It's not something you probably think much about, but your liver is a key player in your body's digestive system. Everything you eat or drink, including medicine, passes through it. You need to treat it right so it can stay healthy and do its job.
"It's an organ you could easily trash if you don't take good care of it," says Rohit Satoskar, MD, of the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. "And once you trash it, it's gone."
It's possible you might have hepatitis and not realize it at first. Sometimes there aren't any symptoms. Or you might not get the right diagnosis because the disease shares some of the same signs as the flu.
The most common symptoms of hepatitis are things like:
Loss of appetite
Muscle or joint aches
Nausea and vomiting
Pain in your belly
Some people have other issues, such as:
Your liver is about the size of a football and sits under your lower ribcage on the right side. It has several important things to do. It helps clean your blood by getting rid of harmful chemicals that your body makes. It makes a liquid called bile, which helps you break down fat from food. And it also stores sugar called glucose, which gives you a quick energy boost when you need it.
There's nothing tricky about keeping your liver in good shape. It's all about a healthy lifestyle, says Ray Chung, MD, medical director of the liver transplant program at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"Taking care of your liver is far more about avoiding what's bad than it is about eating or drinking things that are particularly nourishing to the liver," he says.
Care for Your Liver
Here are some ways to keep your liver healthy:
Don't drink a lot of alcohol. It can damage liver cells and lead to the swelling or scarring that becomes cirrhosis, which can be deadly.
How much alcohol is too much? U.S. government guidelines say men should drink no more than two drinks a day and women only one.
Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. Your liver will thank you. You'll keep your weight under control, which helps prevent nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition that leads to cirrhosis.
Watch out for certain medicines. Some cholesterol drugs can occasionally have a side effect that causes liver problems. The painkiller acetaminophen (Tylenol) can hurt your liver if you take too much.
You may be taking more acetaminophen than you realize. It's found in hundreds of drugs like cold medicines and prescription pain medicines.