This Is the #1 Most Important Habit for Liver Health, According to a Hepatologist

Woman holding up depiction of liver

When it comes to overall health, the heart and brain may come to mind as the top organs to protect as we age. You may not think about your liver and its health on a regular basis, but as it turns out, liver health really is so important as we get older.

Additionally, liver health (or lack thereof) is something that impacts more people than you’d think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 4.5 million adults aged 18 and older have been diagnosed with liver disease.

To find out how to keep your liver in tip-top shape, read on for expert tips from a hepatologist.

Why Is Liver Health So Important?

“The liver is a very important organ that performs several critical functions, and liver disease is oftentimes underdiagnosed,” says Dr. Sudha Kodali, MD, hepatologist, Houston Methodist Hospital. Patients can present with advanced liver disease, and by the time this happens, options for treatment are limited.

“Several conditions that affect liver health have medical treatment options available, hence, early diagnosis is the key,” Dr. Kodali says.

Related: Here's How to Keep Your Liver Healthy

What Are Some Consequences of an Unhealthy Liver?

Several factors can bring on liver disease, and they include infections, fat and immune problems. Dr. Kodali says that a long-term implication of any liver disease, no matter what condition is causing the damage, is something called cirrhosis, in which a once-healthy liver is filled and replaced with scar tissue.

“Cirrhosis increases the risk of liver cancer,” Dr. Kodali says. “Other complications secondary to the liver being unable to perform several important functions can arise, leading to hospitalizations, affecting quality of life and oftentimes needing a liver transplant.”

The #1 Most Important Thing You Can Do for Your Liver Health

The most important thing you can do for your liver health is to eat a well-balanced diet rich in antioxidants, along with all essential vitamins and minerals.

“The diet that has been studied well and has been shown to offer the most benefit is the Mediterranean diet,” Dr. Kodali says. “This highlights the idea of incorporating a variety of vegetables that provide fiber and antioxidants, fish, nuts that offer omega fatty acids and other minerals and vitamins, and protein and carbs in moderation.”

Related: The Very Best Foods for Your Liver, From Summer Berries to Coffee and Green Tea

Other Ways to Eat to Improve Liver Health

As discussed, all of the vitamins that are good for your body can directly benefit your liver health, and Dr. Kodali says that this can encompass a mix of vitamins gleaned from foods and supplements.

“As mentioned, a well-balanced diet rather than vitamins and supplements should be the focus, but vitamin E is beneficial in improving the fat content and inflammation in the liver,” Dr. Kodali says. “There are also some studies that suggest low vitamin D levels may be seen in patients with fatty liver, but we need more studies to confirm if vitamin D supplementation has any true benefit in preventing or reversing fatty liver.”

Related: 'I'm a Doctor Who Treats Liver Conditions—This Is the Snack I Eat Almost Every Single Day'

Additional Ways to Improve Liver Health

Dr. Kodali explains that fatty liver is one of the leading causes of liver disease, which is secondary to medical risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, which all need to be well-controlled.

“Increased weight and alcohol intake are also major risk factors,” she says. “Hence, in addition to following up with your primary care doctor to manage the medical risk factors, focus on a well-balanced diet and exercise—trying to maintain a healthy weight is important.”

Dr. Kodali adds that it’s best to avoid herbs and unnecessary supplements that can hurt the liver. Quitting smoking can also improve liver health, and adequate sleep can have a positive impact.

It’s also important to see your doctor regularly as a preventative measure.

Dr. Kodali says, “Knowing one’s risk factor profile, getting screened and tested are important preventive strategies that are necessary. Infections like hepatitis B and C can lead to liver problems as well. Unsafe sex practices, sharing needles and unclean tattoo needles are some of the ways of acquiring these infections. Alcohol in moderation, preventing obesity and losing weight by dietary modification and incorporating regular exercise are other strategies to prevent liver disease.”

Next up, discover one common habit that could be damaging your liver.