Ten ways to prevent liver disease problems

Jane Murphy / 09 February 2016

Liver disease is on the rise in the UK and may not display any symptoms until it's too late. Follow these tips to help protect yourself.



1. Watch your alcohol intake

Your liver performs 500 vital functions. Every time it filters alcohol, it has to work a little harder and some of its cells die.

Drinking large amounts, even just for a few days, may cause a build-up of fats known as alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can potentially lead to a life-threatening illness. So give yourself a break. Drink no more than 14 units of alcohol, and have at least two or three booze-free days, each week.

Need inspiration? In a recent study at London's Royal Free Hospital, regular drinkers who cut out alcohol for a month saw an average 15 per cent reduction in liver fat and significant improvements in their cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Related: Alcohol and liver damage

2. Reduce your portion sizes

Alcohol isn't the only major culprit when it comes to liver health.

Around a third of the UK population suffers from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – a build-up of liver fat that's normally associated with being overweight or obese.

In fact, some experts believe overeating will soon overtake alcohol as the main cause of liver disease. One way to trick yourself into downsizing your portions is to use smaller plates and cutlery, according to a recent study at the University of Cambridge.

Eliminating larger-sized portions from the diet completely could reduce calorie intake by up 16 per cent, and so hold the key to weight loss, say the researchers.

Related: Can smaller plates help you lose weight?

3. Cut down on fizzy drinks

Just one sugar-sweetened soft drink each day is associated with an increased risk of NAFLD, according to research from Tufts University in the US. So switch to diet versions – or better still, drink water instead. Talking of which...

Related: 10 ways to reduce your sugar intake

4. Drink plenty of water

Water plays a crucial role in helping the liver flush toxins out of your system. Not drinking enough will cause the blood to thicken, making it more difficult to filter.

Everyone's fluid needs vary – but as a rough guide, you should aim to drink around 1.2 litres water daily.

Related: How much water do you really need to drink?

5. Have a (decaff) coffee break

There's evidence to suggest that coffee may be good for the liver, too. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute in the US found that people who drink at least three cups of decaffeinated coffee each day had lower levels of abnormal liver enzymes, suggesting that chemical compounds other than caffeine in coffee may protect the liver.

Related: How tea and coffee affect your health

6. Stop smoking

Yes, it's that point in the feature when we remind you just how deadly cigarettes are. Smoking is a risk factor for liver disease and can exacerbate the symptoms.

Nicotine raises the levels of fat in the blood, while the liver has to work hard to filter all those smoking-related toxins. Need help quitting? Go to www.nhs.uk/smokefree.

Related: Your guide to stopping smoking

7. Get moving

Regular exercise will boost your overall health, which in turn has a positive effect on liver function.

Remember, every little helps: any exercise, regardless of frequency or intensity, can be of benefit to people with NAFLD, according to recent research published in the Journal of Hepatology.

And prolonged periods of sitting appear to increase risk of the condition, say scientists in South Korea.

So start by trying to build more 'incidental' exercise into your day: stand up and walk around when you're on the telephone, for example.

Related: How two minutes of exercise an hour adds up to better health

8. Eat more nuts

Upping your intake of vitamin E can help reduce symptoms of liver disease by preventing cell damage, according to researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in the US. Good sources include nuts, seeds, wheatgerm, leafy greens and vegetable oils.

Related: 10 healthy reasons to eat more nuts

9. Cut down on carbs

A low-carbohydrate diet could improve the liver function of people with NAFLD, according to research published in the journal Diabesity in Practise. Dr David Unwin, the study's author, believes sugar and starchy foods, such as bread and potatoes, pose a particular threat. This is because they are rapidly turned into glucose, which is initially stored in the liver while any excess is stored as body fat. But do speak to your GP before embarking on any kind of low-carb diet.

Related: The truth about carbs

10. Take the test

Still confused about your liver health? The British Liver Trust offers a short online test to help you assess your risk factors and take steps to reduce them. Take 10 minutes to try it now

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.