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Cirrhosis: 8 Natural Tips for Prevention & Management
March 10, 2017
Did you know that your liver is your largest internal organ (roughly the size of a football!)? Your hard-working liver, weighing roughly three to four pounds in total, sits just under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen. It’s responsible for crucial functions like digesting your food, storing energy, and removing toxins from your body.
Few of us live in unpolluted environments and eat completely “clean” diets. As a result, many people experience a constant influx of toxins coming from the air, soil, water and food supply. These toxins can all cause your liver to become overworked and in need of a serious liver detox. In fact, a poorly working liver causes a whole range of symptoms that can affect nearly every system in the body. These include many symptoms that people don’t usually associate with a failing liver.
Some minor-to-moderate liver problems can be effectively managed or treated with lifestyle modifications alone. Losing weight, cleaning up your diet and stopping alcohol use can all help. But this isn’t always the case with cirrhosis of the liver. In fact, cirrhosis is a much more serious and advanced form of liver damage. Unfortunately, there is no cure for cirrhosis of the liver. However, there are treatments available that can limit risk for liver failure and other complications. (1)
What are some ways you can help prevent liver cirrhosis and other forms of liver disease from developing? When it comes to liver health, first and foremost eating a healthy diet is key. Your liver is one of the hardest-working organs. This is due to the enormous energy it takes to digest foods daily — especially when you’re eating a toxin-heavy, low-nutrient diet. Exercising regularly and reducing toxin exposure by limiting the amount of alcohol, medications, pesticides, herbicides and hormone-disruptors you consume are also beneficial for keeping your liver healthy.
What Is Cirrhosis of the Liver?
Cirrhosis of the liver is a serious progressive disease in which scar tissue develops in the liver. As a result, it causes dysfunction that impacts essential processes like: blood flow, elimination of toxins and waste from the body, hormone levels, and digestion of certain essential nutrients.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the most common reasons why dangerous scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue include alcohol abuse, a history of fatty liver disease and viruses such as hepatitis. Other factors like consuming a poor diet, genetics or a family history of liver disease, and having high cholesterol levels may also contribute to liver dysfunction and risk for cirrhosis. (2)
Cirrhosis is a condition in which the liver slowly deteriorates. Unfortunately, if liver disease worsens enough to be considered “advanced stage cirrhosis,” liver failure, then liver cancer, might develop. At this point the condition, might be fatal and transplantation is usually considered the only curative option for most patients. But, luckily, lifestyle changes and some pharmacological therapies can help halt progression and even reverse cirrhosis to some extent. (3)
Common Symptoms of Cirrhosis & Complications
Many don’t notice any symptoms of liver damage or cirrhosis at first. Some of the common signs and symptoms of cirrhosis and other forms of liver disease include: (4)
- Lack of energy, or fatigue.
- Loss of appetite.
- Jaundice symptoms including skin and eyes that appear yellow.
- Digestive issues like nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and cramping.
- Cognitive issues like confusion, disorientation, and mood or personality changes.
- Swelling in the legs and ankles.
- Skin problems like feeling itchy.
- Urine that’s dark in color (brown or yellow).
- Pale or dark tar-colored stool.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Changes in weight, usually loss due to less appetite.
- Tendency to bruise the skin easily.
Stages of Liver Cirrhosis
Liver disease is a serious problem that affects millions of people in the United States each year alone. The American Liver Foundation reports that liver disease affects one out of every 10 Americans. In fact, it’s one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States each year. (5) There are more than 100 types of different kinds of liver diseases including: fatty liver syndrome, jaundice, cirrhosis, genetic disorders, and various viruses like hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Cirrhosis of the liver means major life expectancy shortening. Sadly, the median survival time of patients with advanced cirrhosis is 1-2 years. (6) In its earlier stages, liver disease and even cirrhosis might not cause any symptoms at all. Because of this, causes or risk factors that are making the condition even worse might not be addressed. Early in the disease, symptoms like low energy, skin changes, swelling/edema and nutrient deficiencies might be the first to appear. Over time, if the liver becomes very damaged, it develops scarring that’s indicative of cirrhosis. This can eventually lead to liver failure, which can be fatal, although not everyone with liver disease will wind up becoming this sick. Complications due to cirrhosis can occur as scarring continues to worsen, which include:
- Portal hypertension: Fluid buildup leading to edema, risk for infections, enlarged blood vessels, enlarged spleen, mental confusion and other issues.
- Edema and ascites: Bacterial peritonitis, a serious infection.
- Varices: Enlarged blood vessels in the esophagus, stomach, or both, which can lead to bursting and deadly bleeding.
- Spleen problems that cause blood changes: Changes in blood cells and platelets in the blood.
- Hepatic encephalopathy: Toxins accumulating in the brain, which can cause cognitive changes.
- Metabolic bone diseases: Leading to changes in mineral levels and osteopenia, or bone loss.
- Gallstones and bile duct stones.
- Sensitivity to medications.
- Chronic conditions like insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
- Weakened immune system & higher risk for infection.
- Higher risk for kidney and lung failure.
- Potentially liver cancer: Liver cancer is common in people with cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis Causes and Risk Factors
Most people associate liver disease with alcoholism. But, anything your body can’t break down and use for energy immediately ends up in the liver for detoxification. Because of this, your liver needs all the help it can get. When you overindulge in alcohol, chemicals, drugs, fried foods, processed or refined foods (white flour, conventional dairy, white sugar and low quality animal products, for example), your liver gets heavily taxed and might not be able to keep up. The result is scarring and loss of healthy liver cells (in other words, cirrhosis).
Risk factors for cirrhosis include: (7)
- History of fatty liver disease.
- Drinking too much alcohol.
- Drug use and smoking.
- A poor diet (low in things like veggies, herbs and fruit, but high in processed foods, sugar, salt and saturated fat).
- History of diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
- High cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Chronic viruses and infection.
- High amounts of exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants.
- Taking certain medications.
- Genetic factors.
- History of other diseases that damage, destroy, or block the bile ducts and interfere with processes of the digestive organs.
Avoiding a highly processed diet and too much alcohol are two cirrhosis risk factors that you have a lot of control over. The reason vegetables (and making vegetable juices) are so important for your liver is because they provide crucial electrolytes, phytonutrients, enzymes and antioxidants. Vegetables and certain fruits (especially citrus like lemons and limes) also help to reduce acid levels in the body, which creates a more friendly pH balance and can prevent low potassium levels that are linked to liver damage. Additionally, these whole plant foods provide much needed dietary fiber that helps support a healthy digestive tract and gut environment. Regulating digestive function is crucial for liver health because producing a daily bowel movement is how you eliminate toxins from your body once the liver produces them.
Conventional Treatment for Cirrhosis
Treatment for cirrhosis will depend on what’s causing it in the first place and how severe the condition has become. Doctors often use a combination of treatment methods including medications and lifestyle changes. While there is no “cure” for cirrhosis, there are a wide variety of management techniques used to control the symptoms of cirrhosis:
- Eliminating alcohol and drug intake.
- Diuretics to control edema (fluid retention) and ascites (fluid in the abdomen).
- Eating a less processed diet, increasing nutrient intake and reducing salt intake.
- Weight loss strategies and those used to control cholesterol levels.
- Cognitive therapies and sometimes medications to improve mood or mental dysfunction.
- Laxatives to improve elimination of toxins.
- In the case of hepatitis, use of medications like steroids or antiviral drugs.
- In severe cases, due to liver failure, liver transplantation may be needed.
8 Natural Ways to Cope With Liver Cirrhosis
1. Regularly Try To “Cleanse The Liver”
Many ancient populations, including the Chinese, considered the liver to be the most important organ — hence the word “live” in its name. If you haven’t been eating a vegetable-based diet, regularly getting exercise, and making sure to limit your alcohol and toxin exposure — then just like most people, you might be in need of a liver cleanse.
To keep your liver properly filtering toxins from the food, water, and air you come into contact with, here’s a list of some specific foods that can help:
- dark green, leafy vegetables
- steamed and raw vegetables, or drinking vegetable juices
- citrus fruits
- sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados (great sources of potassium)
- milk thistle seed (tea or extract)
- turmeric (spice or tablet)
- “superfoods” including spirulina, chlorella, and wheatgrass
- probiotic foods and supplements
- dandelion root tea
- burdock root
- black seed oil
- fresh squeezed lemon juice
- A detoxing tea or dandelion tea
- extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil
- raw apple cider vinegar
- beef liver and other organ meats
And here are foods to avoid that can add stress to your liver:
- overly spicy foods
- fried foods
- refined carbohydrates, including those containing gluten
- too much caffeine (black tea, coffee, soda)
- rich, complicated meals (combining too many different food types at once)
2. Eat An Anti-Inflammatory Diet, Focusing On Organic Foods
Just like chronic alcohol abuse can cause fatty liver disease, so can poor dietary choices (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease). In fact, a diet high in low-quality saturated fats, fried foods, chemicals and processed foods can raise the risk for liver disease. As a result, high levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood are two serious risk factors for liver damage and cirrhosis.
Regularly consuming enough (ideally organic) vegetables and other whole foods is the key to maintaining a healthy liver. It’s important to eat a variety of raw vegetables for the most liver benefits, ideally around 4-5 servings of fresh, organic vegetables everyday. If this seems overwhelming, you can try juicing fresh vegetables (just watch the sugar content!). If you already suffer from liver damage of any kind, juicing vegetables to make a homemade detox drink is a great option because it makes the vegetables easier to digest and doesn’t require the production of as much bile.
To put less strain on your liver, limit the saturated fats you eat to only high quality, grass-fed, cage-free or pasture-raised animal products, since conventionally raised (farm raised) animals tend to store the most toxins in their fat. Focus on making your fat sources very high quality ones — things like coconut oil, nuts, seeds and wild seafood. In general, the less foods you eat that come out of a package or box, the better. That’s because “convenience foods” are loaded with chemical preservatives, fillers, synthetic flavors and so on. For example added nitrates are commonly found in packaged meats and are known to tax the liver, as is sugar and hydrogenated oils (trans-fats) found in commercial baked goods.
As often as you can, include these liver-supporting veggies in your meals:
- leafy greens like kale, spinach, dandelion, watercress
- Brussels sprouts or cabbage
- herbs including parsley, mint, cilantro, basil
Try to purchase organic foods as much as possible. Your liver pays the price for a diet that’s high in chemicals, pesticides and other toxins. For this reason, choosing to buy as many organic foods as you can is important for preventing liver problems and potentially liver disease. Just by focusing on buying organic varieties of the toxin-heavy “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables, you can dramatically lower your intake of toxins. This is a helpful list of the types of produce that are most contaminated with toxins, and those that are the least contaminated.
3. Reduce Your Alcohol Intake, Quit Smoking & Avoid Other Drugs
High alcohol intake is most closely tied to fatty liver disease, which is the build-up of fat in liver cells that causes swelling and cirrhosis. While moderate amounts of alcohol can sometimes be good for you if you’re otherwise healthy, chronic intake of high amounts of alcohol causes damage to many organs, the liver being the most affected. Drinking high amounts of alcohol is one of the fastest ways to damage or destroy liver cells — and alcohol combined with prescription or over-the-counter medications, cigarettes or a poor diet is even more harmful.
Limit your alcohol intake to the “healthy” range for most adults, which is no more than 1-2 drinks daily (or about 30 grams, considered the “safe” amount). If you have any known liver problems, or are someone who can afford to detoxify your system for other reasons, having even less than this is a good idea.
4. Support The Liver With Supplements
Supplements, herbs and spices including turmeric, milk thistle, probiotics and ginger root can help produce proper bile and enzymes, sooth the digestive tract, reduce intestinal gas, and lower inflammation:
- Milk Thistle is considered the “king” of detoxifying herbs. It has been used for centuries to help cleanse the liver and eliminate the buildup of heavy metals, prescriptions, pollutants and alcohol.
- Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory that not only aids in digestion, but also helps to restore a healthy blood sugar balance, which supports liver metabolism.
- Recent research also suggests that probiotics can be helpful for liver health because intestinal microbiota play an important role in detoxification and metabolic processes. Altered intestinal permeability (also called leaky gut syndrome) might change the way that the liver functions and can make hepatic disorders worse. In the future, health-promoting microbial strains and probiotic foods likely will be recommended to liver disease patients to help lower harmful interactions and restore the body’s immune responses.
- Many of the foods or supplements listed above are also great sources of much-needed nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin B-6. Potassium-rich foods are especially beneficial because they help to lower systolic blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and reduce triglyceride levels.
5. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Liver disease that’s associated with obesity is now the most prevalent liver disease in Western countries. Obesity can cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and is related to a dramatically higher risk for developing other liver problems, too, in some cases. Metabolic syndrome is the term for a combination of factors including being overweight and having high blood pressure, high blood sugar, too much fat around the waist, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and high triglycerides. These factors all raise the odds of someone suffering from liver damage, not to mention heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Recent research published in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that obese adults have anywhere between 3-15 times the risk for developing liver disease than adults at a healthy weight. (8) That’s because being overweight alters the level of fatty acids and enzymes that your liver produces. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs when the rate of fatty acid uptake and synthesis is greater than the rate of fatty acid oxidation and export. This process is called “steatosis” and the result is an excessive amount of triglycerides are produced by the liver. (9)
Steatosis is associated with harmful changes in glucose, fatty acid and lipoprotein metabolism that can all increase fat-storage (adipose tissue), systemic inflammation, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia and other cardiometabolic risk factors. To lower your odds of having high triglycerides, make sure to keep the amount of sugar and packaged foods you eat low and focus on a nutrient-dense diet made up of whole foods.
6. Reduce Toxin Exposure In Other Ways
We all come into contact daily with various forms of toxins through the air we breath, foods we eat and products we use. Do your best to avoid breathing in or touching toxins, especially by limiting the amount of chemical household, cleaning and beauty products you use. Chemicals found in aerosol products, insecticides, synthetic beauty products, and additives in cigarettes all injure liver cells.
7. Check Your Medications
The liver is responsible for sorting through chemicals in your bloodstream. These include those you intentionally ingest from prescription medications, birth control pills, hormone replacement drugs and others. Many experts believe that a large percentage of common medications are over-prescribed today, or taken incorrectly and mixed with the wrong things — including antibiotics and pain killers. If you do take medications regularly, learn about how they can affect your liver. Carefully follow dosing instructions. Ask your doctor to find out if there are any natural remedies that you could use instead.
8. Prevent Infections & Viruses That Can Damage The Liver
Liver diseases including hepatitis A, B and C are caused by viruses that are transmitted from person to person. These can cause the liver to swell up, develop cirrhosis, not work properly and potentially experience failure. They can even lead to liver cancer and be fatal. Most health authorities state that getting proper vaccinations is the best way to prevent hepatitis A and B. There isn’t a vaccine as of now for hepatitis C.
In fact, the only way to prevent hepatitis C infection is to avoid exposure to blood carrying the virus through prevention methods. These methods include practicing safe sex, not sharing needles, razors, toothbrushes or personal items, and always washing your hands with soap and warm water immediately after using a bathroom or touching someone’s blood.
Precautions When Treating Cirrhosis
Talk to your doctor if you notice any early warning signs of liver damage. Remember that stopping liver damage before it progresses is very important. However, there are often no symptoms of fatty liver disease; you may live with the condition and not realize it. Over time — sometimes it can take years or even decades — some signs may begin to surface. This is exactly the time you want to tackle the root causes. Early symptoms of liver disease include: unexplained fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, weakness, nausea, confusion or trouble concentrating and pain in the center or right upper part of belly.
Final Thoughts on Cirrhosis of the Liver
- Cirrhosis is a serious, late stage of liver disease characterized by tissue scarring within the liver.
- The causes of cirrhosis are the same as other types of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis or other viruses: poor diet, obesity, alcohol abuse and history of metabolic syndrome.
- Symptoms of cirrhosis include swelling, lack of energy skin changes (jaundice), digestive issues and cognitive changes.
- Natural treatments and prevention include preventing viruses, improving your diet, avoiding too much alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight and limiting toxin exposure.