Your liver is an important organ in the body. You can't live without it. Currently, about 27,500 people die each year from chronic liver disease, making it the number 12 cause of death. Another 21,000 people die yearly from liver cancer. Keeping the liver healthy is obviously an important priority for good health that most people give little thought to.
It's well known that a high intake of alcohol is a primary cause of liver disease, as well as exposure to hepatitis (a blood-borne infection passed, for example, by sharing needles in drug use or sexual contact with an infected partner).
New research shows that diet may be another important and modifiable cause of liver disease. Researchers conducted a study on liver health on 9,221 people for 18 years. They found that people eating a lot of cholesterol in their diet are at increased risk. In this study, people eating the most cholesterol (top 25 percent) were more than twice as likely to develop chronic liver disease than those eating the least cholesterol (bottom 25 percent).
Cholesterol is only found in animal foods, so is this finding implicating dietary cholesterol per say, or the foods cholesterol is associated with (meats and dairy products)? When the researchers looked at protein intake, they also found that a high protein intake was linked to a 37 percent higher risk of liver disease (most animal products are high in protein). On the other hand, people eating a higher carbohydrate intake had a 58 percent lower risk of developing liver disease during the 18-year study. Most plant based foods tend to be lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates.
Bottom line. If you want to keep your liver healthy, avoid alcohol and drug use, and choose a diet low in dietary cholesterol and high in complex carbohydrates. In other words, eat primarily a plant-based diet. Your liver will thank you.
Tuft's University Health and Nutrition Letter. September 2009.