By Sammy Shahatto, RPh, PharmD
Did you know that 1 in 4 Canadians may have liver disease? Did you know that there are over 100 types of liver disease? These illnesses can strike anyone. Alcohol, family history, obesity, autoimmune disorders, toxins, drugs, hepatitis viruses and cancer are contributing factors for liver diseases.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), caused by the build up of fat in the liver due to obesity, is increasing. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is the most severe type of NAFLD and can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver transplants and death.
Early diagnosis is challenging since only some insignificant signs are present until liver disease reaches the advanced stages. Common symptoms include: jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes), a swollen abdomen and tenderness around the liver. Blood tests can measure liver function and is a valuable tool in terms of making a diagnosis. A NAFLD diagnosis also uses Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference as factors in the diagnostic criteria.
March is Liver Health month. According to the Canadian Liver Foundation, risk factors include:
- Poor eating habits.
- Sedentary lifestyle.
- Other medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and insulin resistance.
- Past blood transfusions.
- Occupational exposure to blood.
- Exposure to toxic chemicals.
- tattoos, piercings, etc.
- Sexual activity.
- Current or past use of injection drugs.
- Alcohol consumption.
- A family history of liver disease.
- Being born in or travelling to a country with high rates of viral hepatitis.
Preventing and treating NAFLD is achieved through a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, sleep, exercise, and daily activity.
- Reduce added sugar by replacing prepackaged foods with whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
- Substitute saturated fats for healthy fats (nuts, avocado), and drink water more often.
- Increase both exercise (moderate to high intensity structured routines) and daily physical activity.
- Adopt a healthy sleep routine, including the recommended hours of sleep.