One of the major functions of the liver is to remove toxic and waste materials from the body. Liver filters the waste materials and removes them from the body. It purifies the blood and also synthesizes bile which helps in digestion of fat. Liver also helps by storing energy, vitamins and minerals and produces important blood clotting factors. It also helps by regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Many studies have shown that 90% to 100% of heavy alcohol drinkers develop fatty liver disease. This happens slowly and generally leads to many other problems. It is therefore important to ensure that the liver is healthy and performing at an optimum level. Fatty liver is a common condition which can affect the liver silently and it estimated that about 17% of Malaysian’s are affected by this condition.
A normal and healthy liver usually has 2% to 5% fat. If the fat accumulation crosses over 5% of liver weight, this is what is generally known as fatty liver. When fat exceeds 10% of liver weight, the fat cells can damage liver cells. The development of fatty liver generally happens in three stages.
The first stage is what is called simple fatty liver. In this stage, the liver progressively accumulates fat, and this is early liver damage. This condition is generally known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Most people have no symptoms at this stage and the liver is not enlarged.
The second stage is called Inflammation of liver cells (Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis). In this stage excessive fat causes inflammation and eventually damages liver cells. Also the dead liver cells will form scar tissue.
The third stage is hardening of the liver (cirrhosis). In this stage excessive scarring causes hardening of the liver, and liver fails to perform properly.
The people with the following condition have higher risk for developing fatty liver: high blood sugar levels, being overweight or obese, high cholesterol levels, alcohol drinkers.
Some of the ways to keep the liver healthy are: i) increase consumption of low glycaemic index foods – This will help to avoid rapid increases in blood sugar. Examples include fruit, whole meal bread, oats and soba noodles, ii) low fat diet – Fat should not exceed 20% of our total daily calorie intake. A high fat diet can increase cholesterol levels and increase the risk of developing a fatty liver, iii) High fiber diet – Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, oats and grains. This can help to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, iv) Regular exercise – Maintain moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes at least three times a week. This is the most effective way to maintain healthy body weight, v) Weight loss – In overweight and obese individuals, reducing weight will help to reduce the overall risk of developing a fatty liver.
Apart from preventive measures there are also herbal or ayurvedic products which can help in the treatment of fatty liver. The key herbal ingredients which help in the treatment of liver and keeping it healthy are Tecoma undulata, Phyllanthus urinaria, Embelia ribes, Taraxacum officinale, Nyctanthes arbortritis and Terminalia arjuna. One such ayurvedic or herbal product which has these ingredients is Kamalahar. It is proven to be very effective for the treatment of cirrhosis, fatty liver, hepatitis, jaundice, ascites.
As the liver is such an important organ, everybody needs to take care of liver properly. Liver cells are the only internal organ that can regenerate, as long as there are enough healthy cells; it’s never too late to protect your liver.