Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on November 05, 2020
People who drink a few cups of coffee a day may be less likely to get liver diseases including cancer and scarring (fibrosis, cirrhosis). It might even slow those conditions in some people who have them. Filtered, instant, and espresso all seem to work. Still, helpful as coffee may be, it can’t take the place of a balanced diet, a healthy weight, plenty of water, and regular exercise for a healthy liver.
Don’t Overdo Acetaminophen
It’s in more than 600 meds, including many cold and flu drugs. Most adults shouldn’t get more than 4,000 milligrams per day. More could hurt your liver. Try not to take more than one product with acetaminophen per day, and never take more than what the package instructions recommend.
Practice Safe Sex
You want to protect yourself and your partner from conditions that can spread through sex, including many that could eventually hurt your liver. One, hepatitis C, infects it directly and can do serious harm over time. Most people don’t notice they have it until many years later when much of the damage has been done. Your doctor can test to see if you have it.
Take Your Meds Right
Though acetaminophen is the most common medication that can harm your liver, other meds can do that, too -- especially if you don’t take them as directed. It may also depend on your genes, other prescriptions, and your food. Speak to your doctor if you’re tired, nauseous, or itchy or you notice yellowish skin or eyes (jaundice) after you start a new medicine. Statins for high cholesterol and certain antibiotics (amoxicillin, clindamycin, erythromycin) are some examples.
Check on Your Supplements
They cause almost a quarter of all liver damage. Herbs like borage, comfrey, groomwell, and coltsfoot have “pyrrolizidine alkaloids” that can gum up the tiny blood vessels inside the organ, either over time or all at once (if you take a lot). Other herbs like Atractylis gummifera, celandine, chaparral, germander, and pennyroyal oil (used in tea) can also cause liver problems.
Skip Herbal Liver Remedies
Common liver remedies like milk thistle, turmeric, and astragalus don't have much research behind them. Colloidal silver, sometimes used (with little scientific support) for hepatitis C, can cause irreversible side effects like turning your skin blue. Tell your doctor about all pills, herbs, and supplements you take. First, to check on the safety of each item, but also because of how they might interact with each other.
Drink Only in Moderation
When you drink, your liver stops doing other things so it can break down the alcohol and remove it from your blood. If you overdo it -- more than a drink a day for women, two a day for men -- it’s really hard on the organ and could hurt it. Over time, this often leads to “fatty liver,” an early sign of disease. It also might cause bad bacteria to grow in your gut that can travel to your liver and cause damage.
Eat the Rainbow
That means fruits and vegetables from all the colors of the rainbow, which helps ensure you get all the nutrients and fiber you need. Avoid refined carbs like doughnuts and white bread in favor of whole-grain rice, breads, and cereals. A bit of meat, dairy, and fat can also help. But not too much, and look for “good” (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated) fats from seeds, nuts, fish, and vegetable oils.
Keep a Healthy Body Weight
That means working to keep a body mass index (BMI) of between 18 and 25. There are online tools to help you figure out your number. Exercise and a well-balanced diet are the best way to help maintain a good-for-you weight and lower your chances of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Your doctor can help you set a weight goal that will help keep your whole body well over the long term.
Wash Your Hands
It’s a simple, easy way to keep germs away that could infect your liver. Just a little soap and warm water will do. It’s especially important right before you prepare food and right after you change a diaper or go to the bathroom. You can spread hepatitis A in particular when you touch food or water with contaminated hands.
It can help keep your BMI at the right level, which could protect against nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. But even if your BMI doesn’t change, exercise is likely to help. Why? Because it improves how your insulin works and burns triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood.
These might be chemicals in cleaning products, spray cans, insecticides, and other household items. They could hurt cells in your liver if you touch, absorb, or breathe in too much of them. You can protect yourself if you wear a mask and goggles and open the windows when you use them.
Watch Out for Needle Risks
If you or someone you know has ever injected illegal drugs, you should get tested for hepatitis C, which can spread through blood. The same is true if you’ve had an accidental needle stick. A blood test can let you know if you’ve ever had the hepatitis C virus.
Check for Liver Damage
It’s especially important for your doctor to do this if you drink heavily or have a family history of liver disease. Early treatment helps, and you might not have symptoms at first. You should also get tested if you’re more likely to have hepatitis C. This includes anyone who:
Is over age 18
Is on hemodialysis
Ever used injectable illegal drugs
Was stuck by an infected needle
Was born between 1945 and 1965
Had a blood transfusion or received an organ transplant before 1992
Received blood-clotting factor concentrates made before 1987
Has had an abnormal liver tests or liver disease
You can get it for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, but not for hepatitis C. A lot of kids have been vaccinated, but many adults haven’t. Talk to your doctor about whether you need it. It might be especially important if your immune system is weak or your liver already shows some damage.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
World Journal of Hepatology: “Coffee: The magical bean for liver disease.”
American Liver Foundation: “13 Ways to a Healthy Liver.”
British Liver Trust: “Coffee and the Liver.”
CDC: “Viral Hepatitis,” “Alcohol and Public Health,” “Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public.”
Cleveland Clinic: “6 Surprising Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health — Not Just Your Liver.”
Consumer Reports: “How to Keep Your Liver Healthy.”
Gene Expression: The Journal of Liver Research: “The Effects of Physical Exercise on Fatty Liver Disease.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “5 Ways to Be Kind to Your Liver,” “Detoxing Your Liver: Fact Versus Fiction.”
Mayo Clinic: “Cirrhosis.”
FDA: “Don't Double Up on Acetaminophen.”
Merck Manual: “Liver Injury Caused by Drugs.”
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Turmeric,” “Milk Thistle,” “Astragalus,” “Hepatitis C and Dietary Supplements.”