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How to Tell if Your Liver is Healthy

How do you know if your liver is functioning fine? Pharmacist Rachel Gan sheds the light on how your liver functions and what you can do to keep it healthy.

How the Liver Works

The liver is the largest internal organ in our body, weighing around 1.25 to 1.5kg (about 2 iPads put together but slightly heavier) in an adult. It sits strategically on the right side of our abdomen behind our ribs. It allows all the blood from your gastric system (such as stomach, intestine, colon, and pancreas) and spleen to travel into the liver via the portal vein for detoxification and filtration (see pic below).

Source: imageradiology.blogspot.com

Source: imageradiology.blogspot.com

In other words, after we have eaten our nasi lemak and drank our teh tarik, they are first broken down in the gut and absorbed into the bloodstream. The bloodstream will then take these products to the liver for processing before they are really ‘consumed’ by the body. Therefore, the best way to protect our liver is by observing healthy diet and simple lifestyle, which is to:

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid processed foods as much as possible
  • Drink lots of water
  • Say no to drugs and limit use of alcohol
  • Vaccinate for hepatitis A and B
  • Be aware that you can contract Hepatitis C via infected needles or unprotected sex

How to Check if Your Liver is Healthy

In order to diagnose or verify whether your liver is functioning at optimal capacity, the best way is to perform a simple blood test, which is the Liver Function Tests (LFTs). However, it can be challenging to interpret the LFTs unless you are trained to do so.

Sample of a lab test for healthy liver

Sample of a lab test for healthy liver (reference of healthy range on right side)

Nevertheless, here is a simple guide to what the sciency terms mean should you want to self-examinate:

  • ALT (Alanine Aminotransferase) – Useful for detecting viral hepatitis. If there is any damage or injury to the liver, the ALT levels will rise.
  • ALP (Alkaline Phosphatase) – Rises if the bile ducts are blocked.
  • AST (Aspartate Aminotransferase) – Similar to ALT but less specific for liver disease.
  • Bilirubin – Bilirubin is produced by the breakdown of red blood cells in the body. When bilirubin is high, there is yellow pigmentation of the skin.
  • Albumin – Albumin is a protein produced only by liver cells. It measures the main proteins made by the liver and helps to gauge the nutritional status.
  • GGT (Gamma Glutamyl Transferase) – Useful for detecting the problems in the bile duct. GGT is very sensitive and rises when there is any indication of liver disease. GGT levels can fluctuate with the intake of different drugs, including alcohol.

Alternatively, you can also watch out for the signs of liver problems (cirrhosis): 

  • Low energy levels
  • Poor appetite which may accompanied by nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss and/or loss of muscle mass particularly in the upper body
  • Tenseness of liver area
  • Small spider-like blood vessels on the chest, back, or arms
  • Red blotches on the palm
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Vagueness and poor concentration
  • Thick square fingertips
  • Fluid accumulation around abdomen and/or ankles
  • Enlarged breast and shrunken testes I men
  • Loss of menstrual periods in women
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Lower tolerance to alcohol and drugs
  • Higher sensitivity to prescription medicines
  • Thinning of bones, bone fractures
  • Jaundice -yellowing of skin and whites of the eyes and darkening of urine

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How else do you think we can take care of our livers? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

 

Written by: Rachel Gan MPharm (UK), RPH, MMPS, Clinical pharmacist, proprietor of Alive Pharmacy Sdn Bhd.
Rachel Gan is a registered pharmacist with over five years of experience in both community and hospital settings in the UK and Malaysia. Trained as a pharmacist in the UK, she strongly believes in the importance of patient education and counselling. She believes if patients are well-informed and understand their health conditions, the results of therapy will be greatly enhanced. She is the proprietor of ALIVE PHARMACY in Kota Kemuning, Shah Alam.

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