Less booze, more good fats: Top tips for a healthy liver

It’s an organ so vital we can’t survive without it. So what can you do to keep your liver in the best shape possible?

Between poor diet, alcohol, medication, some viruses and other health conditions, our livers often take a beating.

Fortunately, in most cases the damage can be reversed, largely through diet and lifestyle changes, if it’s addressed early,

But for those who don’t take action, there can be serious long-term health consequences, such as cirrhosis – a permanent scarring of the liver that’s often associated with alcohol abuse or hepatitis.

Why the liver is one of our most important organs

Liver specialist Dr Nathan Connelly says the liver has multiple functions and helps keep us alive.

He says all the blood that flows out of the gut goes through the liver first, before returning to the heart.

“The liver filters out nutrients, packages them and sends them on to the rest of the body,” Dr Connelly, of Liver Scan Australia, says.

It produces proteins that help our bodies form clots after injury, stop bleeding and maintain normal blood volume.

“The liver is also the major organ that metabolises drugs and normal toxic substances as they build up in the body and then excretes them,” he says.

Why your liver health might be out of whack

Dr Connelly says the liver can be harmed by toxins (including alcohol) and medications, as well as viruses such as hepatitis B and C.

Other conditions like autoimmune hepatitis, fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes can also do damage.

“There are also a number of rarer inherited conditions such as haemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease that can harm the liver,” Dr Connelly says.

Worried about your liver?

If you’re concerned about your liver health, Dr Connelly advises talking to your GP first.

“From there a liver doctor (hepatologist) who specialises in liver disease may be needed,” he says.

According to Dr Connelly, the most important thing about liver health is recognising that it’s a problem.

“Liver function tests are useful, as are ultrasounds and transient elastography (FibroScan),” he says.

How to keep your liver healthy

Dietitian Anthea Talliopoulos says when it comes to keeping your liver in good shape, a healthy diet and lifestyle – including sticking to alcohol guidelines – is a great starting point.

“Another one would be to get a balance of healthy fats into our diet,” Anthea says.

“Even getting oily fish in two to three times a week is really beneficial.”

That includes fish such as sardines, mackerel, trout and salmon, which are all high in omega-3.

If you don’t eat fish, other sources of omega-3 include chia seeds, hemp seeds and flax seeds, she says.

Diet tips for liver health

A handful of nuts each day is also good for your liver, as is extra virgin olive oil and filling your plate with vegetables of all colours.

“If we get different colours on the plate in our meals, that’s going to give us more nutritional variety,” Anthea says.

“It’s going to be better for our liver functions, and our overall health too.”

If you want to keep it simple, following a Mediterranean-style diet is an easy way to ensure you maintain a healthy weight and keep your liver in fine form, she says.

Considering paying for a liver “detox” plan?

Don’t, Anthea says, as that’s what our livers do naturally anyway.

Other things to avoid or limit:

  • Cigarettes
  • Processed foods
  • Sugars
  • Fatty meats

Anthea recommends you go for skinless chicken, and trim the fat off red meat, which you should limit to a few times a week.

Better yet, switch the red meat for legumes, bean-based options or fish.

Written by Larissa Ham.