Symptom-free, dangerous liver problems

diagram showing human liver
August 15, 2016 (Updated: December 11, 2017)
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Recent news has me worried—particularly about my “Baby Boomer” friends, those born between 1945 and 1965.

It’s nothing that can’t be fixed—but I’m certain many Boomers don’t even know anything’s wrong.

The news is about two kinds of liver disease: hepatitis C and fatty liver disease.

Hepatitis C killed more Americans in 2014—nearly 20,000—than any other infectious disease, including heavy hitters HIV and tuberculosis.

Some experts estimate the true number to be closer to 30,000.

Why Boomers are more at risk

If you were born between 1945 and 1965, you’re five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than other adults in your cohort.

Why?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us that up until 1992, even the best screening for common procedures like injections and blood transfusions were unable to spot hepatitis warning signs.

Even today, hepatitis C is notorious for its lack of symptoms, hence the designation “silent killer.” So millions of Boomers could be infected without knowing it.

What is hepatitis C?

This viral infection that can cause inflammation of the liver, crippling its ability to do its essential job of cleansing toxins from our bodies.

It can lead to liver cancer, to cirrhosis—a chronic infection that can cause serious scarring of the liver—and even liver failure.

How do you know if you have hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C symptoms, when they appear, include:

  • Acute infection
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite or nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)

In most people with healthy immune systems, symptoms last 6–8 weeks and recede.  But diabetics, heavy drinkers, and obese people are at higher risk for the disease progressing, rather than receding.

And remember, this is a silent killer. You can have the virus with no visible symptoms for years…giving the disease a very bad running start.

Also remember that even without symptoms, you can still infect someone with the virus.

How is hepatitis C transmitted?

Hepatitis C is spread mainly through infected blood and other body fluids, e.g., during unsafe sex or sharing personal items—toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers—that might have traces of infected blood.

Knowing that, you know how to prevent transmission: safe sex and no sharing of personal items.

The other liver killers

Fatty liver disease is sometimes an early development of hepatitis C but can live its own independently destructive life, even if you’re not infected with hepatitis C.

Like hepatitis C, it can be asymptomatic for decades. But it’s stealthily and steadily doing its damage.

How fatty liver disease begins

A normal liver is up to 10 percent fat. As with all your other organs, fat is an essential fuel source.

When the fuel tank is topped off, but more fat than your body can burn or eliminate remains in your system, the excess fat finds places to build up. Fat is smart.

Hello, liver, I’m coming in.

The excess fat both slows your liver’s normal functions and irritates it, causing inflammation. Your liver protects itself by forming scar tissue around the inflammation. Too much of that and you’re on your way to cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure.

Fatty liver disease symptoms

When symptoms do come, they include:

  • Enlarged liver
  • Dark patches on neck or under arms
  • Pain in the center or right upper part of your belly
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of weight or appetite
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion, poor judgment, trouble concentrating

We don’t know (yet) what causes fatty liver disease, though it seems some people have a genetic predisposition. Heavy alcohol consumption is often a factor, but non-drinkers can also have the disease. And we see it more often in the obese or overweight population—who often have high cholesterol or diabetes, which always opens the door to other health problems.

Can you avoid, prevent, or cure fatty liver disease and hepatitis C?

Yes, yes, and yes. But only if you’re acutely aware of the symptoms I’ve described, and you act on them.

If you’re a Boomer, or think you have hepatitis C or fatty liver symptoms, get checked right away. Neither of the above? Get checked during your next regular doctor visit.

If you test positive, do the following to stop the damage:

  • Avoid sugar. Any sugar not used for short-term energy becomes dangerous triglycerides stored in your liver.
  • Exercise. It improves your body’s efficiency, and helps clean out toxins.
  • Drink more water. Your whole body needs it, and almost certainly doesn’t get enough.
  • Eliminate processed foods. They’re among the gravest threats to your liver.
  • Avoid alcohol. It’s a prime driver of liver problems. Research shows that six alcohol-free weeks gets rid of excess fat.
  • Give your liver time off with a cleansing fast once or twice a week. Just 24 hours of only water or juice will help it repair and rejuvenate.

Safe, natural liver supplements for health and protection

Several liver supplements can also ensure you’re preventing, stopping, or undoing liver damage.

Milk thistle 200 mg three times daily

Milk thistle is a heroic healer and protector that’s been used for centuries. Mainstream medicine is in “study, wait, and see” mode. I’m in “do it and get healthier” mode.

In a study of 16 patients, for example, who weren’t responding to Big Pharma’s interferon and ribavirin therapies, milk thistle significantly reduced the presence of hepatitis generally—and after 14 days of therapy, made it undetectable in nearly half of the subjects.

Milk thistle’s active ingredient is a flavonoid called silymarin, which has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and protects the liver and other organs against toxins.  When it was found that some ubiquitous drugs, acetaminophen (Tylenol), for example, can cause liver damage in high doses, milk thistle became a go-to healing solution.

Other studies link milk thistle with improved liver function and increased survival rates among people with chronic hepatitis.

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Curcumin 500 mg twice daily

Curcumin never ceases to amaze those who know it as a powerful, multi-tasking healer and protector against a variety of diseases, including hepatitis C and fatty liver disease. It has documented anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-tumor, and antioxidant properties.

Impressive resume, no? That’s partly the reason why I recommend curcumin supplementation to all of my patients, healthy or not.

Curcumin has powerful benefits much needed by people with fatty liver syndrome. In one study of such people, those who took a curcumin supplement for 8 weeks experienced:

  • Reduced levels of liver fat
  • A reduction in body weight
  • Reduced liver enzyme levels, if they were above normal
  • Reduced cholesterol
  • Improved ultrasound results
  • Reduced waist circumference

Every one of those positive results puts a liver patient on the road to a longer, healthier life.

Vitamin E 400 IU daily

Vitamin E is well known, and well proven, as an antioxidant.

To test whether the mighty E can reduce liver damage, in a two-year study of adults with advanced fatty liver disease, researchers gave participants:

  • A high dose of vitamin E [800 international units (IU)] plus placebo
  • The same dose of vitamin E along with a Big Pharma diabetes drug

The outcome?

Liver function improved more in the E-plus-placebo group (43 percent) than in the E-plus-diabetes drug group.

Takeaway on that?  All by itself, vitamin E made diseased livers become healthier livers. It undid the damage. It healed the wounds.

Mighty E, indeed. E is for epic.

Phosphatidylcholine (PC) 900 mg twice daily

PC occurs naturally in eggs, soybeans, mustard, sunflowers, and other foods.  It’s been shown to help reduce lipids that can lead to a fatty liver while repairing and healing your liver.

Soybeans, mustard, and sunflower aren’t your everyday menu items.  And given the overload of bad health bringers, even a healthy diet is unlikely to provide enough PC, but a supplement can ensure you’re getting enough of this valuable, liver-healing nutrient.

Probiotics One dose containing at least 10 billion live organisms daily, with food.

Our intestinal tract is home to billions of good bacteria that are absolute necessities for a healthy immune system, proper digestion, and much more.

I’m not surprised at all that research is proving that these tiny gut nutrient absorption, energy production guardians can prevent the first step toward liver disease—fat accumulating in the liver. Look for a product containing at least five strains of bacteria, preferably microencapsulated or enterically coated to ensure delivery to the lower gut.

Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) 2–3 doses of 1,000 mg daily

I recommend omega-3 fish oil for all of my patients, healthy or not.  It’s that important—for both prevention and cure of just about any disease you can name.

Some juries are still out on whether omega-3s are proven beyond a scientific doubt to protect the liver. For my part, I’ve seen excellent results in my patients trying to lose weight using omega-3 supplements to reduce excess fats and high blood glucose levels.  It only makes sense, as omega-3-rich fish oil is as effective an anti-inflammatory as there is. Read labels and make sure you’re getting 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA (combined), not just 1,000 mg of fish oil.

Dandelion

Dandelion is a natural diuretic that increases the amount and frequency of urine leaving your body. The urine, of course, isn’t just water—it’s water plus the toxins it picks up as it flows through you, including excess sugar, sodium, and many others that can stress your liver. So the more you urinate, the more toxins you get rid of, and the healthier your liver. Lots of vitamins A, B, C and D, as well as potassium and zinc, are an added bonus.

If you know that it’s growing in a safe, pesticide-clean environment, you can pick and use both the roots and leaves to make an incredibly healthful, bracing tea.  Or get teabags of dried powdered dandelion, or a supplement and follow label directions.

Holy basil to taste

Basil comes in a dozen colors and flavor profiles. The holy version is spicier and more peppery than the others—which accounts for its revered status in Thai and other heat-loving cuisines—and also its extra health kick. The heat brings on the endorphins and the sweat, both great for health.

Along with the heat, holy basil has a wealth of:

  • Vitamins A and C
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Chlorophyll

And just as important for liver health are its potent antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and especially its anti-inflammatory properties.

When and how much you use depends on what you’re making.  Go with what tastes good—you can’t overdose.

Don’t worry, but hurry

I hope this moves everyone to get tested—Baby Boomers especially.  With diseases this dangerous, and with no guarantee you’ll ever even see a symptom, you can’t just wait and see.  I urge you to go to your doctor and see, the sooner the better.

But remember what I’ve told you—in early stages, hepatitis C and fatty liver disease can be prevented by diet and lifestyle changes.  If already present, they can be stopped in their tracks, and any present damage actually undone.

As always, get your doctor’s OK when making any lifestyle or dietary changes, including taking a supplement.

Take good care.

 

References

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  • Emmanuel Masha

    Thanks very much indeed for such an informative article on the liver, much appreciated. I will live by the advice you provided to keep my liver in a good state. Dr Connealy, I have lost my father a while back and I am told that the doctors said that he has passed on due to liver problem, and some of the symptoms of liver problems you have mentioned in this article is what have seen from my father, please help me with a response to this question, “can liver problem passed from one generation to another”?

    Thanks and kind regards

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