How To Maintain Liver Health While Ageing
- The liver cells are affected by increasing age and show a reduced ability to function. Due to this, the liver is unable to withstand stress and tends to develop inflammation or get affected by oxidative stress.
- Besides ageing, other factors that may increase the risk of liver disease among the elderly include alcohol consumption, eating an unhealthy diet, viral hepatitis, exposure to environmental toxins and the effects of medications.
- The signs and symptoms of liver disease among the elderly are the same as in other age groups and include fatigue, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, etc.
- By making lifestyle changes and taking medications and supplements carefully, you can take care of your liver health while ageing.
As we age, our bodies undergo a myriad of changes that can have a profound impact on our overall health and wellbeing. One of the most significant changes that occur is a decline in the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis, which can lead to dysfunction and an increased risk of chronic disease. This is particularly true for the liver, which plays a critical role in many essential bodily functions. While the liver is known for its remarkable regenerative power, it too is susceptible to age-related changes that can compromise its function and increase the risk of liver disease.
With age, the liver tends to become less efficient in performing its functions and is also more susceptible to damage from various factors like long-term medication use, alcohol consumption, and underlying medical conditions. Over time, this can lead to a decline in liver health and an increased risk of liver disease, which can have serious and potentially life-threatening consequences. So, you must take steps to maintain liver health as you age through lifestyle changes, regular check-ups, and medical interventions as needed.
Which factors affect liver health
One of the primary reasons for the high prevalence of liver diseases among the elderly is changes in cell structure and functioning. These changes affect the liver’s ability to defend itself against injury and inflammation and may cause an accumulation of fat (as seen in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).
With age, some blockage of ducts may also be seen, giving rise to conditions like cholestasis.
Besides this, a few other factors that may affect liver health among the elderly are:
- Alcohol consumption: Alcohol and liver health are intricately linked. Excessive consumption of alcohol is a known causative factor that leads to liver damage and increases the risk of liver disease, including alcoholic fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. The risk is higher for people who drink heavily over an extended period.
- Obesity: Obesity and related conditions, like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which may progress to liver inflammation and scarring.
- Unhealthy diet: Eating foods that are rich in saturated and trans fats, sugar, and salt can contribute to liver disease risk factors such as obesity, NAFLD, and insulin resistance.
- Viral hepatitis: Immunity reduces as you age, making them prone to infections. Chronic infections, including hepatitis B and C, can damage the liver and increase the risk of liver cancer among the elderly.
- Medications and supplements: Certain medications, such as acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and supplements can cause liver damage when taken in excess or in combination with other substances.
- Environmental toxins: Exposure to environmental toxins, including pollutants, cleaning products and pesticides, can cause liver damage and increase the risk of liver disease.
- Genetics: Genetic factors can affect liver health and increase the risk of liver diseases, such as hemochromatosis, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, and Wilson's disease.
What are the typical signs and symptoms of liver conditions?
Liver conditions may range from mild and temporary to severe, and some can be life-threatening. To prevent the progression of liver disease from causing severe complications, it is essential to know the common signs and symptoms of liver problems and report them to your doctor at the earliest.
A few common signs and symptoms of liver disease include:
- Jaundice (The yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes can indicate a build-up of bilirubin, a waste product that the liver usually eliminates)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swelling in ankles and legs
- Nausea and vomiting
- Itchy skin ( An accumulation of bile acids in the skin can cause intense itching, especially in the hands and feet)
- Changes in urine and stool (Dark urine and pale or clay-coloured stools indicate that the liver is not functioning correctly)
How to maintain a healthy liver while ageing?
While you cannot control the ageing and liver function changes due to it, you can do a lot of things to ensure your liver is healthy. Here are a few tips for maintaining healthy liver while ageing:
1. Lifestyle changes
- Follow a healthy, balanced diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats can help keep your liver healthy. At the same time, you must avoid or limit your consumption of processed foods, foods high in sugar, high saturated fat foods, and consumption of excessive salt. Maintain adequate hydration.
- Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce inflammation, and improve liver function. You must try and get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day or a total of 150 minutes spread out during the week.
- Limit alcohol consumption: Alcohol is a major contributor to liver disease. So, limiting alcohol intake or avoiding it completely is good for your liver.
- Quit smoking: Smoking is a known risk factor for liver disease and causes oxidative stress and inflammation; quitting it can help reduce the risk of liver disease.
- Manage stress: Chronic stress is known to cause inflammation, which can harm liver health. Try stress-busting activities like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing to protect your liver.
2. Be mindful of medications and supplements; avoid toxins
Some medications and supplements can be harmful to the liver. Connect with your healthcare provider before taking any new medications or supplements, especially if you have a history of liver problems. Common medications like painkillers and fever medications are the most harmful to your liver. Toxins can affect liver cells. Be cautious while using products like cleaning agents, paints, pesticides etc.
Management of liver conditions in the elderly
The treatment for liver diseases depends upon the liver condition and its cause. While lifestyle modifications and medications are usually the first line of treatment for liver diseases among the elderly, other treatment options include:
- Surgery: Surgery may be necessary in some cases of liver disease, such as for the removal of liver tumours or to treat liver cancer. Liver surgery can involve partial or complete removal of the liver or transplantation.
- Liver transplantation: Liver transplantation is a treatment option for people with end-stage liver disease or acute liver failure. The procedure involves replacing the diseased liver with a healthy liver from a deceased or living donor.
As we age, it is important to prioritise liver health to reduce the risk of liver disease and maintain overall well-being. Regular check-ups with healthcare providers can help detect liver problems early and prevent or manage the liver disease.
Lifestyle modifications such as eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption, avoiding smoking, and managing stress can help promote liver health. Medical interventions may be necessary in some cases of liver disease. It is important to consult with healthcare providers to determine the best action for an individual's situation.
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