Many of us believe that liver disease is alcohol related, but in reality, this is far from the truth. You might also think this doesn’t affect you. However, the incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is estimated to be at least 25% of the Irish population and on the rise. There are no tell-tale signs or symptoms. However, if you have some of the below risk factors, it is likely that your liver health is not optimal:
– Obesity/ overweight, particularly if carrying excess
– High fat and sugar in diet
– Consumption of one or more sugary fizzy drinks per day
– Diabetes or pre-diabetes
These risk factors are very common, so you are not alone if you see yourself here. A staggering 79% of the adult population over 50 years of age are overweight or obese and we are set to be Europe’s fattest nation by 2025.
What happens in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, is caused by fat accumulation in the liver – either simple fat accumulation or the more serious NASH (non-alcoholic steato-hepatitis) which involves inflammation, cell damage and fibrosis (scarring). 1 in 4 people with NASH will progress towards serious, and possibly fatal, liver disease within ten years.
Fat accumulation in the liver is caused in a number of ways. Excess saturated fat intake in the diet can lead to build up in the liver. Excess sugar intake, particularly in the form of fructose, can also trigger fat production in the liver. Carrying too much fat around your middle can also contribute to the problem. Excess central fat produces harmful inflammatory signals that further damage the liver. Other hormonal messages get confused also, such as the messages that tell you that you are full and help to control your blood sugars. This can lead to a vicious circle of increased eating, craving sugars and increased fat storage.
How do I keep my liver healthy?
The only treatment available for NAFLD is to make nutritional and lifestyle changes. The good news is that it is preventable and if caught early, reversible. Our Ciara Wright PhD is currently running a weight loss/ healthy eating programme for patients with NAFLD in St. James’ Hospital as part of a clinical trial with Consultant Hepatologist Professor Suzanne Norris and Associate Professor of Obesity, Dr Bernadette Moore of Leeds University. The aim is to measure improvements in liver health after a 12 week healthy eating programme. Ciara says “the participants are on week 9 of the study and are doing great. I have watched them make so many positive changes and am excited to see the outcome and their repeat test results to measure what a difference they have made to their health”.
Top tips for liver health
- Completely avoid concentrated sources of fructose including fizzy drinks and sugar sweetened beverages
- Reduce your overall sugar intake, including refined carbohydrates (white rice, white bread etc) and opt for smaller portions of wholegrains instead and a greater intake of vegetables
- Increase your intake of healthy omega-3 fats in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. Aim for four portions per week
- Exercise to facilitate weight loss, using a combination of resistance exercise and cardio
- Address contributing factors to gaining weight around the middle such as irregular patterns of eating, lack of sleep and stress
How do I find out if my liver is healthy?
A FibroScan® is a non-invasive scan of the liver which only takes 10 minutes. Your GP may refer you publicly or you can see Professor Suzanne Norris and the Liver Wellness team in the Beacon Hospital.
World Diabetes Day and FibroScan® screenings
If you have diabetes, it is highly recommended that you have this assessment as NAFLD is commonly found in diabetics and often goes undiagnosed. As part of World Diabetes Day on Tuesday 14th November, Professor Suzanne Norris and the Liver Wellness clinic are offering free FibroScan® assessments to members of Diabetes Ireland. Members can offer their details at the Diabetes Ireland AGM on 12th November or email email@example.com to apply for a free scan. Diabetes Ireland will also be offering free diabetes screening on the 3rd floor of Dundrum Town Centre.
Date for the Diary – World Diabetes Day Tuesday 14th November
- Free FibroScan® assessment for Liver Health – Liver Wellness Clinic, Beacon Hospital
- Free diabetes assessment from Diabetes Ireland – 3rd Floor Dundrum Town Centre
If you are concerned about your liver health or the risk factors mentioned above, call us on 01-4020777 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can help you.