Liver disease is on the rise. These steps can help you protect this vital organ.
- Avoid heavy alcohol use, a major cause of cirrhosis and other liver damage. Death rates from alcohol-related liver disease have risen sharply in the U.S. since 2009, especially in younger adults.
- Heed dosing directions for medications—in particular, for acetaminophen (Tylenol or generics). The maximum dose for acetaminophen is 4 grams (8 extra-strength tablets) in 24 hours. Because acetaminophen is an ingredient in hundreds of OTC and prescription medications, such as cold remedies, it’s easy to consume too much. To help prevent liver damage, avoid consuming alcohol if you take the drug regularly. If you need a pain reliever on a regular basis, consult your doctor. Here's good information about the safe use of acetaminophen and other pain relievers.
- Avoid obesity. Obesity increases the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and liver cancer. The obesity epidemic helps explain why liver cancer has become the sixth leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths, according to a CDC report in 2018.
- If you work with toxic chemicals, such as some cleaning solutions, paints, and pesticides, ventilate the room and take other precautions.
- Be wary of dietary supplements. Many are potentially toxic to the liver, especially when taken long term or in high doses. The proportion of all drug-related liver injuries that could be attributed to supplements rose from 7 percent in 2004 to about 20 percent in 2014, according to a review based on reports to the NIH's Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network, published in Hepatology in 2016. Body-building formulas (notably those spiked with illegal anabolic steroids) and weight-loss products (notably those containing green tea extract) accounted for about half of the cases of liver damage linked to supplements. Other herbal products known to harm the liver include chaparral, comfrey, kava, skullcap, and yohimbe. Many of the supplements contain multiple ingredients, so it’s often impossible to identify the cause of liver damage. In some cases, impurities and adulterants are introduced during processing of the products. Don't count on supplements promoted specifially to protect the liver.
- Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B and about being tested for hepatitis C. Though there is no vaccine against hepatitis C, you should get tested for it if you were born between 1945 and 1965, ever injected drugs or used unsterile needles, have HIV, have been on long-term dialysis for kidney disease, received clotting factor that was produced before 1987, or had a blood transfusion before 1992. The CDC has a good website.
Published September 13, 2018