Your liver is the largest and arguably the hardest-working organ in your body. It’s responsible for:
- Creating immune system factors that can fight against infection
- Creating proteins responsible for blood clotting
- Breaking down old and damaged red blood cells
- Storing extra blood sugar as glycogen
- Converting glycogen to glucose and storing extra glucose by converting it to glycogen
- Making toxins less harmful to the body and removing them from the bloodstream
Pretty important stuff! Keeping your liver healthy is a big deal.
You may be under the common misconception that, if you don’t drink heavily, and you don’t smoke, you couldn’t possibly be one of the 100 million individuals living with metabolic-associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD), also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
But you’d be wrong.
In fact, recent research has found something that increases your odds of being in that 100 million — something you’d probably never think of.
Air pollution and your liver
A group of researchers recently conducted an epidemiologic study (a study of health within a population to understand the causes and patterns of health and illness).
They were looking to determine the role of air pollution emitted by vehicles, industries, and households, known as ambient air pollution, on the risk of MAFLD.
The subjects of the study were about 90,000 adults who had been part of the China Multi-Ethnic Cohort (CMEC) from 2018 to 2019.
The CMEC collected participant information including age and gender, lifestyle habits, and health-related history through verbal interviews performed by trained staff. They also gathered data on things like weight, height, and body mass index, and examined blood, urine, and saliva samples.
The bad news? After examining all the data, the researchers identified links between long-term exposure to ambient air pollution and MAFLD.
The good news? The links are exacerbated by unhealthy lifestyles and the presence of central obesity (extra weight around the midsection) — areas that you can start working on now to decrease your risk.
How to avoid MAFLD
“Our findings add to the growing evidence of ambient pollution’s damaging effects on metabolic function and related organs,” commented lead investigator Dr. Xing Zhao of the West China School of Public Health.
Previous studies have shown that exercise has many liver health benefits including enhancing the protective capacity of Kupffer cells, which help maintain liver function.
“However, physical activity did not seem to modify the associations between air pollution and MAFLD,” Dr. Zhao continues.
But, even if exercise won’t turn MAFLD around, other lifestyle modifications may make a difference.
The risks from ambient air pollution and MAFLD were higher especially in individuals who are male, smokers, and alcohol drinkers and those who consume a high-fat diet.
These are all habits that adversely impact metabolic health and cause the liver to work harder. When your liver has to work so hard, for example, processing fat from a fatty diet, it can make it less effective at processing pollutants from the body. Eventually, it can’t do either very well.
People who are obese and develop MAFLD are more likely to have the fat in their liver build up to the point where inflammation occurs. This is a more advanced form of the disease, known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH.
The inflammation of NASH causes damage and scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis, a potentially life-threatening condition.
Eating more protein and supporting your liver with these natural supplements could make it less likely that you’ll develop metabolic-associated fatty liver disease.
Finally, a diet like the Mediterranean diet will protect your liver and help you maintain an ideal weight. The less fat you eat, the better chance that your liver will remain healthy and hard-working.
Also follow these tips on reducing the harms of pollution and exposure.
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The rising tide of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease — Mayo Clinic
Liver Anatomy and Functions — Hopkinsmedicine.org