Understanding Liver Recovery: From Damage to Renewal
The Vital Role of the Liver in Our Health
The liver’s vital role in our health is to filter our blood and break down poisonous substances, including alcohol and drugs. It’s our largest organ and also essential, as it provides over 500 major functions in our bodies. As a gland, it produces proteins and hormones that are vital to our health. It also regulates almost all of the chemical levels in our blood and produces bile, a fluid that helps digest fats and carry away waste. The liver processes all of the blood that leaves our stomach and intestine through our liver breaks down balances, and creates nutrients. It metabolizes drugs into forms that are simpler or less toxic. Functions of the liver include:
- Bile production
- Infection resistance
- Vitamin and mineral storage
- Blood clot regulation
- Amino acid regulation
- Albumin production
- Glucose processing
Causes and Concerns: What Damages the Liver?
Causes and concerns about what damages the liver include:
- Steatosis liver diseases are caused by toxins including alcohol or excessive fat in your diet
- Genetic diseases such as hemochromatosis (iron overload) or Wilson’s Disease (copper overload)
- Liver cancer is caused by abnormal cells growing too quickly
- Diseases caused by your immune system attacking your liver – Autoimmune Hepatitis, Cholangitis
It’s possible for your liver to regenerate if you take steps toward recovery, but some symptoms are serious, permanent, and even life-threatening. It’s crucial that you tell your healthcare provider about your symptoms so that they can assess the nature of the damage and prescribe the most effective treatment strategies for your condition. Your liver may be damaged if you have:
- Jaundice from too much bilirubin, causing yellow skin skin and eyes
- Low blood pressure
- Ascites (fluid in your belly)
- Chronic fatigue
- Abdominal pain
- Itchy skin
- Loss of coordination or balance
- Leg or ankle swelling
- Confusion or disorientation
It’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible if you experience any of the above symptoms and aren’t already under the care of a hepatologist. If you have a Substance Use Disorder and are dependent on alcohol or drugs, it’s also important to find an experienced recovery professional or treatment center. They will help you avoid the most unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, health risks associated with withdrawal, and relapse while you take these first steps toward healing.
Journey to Recovery: Healing the Liver from Alcohol Damage
The journey to recovery for healing the liver from alcohol damage is most safe and effective with the expertise and support of a medical professional. The best way to heal a liver damaged by substance use is to be proactive about your health and lifestyle. The following are evidence-based ways to care for your liver health:
Being active promotes overall health, including liver functioning.
Eat a healthy diet
Steatosis liver disease is caused by eating excess fats that your liver can’t completely process. The following are known to reduce inflammation and/or promote liver health:
- Sunflower seeds
- Olive oil
- Nut butter
Avoid toxins and drugs
Taking certain medications or drugs can cause long-term damage to your liver if there are more toxins than it can successfully filter out. Smoking cigarettes, pipes, cigars, or being around toxic chemicals in any setting increases your risk of liver disease.
Stop drinking alcohol or drink minimally
Alcohol must be broken down by the liver. While the liver can process moderate amounts, excessive alcohol use can cause damage. It’s best for most people with liver damage to stop drinking and avoid alcohol use in the future.
Practice safe sexual behavior
Use protection to avoid sexually transmitted diseases that impact your liver.
Update your vaccinations
Get Hepatitis A and B vaccines, especially if you plan to travel. Diseases including malaria and yellow fever grow in your liver.
Don’t share needles, toothbrushes, or razors
Avoiding contact with others’ personal items including razors, toothbrushes, and needles decreases your risk of contracting Hepatitis A, B, and C.
Myths and Misconceptions: Debunking Common Liver Recovery Beliefs
There are many myths and misconceptions about how to help your liver recover from damage caused by substance use. Common misconceptions about liver health and recovery include:
You can’t protect yourself against liver disease
Most of us can manage the health of our liver through diet, exercise, vaccination, protective wear, and risk avoidance. Some people have a genetic or other liver condition that lifestyle measures can’t prevent, but preventative lifestyle measures are still a powerful protective factor in optimal health.
Liver disease is always caused by behavior
Genetic liver diseases include Wilson’s Disease and autoimmune Hepatitis. These are non-contagious and can be managed, but not prevented.
Water is the only beverage good for the liver
Water may be the most vital beverage for our health, but it’s not the only beneficial one. Studies have shown that drinking coffee and herbal tea daily may reduce liver scarring and even protect your liver. Beverages that are alcoholic or have added sugar or fat are the ones to avoid since they contribute to your risk of steatotic liver disease or reduced liver functioning
Liver cleanses and supplements prevent and treat liver diseases
Eating a well-balanced diet, exercising, updating your vaccinations, and using protection in high-risk situations are the most effective ways to prevent and heal liver damage. Cleanses and supplements are not evidence-based methods of treating liver damage or achieving weight loss.
You can spread Hepatitis through casual contact.
You may contract Hepatitis A through close contact such as sharing food or drinks, but casual contact doesn’t spread Hepatitis B, C, or autoimmune Hepatitis. Hepatitis B and C are only contagious from mother to child in utero or at birth, or through blood, sexual contact, drug use, or tattooing with an infected needle. Autoimmune Hepatitis is caused by your immune system inflaming your liver cells. It’s caused by a dynamic of genetic and environmental factors and isn’t contagious. For your sake and the health of those around you, it’s important to take every possible measure to prevent Hepatitis.
Liver disease patients must avoid acetaminophen
People with liver disease can use acetaminophen as directed, but they must avoid taking too much within a short period of time because it can result in toxicity and liver failure. It’s important to get professional guidance if you take acetaminophen in a blend with other drugs so that you safely plan your use.
Obesity is the cause of liver disease
Obesity does increase your risk of any kind of liver disease, including Metabolic Dysfunction-associated Steatotic Liver Disease (MASLD) (formerly known as Fatty Liver Disease) and Alcohol-related Liver Disease (ALD). However, the term “Fatty Liver Disease” was recently changed to reflect that other risk factors such as Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, alcohol use, and lipid abnormalities also contribute.
Embracing a Healthy Lifestyle for Optimal Liver Health
Embracing a healthy lifestyle for optimal liver health helps heal existing liver damage and prevent further damage. Eliminating or reducing alcohol use, avoiding using drugs, improving your diet and activity level, updating your vaccinations, and taking preventative care measures increase your likelihood of fully recovering from liver damage and healing from the conditions it causes. There is hope for your healing, and you can take the first step by contacting a medical professional to create the most effective treatment plan for your recovery.