Definition and Overview
Patients who are at risk of developing or are already suffering from a liver disease need a special diet that will support their liver and help it function properly. Thus, they are encouraged to schedule a liver health diet consultation with a gastroenterologist or a dietitian and this is usually a part of their treatment or management plan.
This is important because when the liver is either damaged or not functioning properly, it loses its capability to properly process proteins. When this happens, there will be an increase in the body’s waste products and this can potentially lead to harmful buildups. However, with proper diet, that patient will be able to keep protein levels under control to better manage an existing disease and prevent serious health complications.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
A liver health diet consultation is beneficial for people who are suffering from hepatic diseases, or diseases that affect the liver. These include:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- Liver cirrhosis
- Liver cancer
- Fatty liver disease
The goals of a liver health diet consultation are:
- Reduce protein intake while keeping it in the right balance with the patient’s carbohydrate intake.
- Reduce the patient’s salt intake to prevent swelling or water retention and to keep body fluids under control.
- Identify any nutritional deficiencies and determine whether the patient requires vitamins and supplements.
It is also advisable for people who are at risk of liver disease to watch their diet. The following are the risk factors for liver disease:
- Alcoholism or the frequent or excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages
- Recreational drug use
- Long-term use of some medications
- Existing autoimmune disease
- Existing sexually transmitted disease
- Existing kidney disease
- Existing bile duct disorder
- Exposure to chemicals and toxins through skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion
- Family history of liver disease
- Ongoing hemodialysis treatments
- Blood transfusions, especially those performed before 1972
- Organ transplants, especially those performed before 1992
- History of viral liver infections leading to hepatitis A, B, or C
- Current work in or previous travel to places with high risk of hepatitis A or B, such as Africa, the Caribbean, South America, Central America and the Middle East, among others
For people who meet the risk factors listed above, maintaining a diet that is healthy for the liver will prevent the onset of liver disease.
How the Procedure Works
While liver disease specialists are capable of providing dietary advice, it is best to consult a registered dietitian who can provide assistance on an ongoing basis. The consultation may take place at an office or clinic, as there is usually no need for any tests or procedures. In order for the dietitian to make an informed recommendation, the patient must bring all important documents, including results of lab tests, during the appointment.
During the consultation, the doctor or dietitian will first assess the person’s condition to determine the extent of the disease. This is because the condition of the liver will determine what kind of changes can be applied to the patient’s diet to achieve the desired results. Once this has been assessed, a nutritional plan will be provided.
The most important factors of a healthy liver diet are:
Protein intake. Ideally, the patient should only have 1 gram of protein for each kilogram of body weight. The sources of protein should also be chosen carefully. Legumes, fish, and poultry have lower protein levels than red meats and raw seafood, and can provide the body with just the right amount that it needs.
Salt intake. To keep the body from retaining more fluid than necessary, the patient should only consume less than 1500 mg of salt per day.
Since protein has to be reduced, the ideal diet should mostly consist of:
Carbohydrates. These should be the patient’s main source of calories
Fat. Fat assists in protein breakdown, so patients should continue consuming fat-containing foods but only in moderate amounts.
Ideally, the patient should stick to a plant-based diet or one that contains mostly fruits and vegetables.
In addition, the patient may need vitamin supplements, especially B-complex vitamins and vitamins that boost the immune system and protect the body from infections.
Other than dietary recommendations, the dietitian may also recommend some lifestyle changes. Since alcohol is harmful to the liver, it has to be avoided completely. Also, since the liver is responsible for processing drugs, patients should use non-prescription drugs sparingly. If really necessary, these drugs should be taken only at low doses.
Possible Risks and Complications
It is best to seek a liver health diet consultation with a registered dietitian, who can coordinate with the patient’s attending physician, to come up with a healthy diet plan.
Without a healthy diet plan, a person’s liver condition will progress more rapidly as the liver becomes more damaged, while a person at risk of liver disease will become more vulnerable to it.
Also, patients are also strongly advised to take caution when taking herbal supplements and alternative medicines without the advice of a professional, as some of these products may do more harm than good especially when they are not properly incorporated into a treatment and diet plan. More specifically, they may put the patient at risk of drug interactions and nutritional imbalances. Furthermore, there is not enough evidence about the benefits of these herbal supplements and alternative medicines for liver disease sufferers.
- American Liver Foundation: "Liver Health and Wellness."
- Bravi F. Hepatology, published online June 19, 2007.