Liver Health

30 January 2015

Preventing liver disease

Many acquired liver diseases can be prevented by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle and avoiding drugs and alcohol.


In the case of congenital liver disease, all that can be done is to treat symptoms as they arise.

But much can be done to prevent liver disease that is the result of a viral infection, or alcohol and drug abuse, or diet choices.

Here are some things that can be done to prevent liver disease caused by the above-mentioned things:

1. Maintaining a healthy weight

Fat accumulation in the liver because of an unhealthy diet can cause serious liver damage. It is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and often affects people who are overweight or obese, according to the journal Today’s Dietitian. Weight loss is recommended, as are regular exercise and a healthy, low-fat, high fibre diet.

2.Excellent hygiene

Good hygiene habits will go a long way to preventing hepatitis A. The virus is spread by coming into contact with infected faeces. It is essential to wash your hands after going to the toilet, and after changing a baby’s nappy. You also need to wash your hands before working with food. Boil your drinking water if you are not sure that it is clean.

3. Vaccinations

You can be "vaccinated" against hepatitis by being given an injection of donated blood that contains immunoglobulins or antibodies to the hepatitis A and B viruses. This is not effective if you have already been infected. A vaccine against hepatitis A is also now available and is often used as a preventative mechanism for staff in day-care centres or in health settings.

4. Avoid close contact

Hepatitis B and C are blood-borne viruses. Hepatitis B is particularly infectious. Close contact (rough play amongst children, direct contact with the blood of an infected person, sharing of razors, unsterile tattooing instruments, sharing of needles among drug abusers, from mother to baby, unsafe sex) must be avoided in order to prevent infection with both hepatitis B and C.

5. Avoid paracetamol overdose

 Paracetamol is the most frequently used over-the-counter painkiller, according to Dr Grigori Rychkov from the University of Adelaide. The study was published in the PNAS Journal. He mentions that acetaminophen (paracetamol) overdose is the most common cause of liver failure. It is essential to stick to the recommended dosages of this medication, and not to take any medication without consulting your doctor. Medication and alcohol should never be mixed.

6. Drink moderately and avoid drug use

Inflammation in the liver can be caused by heavy drinking over a long period of time. Scarring in the liver can leads to liver cirrhosis. The ability to process alcohol differs from person to person, but moderate intake (1 drinks a day for women with no more than two drinks a day for men with no more than three drinks per day) is recommended by the Canadian Liver Foundation. Illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine and inhalants can cause severe liver injury and should be avoided at all costs.

Reviewed by Dr. Mark W Sonderup, B Pharm, MB ChB, FCP (SA). Senior Specialist, Division of Hepatology, Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town (January 2015).

Read more:
Liver disease deaths up 25% in the UK
Liver cancer breakthrough
Breaking the cycle of obesity, inflammation and disease

Image: Male liver anatomy with digestive organs from Shutterstock


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