Hucksters selling bogus health products (like juice cleanses) love to talk about all the “toxins” in your body—toxins their products will supposedly remove. But sit down with a doctor, and she’ll tell you your body already has a built-in, ultra-effective toxin remover: your liver.
Your liver not only acts as a filter for your blood, but it also produces hormones, stores energy, and makes compounds that allow your gut to digest food. And those are just a few of its many essential duties.
Considering your liver’s outsize role in keeping you hale and healthy, you’d think even small problems with it would stand out. But that’s not the case, says Bruce Bacon, MD, a professor of internal medicine and chair of gastroenterology at the St. Louis University School of Medicine.
“Hepatitis C used to be called the ‘silent epidemic’ because many people who had it weren’t aware of it,” Bacon explains. By the time you’re showing signs or symptoms of liver problems—whether due to hepatitis, fatty liver disease, or something else—chances are good that cirrhosis has already set in, he says. (Feel better starting today with Rodale’s The Thyroid Cure, a new book that’s helped thousands of people finally solve the mystery of what’s ailing them.)
Cirrhosis is a type of serious liver deterioration that results from a long-standing disease or injury, says Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD, a liver disease expert at Cleveland Clinic. Think of cirrhosis as arthritis of your liver; once it settles in, you’re in trouble. Patients with liver cirrhosis are at significant risk for liver cancer and may eventually require a transplant, Wakim-Fleming says.
Fatty liver disease—which often goes hand in hand with obesity—is the most common cause of liver issues, Bacon says. “Some estimates suggest up to 25 million people have fatty liver disease,” he adds. The various forms of hepatitis, as well as excessive drinking, are other common causes of liver problems, he says.
Drinking in moderation, sticking to a healthy diet, and getting plenty of exercise is your best defense against liver problems, Wakim-Fleming says. Bacon also recommends regular checkups with your doctor, which can allow him or her to spot blood markers of unrecognized or impending liver issues.
There are also a handful of common symptoms associated with liver disease. If you experience any of these, get yourself to a doctor on the double.