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10 ways to keep your liver healthy

Finishing up with work and the parenting responsibilities of kids at home is a great time to kick up your heels – and so you should – but it’s also an important time to keep an eye on your health. Here are 10 ways to protect your liver against disease.

1. Keep alcohol to a glass or two
We all know that drinking too much alcohol is bad for our liver but how much can we drink without putting ourselves at risk of disease? While it varies for person to person, the current alcohol guidelines developed by the National Health and Medical Council in Australia suggest drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day. It’s also a good idea to give yourself a few nights off a week and even a longer break at times to help your liver recover. A study by New Scientist found that following a month of abstinence, participants had a 15-20% reduction in liver fat, which is a precursor to liver disease.

2. Watch supplements, especially Iron and Vitamin A
Supplements may seem innocuous but, like all medication, processing them can put pressure on the liver. It can be a good idea to write a list of all the supplements you take and have your GP check them over. This is doubly important if you take Iron or Vitamin A supplements, as the body doesn’t eliminate excess. The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia suggests only taking iron supplements if recommended by your doctor and recommends no more than 45mg of Iron per day for men and women aged over 14. For Vitamin A, a safe intake for adults is about 3000mg.

3. Drink coffee
Yes, some good news for coffee drinkers! A very recent study from the University of Southampton and published in the Journal of Hepatology has revealed that drinking even one cup of coffee reduces your risk of hepatocellular cancer – the most common form of liver cancer – by 20%, while up to five cups a day reduces risk by 50%. The great news is decaffeinated coffee works too, so you can reduce your risk while having an evening cuppa.

4. The power of dandelion
Talking of pouring yourself a warm drink, try adding dandelion tea or dandelion root coffee to your daily intake. Found in the tea and coffee section of your supermarket or at a health food store, dandelion has long been used by the Chinese and many naturopaths in Australia to prevent and treat liver disease and cancer.

5. Drink water, not sugary drinks
One more note on drinks. A study from the Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston revealed drinking just one sugar-sweetened soft drink a day could increase your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – the most common form of liver disease. Instead, aim to drink water – ideally 1.2 litres a day – as it aids the body in flushing out toxins and keeps the blood from thickening, which can make it more difficult to filter.

6. Get moving
Yes, exercise comes up in all our preventative lists but it’s good to have that gentle reminder and many don’t know it’s an important factor in preventing liver disease. Not only is maintaining a healthy weight important for fighting NAFLD but one recent study by the Department of Hepatology at Westmead Hospital and the University of Sydney revealed even small amounts of exercise were effective, regardless of whether someone lost weight or not. Participants of the study undertook varying levels of intensity in their exercise regimen and all showed improvement in liver fat of about 18-29%.

7. Include super foods in your diet
While Australia’s Love your Liver organisation suggests there are no magical foods that will protect your liver, it recommends including these 12 super foods in your diet to keep your body in tip top shape: almonds; oats; blueberries; salmon; soybeans; tea; yoghurt; broccoli; kidney beans; spinach; pumpkin and vegetable juice.

8. Watch your paracetamol intake
Many of us reach for paracetamol whenever we get a mild ache, but if those aches and pains continue, prolonged use or larger doses than recommended can quickly become a serious issue for the liver. In Australia, the recommended dose for adults and children is 500-1000mg every four to six hours, with a maximum of 4000mg over 24 hours. If you have liver disease or drink large amounts of alcohol, it’s recommended you rarely use paracetamol and shouldn’t exceed 2000mg in 24 hours.

9. Eat small, protein rich meals
Some experts believe that overeating is going to overtake alcohol consumption as the greatest risk factor for NAFLD. The good news is, one study revealed just six weeks of calorie-controlled eating reduced liver fat content. Try eating smaller serves at meal times and eating more protein and less carbohydrates, though be sure to include protein from non-animal sources as a recent study suggests a diet high in animal protein is associated with NAFLD in overweight people.

10. Get tested
Unsure how your liver is faring? Chat to your GP about having a blood test to check how it’s functioning.

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