How To Prevent Liver Damage?

Medically reviewed by Mary Ahern MS, RDN, RYT April 29, 2024| Written by Shahid Bashir

How To Prevent Liver Damage?

The liver is a reddish-brown wedge-shaped organ that regulates several crucial functions of the body. The most critical role of the liver is detoxifying blood from harmful chemicals. This also makes the liver sensitive to toxins and liver damage. 

Some primary causes of liver damage include excessive toxins, viral infection, alcohol abuse, and an unhealthy, high-fat diet. Congenital liver disorders, immune system problems, and cancer may also contribute to liver damage. 

Fortunately, you can significantly reduce the risk of liver damage by taking a few simple measures. These include vaccination against viruses, cutting down alcohol consumption, and choosing a healthier lifestyle with a balanced diet. 

Data shows that around2 million people globally die from liver diseases each year, and this accounts for about4% of total deaths from all causes. These stats highlight the need for preventive measures against liver damage. 

What are the Four Warning Signs of a Damaged Liver?

In chronic liver diseases, the damage to the liver happens over a long period. You may not experience any signs and symptoms in the early stage of liver damage. But as the damage progresses, it can result in certain characteristic signs and symptoms.

The four warning signs of a damaged liver are:

Abdominal Pain:The location of the liver is the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, just below the diaphragm. Any infection in the liver causes pain in the upper section of the abdomen. 

A feeling of Unwell:A healthy liver detoxifies the blood and prevents the harmful effects of these toxins on the body. But when the liver loses its functional capacity because of damage, it fails to filter out the toxins. 

This results in the accumulation of toxins, which may cause fatigue, weakness, and overall unwell feelings. Nausea and vomiting also start to appear as frequent symptoms at this stage. 

Loss of Appetite:Evidence shows that inflammation of the liver hurts appetite. This effect can be due to a direct influence of an inflammatory process over the central nervous system or a change in leptin and ghrelin hormone levels — the appetite-controlling hormones.

The inflammatory process in the liver is also associated with decreased gastric motility. Impaired peristalsis and decreased gastric expansion capacity of the stomach can be the result of inflammation, causing loss of appetite. 

Dark Urine:The healthy liver takes thebilirubin from the blood to produce bile. Since liver damage disrupts bile production, it results in elevated bilirubin levels in the blood. 

This excess bilirubin leaks into the urine, causing the production of dark-colored urine. 

Some other signs and symptoms that hint towards a bad liver are jaundice, weight loss, blood in vomit, swelling of ankles and feet, itching, and muscle loss. 

What Causes Liver Damage?

Liver damage can result from diseases of the liver itself and also from other diseases in the body. Some of the main causes of liver damage are:

1. Viral Infection

Viral hepatitis is the most common infection of the liver. The viruses that cause hepatitis can enter the human body from contaminated blood, food, water, or contact with an infected person. 

Some viruses only result in minor symptoms of discomfort followed by a natural recovery of the patient. But, some can lead to severe complications and even death. 

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, over350 million people worldwide are currently living with viral hepatitis. Each year, aboutone million people lose their lives fighting against viral hepatitis and its complications. 

Three of the most common types of viral hepatitis are:

  • Hepatitis A:is caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV) which spreads through food and water contaminated with an infected person's fecal matter. The symptoms of the hepatitis A virus include fatigue, nausea, stomach upset, and jaundice. These symptoms last from a few weeks to six months. 

Hepatitis A isn't a major risk to the liver, and patients mostly recover by themselves. Vaccination for the Hepatitis A virus is also available.

  • Hepatitis B: caused by the Hepatitis B virus entering the human body through contact with the body fluids of an infected person. So, the transmission may involve blood transfusion, sharing contaminated needles, unprotected sex, and during pregnancy. 

Hepatitis B virus can cause both acute and chronic infections. Acute infection is usually a short-term illness that a patient recovers from without medical management. However, chronic infection lasts for years and can lead to liver failure. Vaccination is the only prevention against hepatitis B.

Statistics show that nearly296 million people are currently suffering from chronic hepatitis B infection. Each year, hepatitis B virus infects1.5 million people and causes more than820,000 deaths. 

  • Hepatitis C:caused by the Hepatitis C virus transmits via blood from an infected person to a healthy person. People sharing needles and other equipment for injecting drugs are at higher risk of hepatitis C.

Like hepatitis B, it can also lead to acute or chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to life-threatening conditions likecirrhosis and liver cancer. No vaccination is available for the hepatitis C virus, and you can only adopt preventive measures.

According to an estimate by WHO, around58 million people have chronic hepatitis C infection, and1.5 million new infections occur each year. In the year 2019 alone, hepatitis C infection was responsible for over290,000 deaths worldwide.

2. Autoimmune Disorders

Our immune system can distinguish body cells from foreign invading cells, which is crucial in fighting foreign bodies. However, the body fails to differentiate between foreign cells and body tissues in autoimmune disorders.

Autoimmune hepatitis is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system starts attacking liver cells. It causes chronic inflammation of the liver - just like viral hepatitis. 

This condition has no cure, but you can manage symptoms with medications.

Other autoimmune disorders that cause liver damage areprimary biliary cholangitis andprimary sclerosing cholangitis

3. Fatty Liver

Fatty liver is a disease in which fat deposition in the liver is more than normal. The excess fat starts to suppress the functioning of the liver, ultimately leading to liver damage.

Fatty liver has two types depending on the causes:

  • Alcoholic Fatty Liver: The liver breaks down the alcohol you consume. However, frequent alcohol consumption increases the workload on the liver. The results can be liver inflammation and liver damage in the long term. 
  • Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver:An unhealthy lifestyle and eating habits can cause the deposition of fat in the liver, which can disturb liver functioning. Obesity, high blood sugar levels, high-fat diet, and high blood cholesterol levels are among the risk factors for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. 

4. Drug Abuse

The liver metabolizes a wide range of drugs. When you take more than the prescribed dosage of these drugs, it damages the liver. Certain drugs harm the liver even if you take the prescribed dosage. Drugs that contain acetaminophen are a common cause ofdrug-induced liver damage

5. Liver Cancer

When a tumor originates from inside the liver, it is called primary liver cancer. Secondary liver cancer is when a tumor starts somewhere else in the body and spreads to the liver. The most common type of liver cancer ishepatocellular carcinoma, where tumors originate from hepatocyte cells of the liver. 

Without early diagnosis and prompt medical management, the tumor spreads enough to disrupt liver function completely.

What Happens When Your Liver is Damaged?

When your liver is damaged, you are at high risk of developingvarious diseases. Some health complications resulting from a damaged liver are

  • Since a damaged liver cannotdetoxify the blood, toxins accumulate in the body, causing inflammation. 
  • A damaged liverproduces fewer proteins essential for blood clotting, immune function, and body fluid balance.
  • Liver damage canimpair bile production. Less or no production of bile disturbs the functioning of the digestive system.
  • Bilirubin levels elevate in the body when liver functioning is disturbed by liver damage. Excess bilirubin content causes jaundice, characterized by the yellowing of the skin and eyes.
  • Since a damaged liver reduces the efficiency of the immune system; therisk of infections increases. 


The diagnosis of liver damage starts with a physical examination of the patient and a set of questions about the symptoms. The doctor can proceed with some of the following procedures to diagnose liver damage:

  • Blood Testsreveal the levels of liver by-products in the blood, such as liver proteins and bilirubin. If the liver proteins are low in the patient’s sample or there is a higher bilirubin content than expected, it reflects liver damage. 
  • Imaging Testsinclude ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These help to analyze the structure of the liver and the presence of infection. 
  • Liver Biopsytests for the presence of cancer cells in the liver. During this procedure, the physician inserts a hollow needle from the skin into the liver to take a small fragment of liver tissue which is then analyzed for the growth of normal and cancerous cells. 


Early diagnosis is critical in effective treatment for liver damage. Unfortunately, liver damage is asymptomatic at the initial stages, which leads to poor progression in several cases. 

The appropriate treatment depends on the cause and stage of liver damage, which may involve the following two options:

1. Drug Therapy

Antivirals are the standard treatment option for viral hepatitis. These drugs facilitate the immune system in managing the symptoms and reducing the infection. Some of the licensed antiviral medicines for hepatitis are interferon-α, pegylated interferon-α, lamivudine, and adefovir.

Drug therapy is also effective when liver damage is due to an autoimmune response. Corticosteroids and immunosuppressants are the treatment choices for reducing the damage from autoimmune response on the liver.

2. Liver Transplant

Irreversible liver damage that completely halts its functioning is called liver failure. The only treatment option for liver failure is liver transplant. 

In a liver transplant, the surgeon replaces a damaged liver with a complete liver from a deceased donor or some portion from a living donor. Liver tissue can regrow to normal size in both the donor and the recipient.

According to theOrgan Procurement and Transplantation Network in America, around 8000 people per year undergo liver transplant surgery. About75% of people survive more than five years after a liver transplant. 

How Can Diet & Lifestyle Prevent Liver Damage?

The liver is one of the most resilient organs. In fact, the first several stages of liver disease are reversible and you can go back to normal liver by sticking to a healthy lifestyle. 

Experts suggest that only one liver issue that isn’t reversible is cirrhosis.

Some of the diet and lifestyle modifications that you must adopt to prevent liver damage are:

1. Increase Fiber Intake

Obesity is a major risk factor for developing liver diseases and liver damage. Being overweight isdirectly associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Another contributing factor in causing fatty liver is increased cholesterol levels.

Fiber helps in weight management as it is low in calories. Also, it fills up the stomach which brings in a feeling of satiety. So, consuming adequate fiber in your diet makes you less likely to overconsume calories. 

Thus increased fiber intake reduces the risk of obesity and also can help prevent fatty liver disease. 

Fiber is also helpful inreducing cholesterol levels in the blood. Low cholesterol levels translate to a lower risk of deposition of fat in the liver. 

You can increase your fiber intake through diet changes, or you can pick asupplementary fiber powder

See Also:21 Easy Ways to Get More Fiber in Your Diet 

2. Avoid High Fat Diet

When you consume a fatty diet, the body stores the excess fat in several locations, including the liver.  The liver can only store fats up to a specific limit and as the limit exceeds, it causes damage to the liver. 

Consuming a low-fat diet reduces this burden on the liver. Low-fat diets also prevent weight gain, another risk factor for causing liver damage. 

3. Limit Alcohol Intake

The Liver is responsible for breaking down alcohol and converting it tonon-toxic products. High alcohol consumption increases the load on the liver andpromotes inflammation, the condition called alcoholic fatty liver.

Lower the alcohol intake to reduce the risk of liver damage. If you are already suffering from liver disease, you must quit alcohol with rehabilitation therapy. 

4. Quit Smoking

Cigarette smokingincreases the risk of fat buildup in the liver and resulting complications like fatty liver disease. Carcinogens in cigarette smoke promote hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer. 

Study shows that cigarette smoking is also associated with liver fibrosis — abrupt scar tissue formation in the liver — and decreases the efficacy of antiviral treatment for viral hepatitis.

5. Regular Exercise

There is no denying that regular exercise improves overall health and quality of life. But it also has a significant impact on liver health. 

Exercise facilitates theoxidation of fatty acids and lowers body fat levels. Regular exercise also helps inweight management, reducing the risk of obesity. Low body fat and healthy weight lowers the risk of liver damage. 

Foods To Eat To Prevent Liver Damage

Food items are a combination of different compounds, and each compound has some effect on the body. Similarly, some compounds are suitable for maintaining liver functioning, while others can cause damage to the liver. So, knowing what you need to consume to avoid liver damage is important.

Foods that are scientifically effective in preventing liver damage include: 

1. Green Vegetables

Green vegetables such as broccoli are high in fiber but low in calories. Fiber helps prevent liver damage by weight management and lowering cholesterol levels in the body. 

Scientific data also supports the role of green leafy vegetables in preventing liver damage. A large population study in 2021 shows that a high intake of leafy green vegetables is inversely associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

2. Grapefruit

Grapefruit is high in fiber and also contains antioxidant compounds.Naringenin is an antioxidant compound present in citrus. 

A study on the effects of naringenin in liver diseases shows that this compound effectivelyinhibits the progression of hepatic fibrosis. Hepatic fibrosis is the abrupt and harmful development of connective tissues in the liver in the case of chronic inflammation. 

3. Blueberries and Cranberries

Blueberries and cranberries are high in polyphenols.Anthocyanins are a class of polyphenols with antioxidant properties and are effective in treating liver conditions. 

Research on the effects of cranberries supplements in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease showed positive results. Theresearch concluded that cranberry supplements for six months improved lipid profiles, insulin resistance, andhepatic steatosis

4. Nuts

Nuts contain a good amount of healthy fats and antioxidants. These compounds are good for maintaining liver health and preventing liver damage. 

Acase-control study in China shows that the highest intake of nuts reduces the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in men. Anothercontrolled trial in 2021 concluded that a green Mediterranean diet, which emphasized green vegetables, in combination with nuts is effective at reducing liver fat and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. 

5. Coffee

Besides the stimulant effect, coffee is also very effective in preventing liver damage. The exact mechanism of how coffee works for the liver is unclear.Some studies suggest that it is due to the ability of coffee compounds to prevent fat and collagen depositions in the liver. 

Ameta-analysis from 2016concludes that increasing coffee consumption lowers the risk of cirrhosis and permanent liver damage. Anepidemiological study in 2022 shows that coffee consumption is inversely proportional to hepatocellular carcinoma, a common type of liver cancer. 

Foods To Avoid To Prevent Liver Damage

Here are some food items that you should completely avoid or reduce consumption to prevent liver damage:

1. Alcohol

Alcohol is among the top contributors to fatty liver disease. It also makes the liver susceptible to alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. Limiting or avoiding alcohol is essential for maintaining liver and overall body health. 

2. Fried Foods

Fried foods are high in unhealthy fats and calories but are low in nutritional value. The excess fat starts to deposit in the liver, resulting in a non-alcoholic fatty liver. Unhealthy fats also increase the risk of inflammation in the liver.

3. High Sugar Foods

Food and beverages high in processed sugar are major contributing factors in developing fatty liver disease and insulin resistance. The body converts the excess sugar into fat, increasing the load on the liver. 

4. Processed Meat

Processed Meat such as beef, pork, bacon, and hot dogs are high in saturated fats and sodium.Data shows that processed meat intake increases the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and permanent liver damage. 


Liver damage is a critical healthcare condition that badly affects several body systems. The main causes of liver damage include viral attacks and unhealthy lifestyle and diet practices. An autoimmune response can also be the cause of liver damage.

You can't control autoimmune responses to prevent liver damage, but you can make specific lifestyle and diet changes to minimize the risk. The most significant change should be shifting from consuming processed, high-fat foods to a plant-based healthy diet. 

Even if you fail to prevent it, liver damage is reversible to a certain point. Plant-based food contains plenty of ingredients that are effective against liver damage. The ingredients include fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds. Scientific research also supports a plant-based diet in preventing liver damage.