Second only to the skin, the liver is the largest organ in the human body. It has quite a few responsibilities, some of which are more well-known than others. Some of the liver’s primary jobs include filtering the body’s blood, storing energy, and processing nutrients. Due to the liver’s many responsibilities, it is highly vulnerable to scarring (cirrhosis) and complete failure, which can lead to cancer.
Although most people associate liver damage with alcohol abuse or misuse, other factors can play a role. In this article, we aim to highlight the various health conditions, drugs, and lifestyle habits that can damage your liver.
Health Conditions That Damage The Liver
Various health conditions, one of the more notable ones being hepatitis, can directly damage the liver, or increase the risk of liver complications. Some of the primary health conditions include genetic diseases, obesity, and certain autoimmune disorders.
Chronic hepatitis B and C are the root cause of most liver cancer cases worldwide. Hepatitis C is the more common cause in the United States, while hepatitis B is less common because of vaccine availability. Hepatitis C is spread via contact with infected blood, e.g. sharing needles, unprotected sex, and (rarely) blood transfusions. Chronic hepatitis C is a silent killer because most people don’t know they have it. If left untreated, the condition can cause liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure, and even death.
There are certain autoimmune disorders that can harm the liver. Autoimmune hepatitis is characterized by the immune system mistakenly attacking the liver. Medical experts don’t fully understand why the body turns on itself, but genetic factors may play a role. This disease usually affects people assigned female at birth, and it is more common in people with existing autoimmune disorders. Even people with autoimmune diseases can keep things under control and live a normal life if they have the right treatment and lifestyle habits.
Lifestyle Factors That Damage The Liver
When it comes to genetics and autoimmune disorders, you may not have complete control of your risk of liver damage. What you do have control over, however, is how you live your life. Certain lifestyle habits, including the medications you take, the foods you eat, and exercise you do or don’t do, can influence liver health.
Alcohol remains a major cause of cirrhosis and other forms of liver disease. Roughly 10-15% of heavy drinkers will develop liver scarring, but those with liver damage should abstain from alcohol. Drinking in moderation, or not at all, goes a long way in keeping the liver healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines recommend no more than one alcoholic beverage a day for women and no more than two for men. One drink is considered to be 12 ounces of beer or five ounces of wine.
Sugary Beverages And Sodas
Popular in the Standard American Diet, sugary beverages and sodas can cause weight gain and liver damage. A 2015 study found that people who drank one or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day had increased markers of fatty liver disease than those who didn’t drink any sugary drinks. That isn’t to say that diet drinks are healthier; rather, it highlights that sugary beverages do more damage than you think. Additional research found that people who consumed two sugary drinks a day for six months showed signs of fatty liver disease.
Yet another reason to quit, smoking can increase the risk of liver cancer and cirrhosis. According to a 2013 study, smoking was linked to an increased risk of liver cirrhosis independent of alcohol intake. Additionally, the toxins in cigarettes can cause inflammation, which can eventually lead to cirrhosis. If you have hepatitis B or C and you smoke, the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma increases drastically.
Medications That Damage The Liver
If you have ever read the “Directions” section on certain cold and flu medications, you know not to take too much. Some ingredients, like acetaminophen, in these medications can be harmful in high doses. There are many other medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, that can damage the liver.
Acetaminophen exists in many medications, including DayQuil and NyQuil, Tylenol, and prescription medications like Vicodin or Percocet. In high doses, acetaminophen can cause liver failure and even death. Never take more than the recommended dose of acetaminophen, or any medication for that matter. Acetaminophen is a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold and flu medications, so always check the ingredient labels and directions to ensure that you don’t exceed the recommended dose.