Did you know your liver is one of the largest and most important organs in your body? It has many important jobs:
- Filters your blood
- Makes proteins, including blood-clotting factors (needed to help you heal)
- Stores vitamins, sugars, fats and other nutrients
- Helps regulate hormones
- Releases chemicals and nutrients into the body when needed
- Makes bile needed for digesting fats
- And much more
October is Liver Awareness Month and the perfect time to think about protection.
Liver damage can be caused by many things, like viruses – such as hepatitis B or C; drinking alcohol above the recommended limits; excess fat in the liver if you are overweight or have diabetes; and certain medications. Damage can then lead to cirrhosis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (or NAFLD) and hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).
Ways to protect
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to keep your liver healthy. Consider taking these steps:
- Limit alcohol. Alcohol from any type of drink (wine, beer, hard liquor) can cause liver damage. Alcohol can make liver diseases such as hepatitis much worse. If you have cirrhosis, no amount of alcohol is safe. If you need help to stop or reduce your drinking, ask your VA provider, or visit https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/substance-use/index.asp.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. For support, check out the MOVE! Program MOVE! Weight Management Program Home (va.gov).
- Talk to your VA provider about how to keep your cholesterol levels at the recommended level.
- Control your blood sugars if you have diabetes.
- Reduce your risk for hepatitis B and C:
- Don’t share any personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes that might have blood on them.
- If you inject drugs, make sure you use clean equipment every time. If you need help to stop or reduce your drug use, ask your VA provider.
- Practice safer sex (use condoms, reduce your number of partners).
- Ask your provider about getting vaccinated against hepatitis B.
- Reduce your risk for hepatitis A infection:
- Ask your provider about getting vaccinated against hepatitis A.
- Tell your provider about all medications you are taking. Always take your medications as prescribed.
- Tell your provider about any over-the-counter medicines, supplements and natural or herbal remedies that you use. Avoid herbal supplements.
- Certain medicines taken at the same time can cause damage to your liver, even if you can buy them without a prescription. For example, make sure you don’t take too much Tylenol (acetaminophen), and never take Tylenol with alcohol. Many over the counter medicines contain acetaminophen.
Taking these steps is a proactive way to ensure your health. Learn more about liver disease and health: www.hepatitis.va.gov.