While cancer and heart disease sit firmly at the top of the list of leading causes of death for the 25-64 age bracket in the United States, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in middle-aged and older Americans are undoubtedly on the rise.
Chronic liver disease includes:
- hepatitis C or B
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- steatohepatitis (NASH)
- and various liver cancers.
Cirrhosis of the liver is a complication of liver diseases which is characterized by hardening and scarring on the liver itself.
And whether you’re paying attention to the World Health Organization, British Medical Journal or The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the numbers don’t lie.
Liver Death Is Spiking
Liver disease is definitely one of them and, in people aged 25-44, liver deaths resulting from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis ranks #6, with liver deaths jumping to #5 in people aged 45-64.
Seems like a pertinent time to brush up on liver health and try to understand why the numbers are spiking.
Why Is This Happening?
Liver disease begins with tiny bits of fat collecting in the liver, classified as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). If changes aren’t made to reduce that fat, buildup and strain on your liver may be setting you up for a chronic battle with liver disease and quite possibly cirrhosis of the liver.
With excess fat in the liver being the precursor to more liver issues, understanding how to keep fat in the body low, regardless of age or gender, is the first step to fighting this growing problem.
The rise of liver deaths in the U.S. has different causes for different age groups.
- In younger people, male and female, the spike is attributed to increased alcohol consumption and increased binge drinking among younger people.
A recent study published in The BMJ – found that deaths in the United States due to cirrhosis rose 65% and liver cancer deaths doubled from 1999 to 2016. Dr. Elliot Tapper, a specialist in liver health from Michigan Medicine postulates that the dramatic spike in liver deaths resulting from cirrhosis, liver cancer, and hepatitis C in young people who may have socioeconomic ties to the Great Recession experienced between 2007-2009.
He believes the economic instability of that period lead to an increase in alcohol consumption in young people just entering the workforce and finding difficulties securing work and generally being able to support themselves.
- In older people, however, the lack of FDA-approved medications to treat liver disease has created a giant question mark in the treatment column. Wellness and nutritional advice have done their best to fill this space but, for those already suffering from liver disease, the necessary solution is more complicated than altering their diet.
As far as direct causes of liver deaths, our diet and behavior play the largest roles, regardless of age. Direct ties between obesity and fatty liver disease are also clear, and managing diet and exercise can help prevent against not only liver disease but also heart disease and different forms of cancer.
Alcohol is an obvious no-no especially if you’re already dealing with liver disease due to the tremendous strain it puts on the liver. Sugar and diets too high in fat are close seconds.
How to Fight Liver Death in the Absence of FDA-Approved Medications?
Unfortunately, treatment and prevention against liver death relies heavily on dietary and behavioral changes to reduce the strain on your liver. But with the daunting task of breaking bad habits and forming new, good ones, it should come as no surprise that liver deaths are making a play for leading cause in the U.S.
Change is hard, but it should be everyone’s prerogative to figure out how to take those first small steps that precede larger strides for tomorrow.
It may be as simple as:
- not adding sugar to your coffee in the morning
- or skipping out on that nightcap.
Diet wise, working a liver protecting supplement into your routine as opposed to making drastic dietary changes can also be a benign way to start.
The laundry list of foods that function as liver aids can be hard to source, understand, and are often expensive, so taking a supplement that checks multiple boxes and offers the liver nutrition you need may be a more realistic dietary change to wrap your head around.
Introducing exercise into your life can be as simple as taking a walk around the block once every day. The Mayo Clinic advocates a brisk walk to maintain a healthy weight, prevent or manage various conditions, strengthen bones and muscle, and improve your mood.
Pro Tip: The faster, farther and more frequently you walk, the greater the health benefits.
But the beauty of walking briskly is there really is no way to do it wrong or run the risk of injury associated with more physical activities or sports. Go at your own pace, and build it up. Whatever you do, start doing it now.
No More Excuses
Young or old, male or female, healthy or already diagnosed, there’s no better time to start taking care of your liver. The change you enact can be small and at your own pace, but giving your liver some help in order to avoid the statistical spike in liver deaths is more pertinent than ever.
- https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0920-death-rates-up.html, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Death Rates Up for 5 of the 12 Leading Causes of Death,” Released September 20, 2018, Retrieved Dec 9, 2018
- https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus/index.htm, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Health, United States,” Released September 20, 2018, Retrieved Dec 9, 2018
- https://www.bmj.com/content/362/bmj.k2817, The BMJ (British Journal of Medicine), “Mortality due to cirrhosis and liver cancer in the United States, 1999-2016: observational study,” by Dr. Elliot Tapper, Published 18 July 2018, Retrieved Dec 9, 2018
- https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322506.phpm, Medical News Today, “Rapid increase in deaths due to alcohol-related liver disease,” By Maria Cohut, Published July 19, 2018, Retrieved Dec 9, 2018
- https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/hep.1840120505, Hepatology, “Fatty liver hepatitis (steatohepatitis) and obesity: An autopsy study with analysis of risk factors,” by Dr. Ian R. Wanless & John S. Lentz, First published: November 1990, Retrieved Dec 9, 2018
- https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/walking/art-20046261, The Mayo Clinic, “Walking: Trim your waistline, improve your health,” by Mayo Clinic Staff, Retrieved Dec 9, 2018