One way to keep your liver healthy is by getting vaccinated for viral liver infections such as Hepatitis A and B. The Department of Hepato-pancreato-biliary and Transplant Surgery at Singapore General Hospital shares more tips for a healthy liver.
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Dr Lee Ser Yee, Senior Consultant,
Department of Hepato-pancreato-biliary and Transplant Surgery,
Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the
SingHealth group shares 10 ways to keep your liver healthy.
Limit your alcohol intake and drink in moderation
Our liver can only process or break down a small amount of alcohol every hour. Beyond this, it can damage the liver cells and lead to inflammation and scarring (cirrhosis).
For this reason, men should limit their alcohol intake to two standard drinks a day while women should only have one.
A standard drink is equivalent to:
Regular exercise and have an active lifestyle
- one ordinary beer
- one small glass of wine or
- a small shot of whiskey
Regular exercise is key to a healthy liver. Exercise decreases stress on the liver, increases energy levels and helps to prevent obesity – a risk factor for liver disease. Aim for a total of 150 minutes of exercise, such as brisk walking or swimming per week.
Have a balanced and healthy diet: Less fatty foods and more fibre
High levels of fat in the blood (hyperlipidaemia) and high levels of cholesterol (hypercholesterolaemia) are common causes of fatty liver disease.
Reduce the amount of saturated fats, transfats and hydrogenated fats in your diet.
Saturated fats are found in deep fried foods, red meats and dairy products. Trans and hydrogenated fats are found in processed foods. The liver stores excess dietary fat and fat buildup can eventually bring on fatty liver disease.
Eat more high-fibre foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains. For proteins, choose more fish, white meat, beans and nuts and cut down on red meat.
Watch your body weight
Obesity, particularly, abdominal or central obesity, is a major risk factor for developing fatty liver disease. Together with a balanced diet and regular exercise, a healthy weight can be achieved and maintained.
Aim for the ideal body mass index (BMI) target. The healthy cut-off values recommended for Singaporeans are between 18.5 and 22.9.
Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, both viral liver infections. Hepatitis A is contracted from contaminated food and water- avoid raw or contaminated seafood or shellfish. Hepatitis B can be contracted through sexual contact, contaminated blood and needles. If you choose not to get vaccinated against hepatitis B, practice safer sex. Talk to your family doctor about these vaccinations.
Be careful with traditional medicine and remedies
Some of these over-the-counter traditional medicines or remedies contain heavy metals or unknown toxins. They can result in liver toxicity or they can stress and affect the regular functioning of your liver.
Over-supplementation of traditional medicine may cause liver inflammation and can lead to irreversible liver damage or even failure. Please consult your liver specialist prior to consumption if in doubt.
Be careful of weight loss pills or fad diets
Over-the-counter weight loss pills which are available without a prescription may contain toxins and ingredients which can be harmful to the liver such as:
- ephedra (ma huang in Chinese)
- comfrey and
Fad diets that make your weight swing up and down aggressively put excessive stress on your liver. Be careful of any diet that promises large amounts of weight loss in an unrealistically short period. These diets are usually lacking in essential nutrients and are not beneficial but harmful to your liver.
Take care in consuming liver cleansing and detox diets. Contrary to popular belief, no particular diet is proven to be liver cleansing. Please ask your doctor or dietitian to help you create a healthy diet.
Take care and protect yourself against Hepatitis B or C
Hepatitis C has no vaccine available currently. Hepatitis C can be transmitted sexually or if there is a chance of blood-to-blood contact.
Practice safe sex and avoid unnecessary sharing of toothbrushes, razors, needles and other personal care items – these can also transmit hepatitis B or C.
If you are a Hepatitis B or C carrier, consult your doctor for a screening program to detect problems early. If your parents are carrier and/or you are not sure, get a Hepatitis screen.
Take care if you have Diabetes, Hypertension and/or High cholesterol:
Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol form a metabolic syndrome with obesity, posing major risks for fatty liver disease.
Keeping your diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol under good control with diet, exercise and/or medications can help limit and prevent liver damage. Please keep regular follow-ups with your family doctor.
Some anti-cholesterol medicines can occasionally have a side effect that causes liver problems. Some medicines can hurt your liver if you drink alcohol when you take them, or if you take many drugs in combination. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your medications if in doubt.
Cut down smoking or stop smoking
There are some studies that link cigarette smoking with the development of liver cancer. Smoking can also enhance the toxic effects that some medications (such as paracetamol) have on the liver.
See page 1 to learn about
how the liver works.