The liver is an essential and vital organ which carries out numerous tasks. It is thus important to maintain a healthy liver, which will in turn allow us to live well.
There are three key functions that the liver is mainly involved in, according to Dr. Kieron Lim, senior consultant in gastroenterology and hepatology at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. Firstly, the liver is involved with making key proteins such as albumin and bile, which “helps us to digest fat that we consume with our diets as well as clotting factors to maintain health,” Dr. Lim explained.
Secondly, it serves as a “storage organ.” Essential vitamins, minerals, and glycogen or fuel that our bodies would need are stored in the liver and mobilized when required, said Dr. Lim.
Furthermore, the liver acts as a filter. “It breaks down and metabolizes the food that we eat, to the carbohydrates, the proteins and the fat, as well as detoxifies and breaks down chemicals and drugs that somebody makes,” Dr. Lim explained.
Given its role in digestion, our diet and lifestyle hence matter in keeping our liver healthy.
“A low-fat diet is recommended and will aid in keeping your cholesterol levels in check and prevent or reduce the chance of developing fatty liver,” Dr. Lim said. Fatty liver disease is a condition where there is an accumulation of fat in one’s liver.
In addition, Dr. Lim recommended exercising moderation in alcohol consumption for individuals with no existing or no preexisting liver disease. “The recommended daily amount of alcohol consumption is two standard drinks for men and one standard drink for females,” he said.
“For individuals with liver disease or underlying cirrhosis, it is best to abstain totally from alcohol,” he added.
Dr. Lim also stressed the importance of exercise. The recommendations for every individual is to engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.
A sedentary lifestyle and consuming alcohol, as well as suffering from diabetes, high cholesterol, or being overweight are risk factors for fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease is currently affects 20% to 40% of individuals globally, and represent a major health burden according to Dr. Lim.
Apart from fatty liver disease, viral hepatitis, especially Hepatitis B and C, represent a significant cause of chronic liver disease. Hepatitis B affects up to 300 million people around the world and 75% of HBV carriers are concentrated here in Asia, said Dr. Lim. Vertical transmission from mother to child is the most common reason among those affected by Hepatitis B in this region. Meanwhile, Hepatitis C, which affects 50 million globally, is typically associated with high-risk behaviors such as intravenous drug use and transfusion-related infections like contaminated needles or byproducts.
In the last two decades, there have been numerous advancements in diagnostics and therapeutics for liver diseases, according to Dr. Lim. He highlighted the therapeutic advancements and “game-changer” in Hepatitis C treatment. Compared to earlier treatments which involved weekly injections for up to 1 year, the new direct acting anti-viral tablets have made treatment of HCV “shorter and less painful” and improved the chance of cure from 30% to over 95%. “Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore has both the specialist as well as the technology to treat patients with complex liver conditions,” Dr. Lim shared. “Gastroenterologists and hepatologists like myself work alongside liver surgeons, GI (gastrointestinal) oncologists, interventional radiologists, and intensive care physicians to provide multidisciplinary care for liver patients.”
Dr. Lim recommends healthy individuals to undertake regular health screening with laboratory tests and liver imaging. For those who have risk factors for liver disease or are concerned about their liver health, he recommends consulting with liver specialists for a more detailed medical evaluation
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