Liver disease is rising in middle aged Americans. Many of them don’t realise there is anything wrong with their liver until it’s too late. Liver diseases often have no symptoms until they are well advanced. Sometimes the only possible solution is a liver transplant. The majority are not lucky enough to receive a transplant in time.

A report that has just been released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that death rates from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis have risen a whopping 31 percent in individuals aged 45 to 64 between 2000 and 2015. The incidence of liver cancer rose more than 20 percent in the United States between 1990 and 2015. More and more people are dying from an unhealthy liver, and it’s happening at a younger age than in the past.

Your liver does so many important jobs in your body. If it’s unhealthy, your metabolism can suffer in a number of ways.

  • Your liver clears toxins from your bloodstream. These toxins are chemicals you breathed in, ingested or applied to your skin, as well as the normal waste products of metabolism. If your liver can’t clear toxins properly, this places a great strain on your immune system. You are at higher risk of developing an autoimmune disease, or suffering repeated infections.
  • Your liver processes the nutrients and calories from the food you consume and determines what happens to them. In this way your liver controls your metabolic rate. If you are unable to lose weight, it is likely you have a poorly functioning liver.
  • The liver is responsible for fat digestion, via production of bile. If you aren’t making sufficient bile, you may feel bloated, nauseous or suffer with bowel problems after eating oily foods. If your liver isn’t producing healthy bile, you are at risk of developing gallbladder problems.
  • The liver processes and breaks down medications and alcohol. A healthy liver can break them down efficiently, but a fatty or sluggish liver will have difficulties.

The liver is remarkable in its ability to repair and regenerate itself. That’s why one bout of heavy drinking won’t kill you. However, if your liver is unwell, and is continually exposed to the kind of toxins prevalent in our environment these days, its health can suffer. Over time, the liver can become fibrous and scarred. When this happens, a person is said to have cirrhosis. Normal, healthy liver cells have been replaced with hard scar tissue, which cannot perform the numerous jobs of healthy liver cells. This significantly raises the risk of liver cancer.

Anna S. Lok is the director of hepatology at the University of Michigan, and president of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. She made an interesting statement: “With baby boomers, we may focus on heart disease, dementia and cancer, and don’t always think about the liver”. How very true. Baby boomers themselves usually aren’t thinking about their liver either.

Liver cancer has risen dramatically in baby boomers in the USA. The biggest culprit is hepatitis C infection.  An estimated 1 in 30 people in the USA have been infected with the hepatitis C virus. They may have acquired the virus before infection-control procedures were widely adopted, or from receiving a blood transfusion before 1992. Hepatitis C is also spread among intravenous-drug users, and from unsterile tools at tattoo parlors.

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a hepatitis C test for all adults in the USA born between 1945 and 1965. Unfortunately, fewer than 30 percent have actually been tested. This means hepatitis C is causing silent damage to the liver of millions of individuals.

Fatty liver disease occurs when there is a build-up of fat inside the liver. It affects approximately 100 million Americans, particularly those in their 40s and 50s. It is increasingly being diagnosed in children and young adults. Fatty liver can lead to a more aggressive form of the disease known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH. This can cause scarring that leads to cirrhosis and raises the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

What are the first signs of liver damage?

The first sign of liver disease is usually elevated liver enzymes in a blood test. The most common cause is alcohol, obesity, gut problems such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease, type 2 diabetes or infection with hepatitis B or C. For more information about liver tests see this article.

The following symptoms may also be indicators of liver damage:

Abnormal metabolism of fats

  • Abnormalities in the level of fats in the blood stream.  For example; elevated LDL cholesterol and reduced HDL cholesterol and elevated triglycerides.
  • Arteries blocked with fat, leading to high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.
  • Build up of fat in other body organs (fatty degeneration of organs).
  • Lumps of fat in the skin (lipomas and other fatty tumors).
  • Excessive weight gain, which may lead to obesity.
  • Inability to lose weight even while dieting.
  • Sluggish metabolism.
  • Protuberant abdomen (pot belly).
  • Cellulite.
  • Fatty liver.
  • Roll of fat around the upper abdomen – (liver roll).

Digestive problems

  • Indigestion.
  • Reflux.
  • Haemorrhoids.
  • Gallstones and gallbladder disease.
  • Intolerance to fatty foods.
  • Intolerance to alcohol.
  • Nausea and vomiting attacks.
  • Abdominal bloating.
  • Constipation.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Pain over the liver – (upper right corner of abdomen & lower right rib cage).

Blood sugar problems

  • Craving for sugar.
  • Hypoglycaemia and unstable blood sugar levels.
  • Mature onset diabetes (Type 2) is common in those with a fatty liver.

Nervous system

  • Depression.
  • Mood changes such as anger and irritability.
  • Metaphysically the liver is known as the “seat of anger”.
  • Poor concentration and “foggy brain”.
  • Overheating of the body, especially the face and torso.
  • Recurrent headaches (including migraine) associated with nausea.

Immune dysfunction

  • Allergies – sinusitis, hay fever, asthma, dermatitis, hives, etc.
  • Multiple food and chemical sensitivities.
  • Skin rashes and inflammations.
  • Increased risk of autoimmune diseases.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Increase in recurrent viral, bacterial and parasitic infections.

External signs

  • Coated tongue.
  • Bad breath.
  • Skin rashes.
  • Itchy skin (pruritus).
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Offensive body odor.
  • Dark circles under the eyes.
  • Yellow discoloration of the eyes.
  • Red, swollen, itchy eyes (allergic eyes).
  • Acne rosacea – (red pimples around the nose, cheeks and chin).
  • Brownish spots and blemishes on the skin (liver spots).
  • Red palms and soles which may also be itchy and inflamed.
  • Flushed facial appearance or excessive facial blood vessels (capillaries/veins).

Hormonal imbalance

  • Intolerance to hormone replacement therapy or the contraceptive pill (eg. side effects).
  • Menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes may be more severe.
  • Premenstrual syndrome may be more severe.

NOTE: All of the above symptoms are common manifestations of a dysfunctional liver. However, they can also be due to other causes, of a more sinister nature, so, in all cases of persistent symptoms it is vital to see your doctor.

How to help your liver

  1. Follow a low carbohydrate diet
    Exclude sugar, refined and/or bleached flour and foods containing these things. Avoid all foods with added sugar. If you are overweight and find it very difficult to lose weight, it is more effective to exclude ALL grains and be on a “no grain diet”.
    Carbohydrates to avoid –
    Table sugar, foods with added sugar or maltodextrin, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, honey, golden syrup, molasses, jams, preserves made with sugar, candy, sweet desserts, chocolate and ice-cream, muffins, donuts, pizza, pretzels, chips, pastry, cakes and biscuits. The best types of chocolate for those with a fatty liver are stevia sweetened chocolate. Stress and a busy lifestyle mean it’s not always possible to keep your sugar and carbohydrate intake low. The herbal extract berberine is brilliant for helping to keep your blood sugar and cholesterol levels in the healthy range.
  2. Increase the amount of raw plant food in your diet
    Raw vegetables and fruits are the most powerful liver healing foods. These raw foods help to cleanse and repair the liver filter, so that it can trap and remove more fat and toxins from the blood stream. Eat an abundance of vegetables (cooked and raw salads) and fresh fruits. Eat a large salad every day, or better still twice a day and use a nice dressing made with cold pressed oils and apple cider vinegar and lemon juice.
  3. Eat first class protein with every meal
    Good sources of protein include –
    - Free range, pastured eggs
    - All seafood fresh or canned (avoid smoked or deep-fried seafood)
    - Free range poultry
    - Fresh meat
    - Nuts, seeds and legumes
    - Whey protein powder or Pea protein powder
  4. Avoid the unhealthy fats
    These include all deep fried foods, processed and preserved meat, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from soybean & cottonseed and trans-fatty acids found in margarines and cheap cooking oils. Avoid hydrogenated oils found in processed foods and snacks (read the labels on foods to see if they contain hydrogenated vegetable oils).
    Avoid cream and cream cheese as they are too rich for those with a fatty liver and will aggravate gallstones.
    You do NOT need to follow a low fat diet and indeed you need to eat the healthy fats found in seafood, cold pressed vegetable and seed oils, free range organic eggs, raw nuts and seeds.
  5. Drink raw vegetable juices regularly
    A fatty liver is an inflamed liver and raw juices are a powerful natural anti-inflammatory remedy.  If you have a fatty liver, your liver cells desperately need the vitamins, minerals and antioxidant pigments in fresh raw vegetables.  Juices are therapeutic because they provide an added boost of nutrients, on top of the vegetables I’d like you to eat in salads for lunch and dinner.  There are specific juices for the liver in my book Raw Juices Can Save Your Life.
  6. Take a liver tonic every day
    Take a liver tonic every day and use a tonic that combines the clinically proven dose of St Mary’s Thistle combined with B group vitamins, antioxidants and sulphur rich amino acids. Livatone Plus contains everything you need in one powder or capsule; this enables you to avoid having to take multiple tablets of the individual ingredients. Suitable liver tonics promote repair of damaged liver cells, and facilitate the fat burning and detoxification functions of the liver; they can also speed up weight loss.

For more detailed information about reversing fatty liver, see the book Fatty Liver: You Can Reverse It.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.