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LOVE YOUR LIVER AWARENESS MONTH

This January, show your liver some love and take steps towards better liver health.

Middle age woman smiling and looking after her health

LOVE YOUR LIVER AWARENESS MONTH


Love Your Liver Awareness Month is a campaign run by the British Liver Trust devoted to liver health aiming to put a spotlight on the risk factors of liver disease and the steps people can take to look after their liver.


ABOUT THE LIVER


The liver is the largest gland, and the largest solid organ in the body performing hundreds of functions necessary to sustain life. Its main functions include:

  • processing digested food from the intestine

  • fighting infections

  • controlling levels of fats, amino acids and glucose in the blood

  • producing and maintaining the balance of hormones

  • storing iron, vitamins and other essential chemicals

  • filtering and cleansing the blood

  • producing bile

  • making enzymes and proteins which are responsible for most chemical reactions in the body

  • storing energy that can be used rapidly when the body needs it most


The liver has an incredible ability to replace damaged tissue with new cells. It's the only organ in the body with the ability to regenerate. But the liver isn’t invincible and many diseases can harm it beyond the point of repair. That’s why it’s so important to know the risk factors and to improve the health of your liver – before long-lasting damage can occur.



LIVER DISEASE


Liver disease is a broad term which describes health conditions that damage the liver. There are several types of liver disease, each with its own set of risk factors and symptoms. Some of the common types of liver disease include:


  • alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) – a condition where the liver has been damaged by alcohol.

  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – a long-lasting liver condition caused by having too much fat in the liver. It is closely linked with being overweight as well as conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart and circulatory disease.

  • viral hepatitis – which is inflammation (swelling) of the liver caused by a viral infection

  • haemochromatosis – an inherited disorder where there’s a gradual build-up of iron in the body, usually around the liver

  • primary biliary cirrhosis – a rare, long-term type of liver disease that damages the bile ducts in the liver


Find out more about different types of liver disease here.


There are over 100 types of liver disease, which affect around two million people in the UK.  The actual figure may be much higher, as many cases of liver disease go undiagnosed.


Liver disease can be treated successfully, especially when it is caught early. However, too many people are not diagnosed until their disease is advanced and their treatment can only manage symptoms, not cure their condition. This is because liver problems develop silently with no obvious symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms develop, it is likely to be due to scarring of the liver from damage. This is known as cirrhosis.


WHAT ARE THE MAIN CAUSES OF LIVER DISEASE?


Anyone can develop liver disease, but there are some things that make it more likely. Genetic and autoimmune disease, where the body is attacked by its own immune system, are the main non-preventable causes of liver disease. The three major preventable causes of liver disease in adults are alcohol misuse, obesity and viral hepatitis.


Alcohol

Alcohol is broken-down by the liver. This produces harmful chemicals that can damage and kill liver cells. Even though the liver is very good at repairing itself, it can’t keep up with the damage from regularly drinking too much alcohol. Many people think that you have to be an alcoholic to develop liver disease, but this is a myth. Regularly drinking over the recommended limit can damage your liver and lead to alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD).




Obesity

The liver processes most of the nutrients and fats in the food that is eaten. When someone is overweight, fat can build up in their liver and stops it working properly. This can increase the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which over time can cause lasting liver damage.


Viral hepatitis

Viral hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by one of the five hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E . While all of these viruses cause liver disease, they vary significantly in terms of epidemiology, prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Viral hepatitis can lead to permanent liver damage and increase the risk of liver cancer. In the UK, the most common forms of viral hepatitis are hepatitis B and C.



Am I at risk?


You can find out if you’re at risk of liver disease by completing Love Your Liver Screener from British Liver Trust.



REDUCING THE RISK OF LIVER DISEASE


Young woman drinking healthy green smoothie

9 in 10 liver disease cases can be prevented with simple lifestyle changes.


You can reduce your risk of different types of liver disease with some simple lifestyle changes such as:


Cutting down on alcohol


The most obvious way to reduce the risk of alcohol-related liver disease is to cut down on alcohol. There is no completely safe level of drinking, but The UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) advise that to keep the risk from alcohol low, adults should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. As well as not drinking too much alcohol in total, it’s also important not to drink too much in one session because this can cause immediate harm to your liver, especially if it is already damaged. Here are some top tips to reduce drinking:


  • Analyse your drinking habits: it’s important to know exactly how much you’re drinking and what’s triggering it. Many people have particular times, people, locations, or situations that they associate with drinking – these are known as triggers. Work out what your triggers are and try to avoid them or be in control of them. MyDrinkAware App from Drinkaware can track your alcohol consumption, calculate units and calories and set goals to help you moderate your drinking.

  • Set a goal: make sure your goals are realistic and achievable so that you’re more likely to complete them. Remember that it’s the small, gradual changes that will get you there, by building up your confidence step by step and giving you a sense of achievement.

  • Be proactive: don’t put yourself in situations you know will make it difficult to stick to your goals. For example, meet people in a cafe rather than the pub, or offer to be the designated driver when going out with friends.

  • Measure your drinks: measuring your drinks makes it easier to have smaller drinks than your usual. For example, if you normally have a large 175ml glass of wine, try having a 125ml glass instead.

  • Buy less in the shops: try to get out of the habit of automatically re-stocking alcohol you have in your home. When you’re buying alcohol from the shops, it can be tempting to buy in bulk, especially when there are discounts for buying more!

Man buying wine in the supermarket

  • Have a lower-strength drink: cut down the alcohol by swapping strong beers or wines for ones with a lower strength (ABV in %). You'll find this information on the bottle.

  • Look for alternatives: explore some alcohol-free beers and wines. These days, there are more, better tasting alcohol-free drinks to choose from than ever before.

  • Keep busy and find different ways to cope and relax: if drinking alcohol is your coping mechanism or maybe a way of relaxing, try and find some other ways of doing that. You could go for a walk in a nature reserve, have a warm bath, read a book, listen to a new album, or do other things that make you calm



You can find more tips, advice and digital tools on DrinkAware website that can help you reduce drinking.



Following a healthy diet


Eating a well-balanced diet is an important way to reduce the risk of fatty liver disease. For most people, a healthy diet is one that is low in fat, sugar and salt, and high in fibre, vegetables and fruit. It should also contain enough protein and a wide range of vitamins and minerals. You should eat a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consume the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.


To get tips and advice on healthy eating, watch the video from British Liver Trust with Laura Haigh, a Specialist non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) Dietitian:




Please note that if you have a liver condition, there are some special considerations you may need to make in your diet to stay nutritionally well and to help to manage your condition. Your diet will depend on the type of liver disease you have and the stage of the damage to your liver - please talk to your consultant or dietitian.


Taking precautions against viral hepatitis


To protect yourself from the risk of a blood-borne viruses:

  • Never share razors, nail scissors or toothbrushes

  • Cover wounds, especially when you play sport

  • Only use licensed tattoo and piercing studios and make sure all equipment used has been sterilised

  • Use a condom during sex

  • Never share drug equipment

  • Get vaccinated against Hepatitis B if you are at increased risk, e.g. if you work in places such as laboratory, care home, prison, hospital or emergency services.


To protect yourself from other viruses:

  • always make sure all meat and fish is well cooked

  • always wash fruit and vegetables before you eat them

  • always wash your hands well with soap and water after touching animals, going to the toilet, and before eating or preparing food

  • only drink bottled water

  • do not have ice in your drinks

  • avoid uncooked foods that could have been watered or washed with contaminated water



FURTHER INFORMATION AND GETTING SUPPORT


Man reading information about liver disease on the internet

Find more in-depth information about different types of liver disease, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, as well as personal stories:

If you or someone you know has been affected by liver disease or liver cancer, or you are worried about your liver health, you can call British Liver Trust's free helpline on 0800 652 7330 between 9am and 3pm Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays) or email helpline@britishlivertrust.org.uk. Calls and emails are always answered by a qualified nurse who has specialised in liver diseases.


British Liver Trust also facilitates virtual support groups offering peer to peer support for patients, carers and family members affected by liver disease and liver cancer. If you would like to attend a British Liver Trust support group click here to register your interest.


You can also join the British Liver Trust online liver health community - a forum where members can post questions, share experiences and hear from others on how they or those close to them are managing their condition.


 

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