1. It’s the fifth biggest killer in the UK
Accounting for more deaths than diabetes and road deaths combined, liver disease is the fifth biggest killer in the UK. There’s been a 25% rise in alcohol-related liver disease deaths in the last decade.
“It is alarming that we have seen a 500% increase in deaths from liver disease since the ’70s,” says Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, running this month’s Love Your Liver campaign. “Nowadays, more than 40 people a day die from liver disease…The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, highlights that at least 20% of us are at risk of liver disease.”
2. The vast majority of cases are preventable
While he points out there are obviously other causes of liver disease than too much booze, he also explains that “the vast majority is caused by three main preventable causes – too much alcohol, obesity and viral hepatitis”. So reducing your alcohol intake is perhaps the quickest and easiest thing to address when it comes to liver health.
3. It only takes two or three consecutive days off booze for the liver to repair
The Liver Trust says you don’t even need to give up alcohol completely, just make sure you take two to three consecutive days off the booze a week, so your liver cells recover and repair themselves, and watch those units on the days when you are drinking. If they don’t have time to recuperate, you’re basically compromising the largest organ inside your body.
4. The liver carries out 500 different functions
From making proteins and blood-clotting factors, to aiding digestion and energy release, and storing energy and iron. It also purifies the blood of bacteria, by-products of digestion and, of course, alcohol. While the bacteria and digestion bit can’t really be controlled, if you control the alcohol it has to deal with, you’re instantly helping it out.
5. Liver disease is reversible, as long as you don’t leave it too late
Too much alcohol will lead to alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD). First, there is a build-up of fats in the liver, called alcoholic fatty liver disease. Then comes the second, more serious, stage of alcoholic hepatitis (not that hepatitis). This occurs when alcohol misuse over a longer period causes the tissues of the liver to become inflamed. Even at this stage, it is still reversible if you give up drinking, but if you don’t, you reach cirrhosis, the final stage of ARLD, which is when the liver becomes significantly, and irreversibly, scarred.
6. The early symptoms of liver disease are silent
Sometimes referred to as the “silent killer”, because early symptoms are often ignored or confused with other conditions – such as feeling generally unwell or tired, having a poor appetite, losing weight, having a tender abdomen, feeling itchy and vomiting.
7. The obvious symptoms don’t happen until liver damage is severe
These are jaundice, bleeding, drowsiness, fever, swollen abdomen and legs, tarry black stools or vomiting blood (If you have any of these symptoms, consult your doctor immediately).
8. There are easy things you can do to keep your liver healthy
The Liver Trust suggests to eat more fruit and veg and avoid sugary drinks, exercise regularly to burn fat in your liver and other organs, practise safe sex, and of course, take two to three consecutive days off alcohol a week to let liver cells recover and repair themselves.
9. You can do an easy online test to screen your liver
Try the Love Your Liver health screener to find out if you should be worried about your liver.