How to Naturally Prevent and Manage Liver Cirrhosis; 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.
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?
Cirrhosis develops when scar tissue replaces normal, healthy tissue in your liver. It happens after the healthy cells are damaged over a long period of time, usually many years.
The scar tissue makes the liver lumpy and hard, and after a while, the organ will start to fail. The scar tissue makes it tough for blood to get through a large vein (the portal vein) that goes into the liver.
When blood backs up into the portal vein, it can get into your spleen and cause trouble in that organ, too.
There’s no cure for cirrhosis except a liver transplant, but you and your doctor can slow cirrhosis down by treating whatever is causing it.
What Causes Cirrhosis?
This disease always develops as a result of other liver conditions or diseases you already have. They include:
Alcohol-related liver disease. Drinking too much alcohol for years on end raises your risk of cirrhosis. It causes fat and inflammation in the liver. The amount of alcohol it takes to hurt the liver is different for everyone. But in general, women shouldn’t have more than one drink a day. Men shouldn’t have more than two.
Viral hepatitis. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by heavy alcohol use, some medications and certain medical conditions. Most often, a virus causes it. Hepatitis C is the most common hepatitis in the United States, followed by hepatitis B. You can get either of these by coming into contact with infected blood. This might happen if you:
- Stick yourself with a needle by accident
- Share needles to inject drugs
- Had a blood transfusion in the past (before the mid-1980s for Hep B, before 1992 for Hep C)
- Have sex with someone who has it
Hepatitis D can also cause cirrhosis. But you can only get this type of hepatitis if you already have hepatitis B.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Fat can build up in your liver even if you don’t drink alcohol. The following things can cause extra fat in your liver:
- Being overweight
- High cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
Autoimmune hepatitis. In some people, the body’s defenses (immune system) go haywire and attack the liver. Doctors think this is probably genetic, meaning it runs in families. Autoimmune hepatitis is more common in women than men.
Bile duct disease or damage. Bile ducts are small tubes that carry bile (a fluid that helps with digestion) from your liver to your small intestine. If the ducts get blocked because of disease or injury, the bile backs up into the liver and can cause cirrhosis.
Gallstones and cystic fibrosis are two conditions that can lead to bile duct damage.
Medications. Some drugs can cause cirrhosis if they’re taken for a very long time.
Risk factors for cirrhosis include:
- 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.
Stages of Cirrhosis
There are two main stages — compensated and decompensated. In compensated cirrhosis, you won’t have any symptoms. There are still enough healthy liver cells to meet your body’s needs. They compensate or make up for, the damaged cells and scarred tissue.
If you don’t get treatment for the cause of your cirrhosis, it’ll get worse and over time, the healthy liver cells won’t be able to keep up. Nor will your liver be able to get rid of toxic substances in your body like ammonia. Decompensated cirrhosis causes symptoms. It can lead to problems like these:
- You bleed from large blood vessels in your esophagus (bleeding varices).
- Fluid builds up in your belly (ascites, pronounced “ah-SIGH-tees”).
- Toxins build up in your blood that can cause confusion (encephalopathy).
- Your eyes and skin are yellow (jaundice).
- You get gallstones.
- You bruise and bleed easily.
Symptoms of Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis often has no signs or symptoms until liver damage is extensive. When signs and symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Bleeding easily
- Bruising easily
- Itchy skin
- Yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Fluid accumulation in your abdomen (ascites)
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling in your legs
- Weight loss
- Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
- Spiderlike blood vessels on your skin
- Redness in the palms of the hands
- Testicular atrophy in men
- Breast enlargement in men
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any of the signs or symptoms listed above.
Complications of cirrhosis can include:
Complications related to blood flow:
- High blood pressure in the veins that supply the liver (portal hypertension).Cirrhosis slows the normal flow of blood through the liver, thus increasing pressure in the vein that brings blood from the intestines and spleen to the liver.
- Swelling in the legs and abdomen.Portal hypertension can cause fluid to accumulate in the legs (edema) and in the abdomen (ascites). Edema and ascites also may result from the inability of the liver to make enough of certain blood proteins, such as albumin.
- Enlargement of the spleen (splenomegaly).Portal hypertension can also cause changes to the spleen. Decreased white blood cells and platelets in your blood can be a sign of cirrhosis with portal hypertension.
- Portal hypertension can cause blood to be redirected to smaller veins, causing them to increase in size and become varices. Strained by the extra load, these smaller veins can burst, causing serious bleeding. Life-threatening bleeding most commonly occurs when veins in the lower esophagus (esophageal varices) or stomach (gastric varices) rupture. If the liver can’t make enough clotting factors, this also can contribute to continued bleeding. Bacterial infections are a frequent trigger for bleeding.
- If you have cirrhosis, your body may have difficulty fighting infections. Ascites can lead to spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, a serious infection.
- Cirrhosis may make it more difficult for your body to process nutrients, leading to weakness and weight loss.
- Buildup of toxins in the brain (hepatic encephalopathy).A liver damaged by cirrhosis isn’t able to clear toxins from the blood as well as a healthy liver can. These toxins can then build up in the brain and cause mental confusion and difficulty concentrating. Hepatic encephalopathy symptoms may range from fatigue and mild impairment in cognition to unresponsiveness or coma.
- Jaundice occurs when the diseased liver doesn’t remove enough bilirubin, a blood waste product, from your blood. Jaundice causes yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes and darkening of urine.
- Bone disease.Some people with cirrhosis lose bone strength and are at greater risk of fractures.
- Increased risk of liver cancer.A large proportion of people who develop liver cancer that forms within the liver itself have cirrhosis.
- Acute-on-chronic liver failure.Some people end up experiencing multiorgan failure. Researchers now believe this is a distinct complication in some people who have cirrhosis, but they don’t fully understand its causes.
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 Remedies for Prevention and Management of Liver Cirrhosis
- 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)
- 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 every day. 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 products that are most contaminated with toxins, and those that are the least contaminated.
- 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.
- 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 plays 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 for 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.
- 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 of developing liver disease than adults at a healthy weight. 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 painkillers. 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.
- 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 practising 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.
Warnings 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 the belly.
Summary 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.
Sources and References
- Journal of Hepatology May 29, 2015
- Hepatobiliary Surgery and Nutrition April 2015
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- 6Journal of Hepatology May 29, 2015
- 8American Liver Foundation, Pediatric NAFLD
- 9Hepatology July 2009 Volume 50 Issue 1, Pages 68-76
- 10European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Vol. 18, No. 12, December 2006: 1241
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- 13EWG Skin Deep
- 14Journal of Translational Medicine 2015, 13:24