifestyle . Whatever the cause, scarring of the liver occurs over time causing liver cirrhosis. As this scarring increases, liver function decreases causing liver failure.
Your treatment will be based on the cause, type and severity of liver disease.
Diet and Liver Disease
In the early stages of liver disease, diet plays a vital role in the reversing or slowing the progression of disease. In answer to the question “Can I fix my liver through diet” we have some very simple strategies outlined below:
- Reduce alcohol (to zero) – this is a biggie
- Add more fruits, vegetables and wholegrains into the diet for added fibre
- Choose very lean cuts of meat or seafood over fatty meats
- Cut back on fast foods – choose to cook fresh at home
- Add > 3 x serves of oily fish, like salmon, to your diet every week
- Speak to a Dietitian
In the later stages of liver disease, weight and protein losses are the two biggest dietary concerns.
Because the liver helps to regulate the fluid in your body, reduced liver function can lead to ascites (a build-up of fluid around the stomach). This is uncomfortable and cause you to feel full quickly. Because the liver cannot store and release energy proteins so well anymore, the body becomes depleted quickly leading to fatigue and more weight loss. Regularly snacking on high energy and high protein foods can help to maintain muscle mass and weight.
Your treating team with work with you to ensure your diet is right for your type and severity of liver disease.
Book in with one our Dietitians today to help management your liver.
To read more about managing your liver back to health check out the Liver Foundation Australia.