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How to improve your liver & kidney health

All HOMED-IQ content is reviewed by medical specialists

The liver and kidneys are important organs in your body that perform essential functions every day. The liver is the second largest organ in the body and is responsible for processing and breaking down all substances in your body, excreting them into the blood or bile. This includes metabolising food and medications, as well as removing toxins from the body. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs whose main function is to filter excess water and waste from the blood to form urine. In addition to these primary functions, the liver and kidneys also perform hundreds of other tasks that keep our bodies functioning properly. 

While the liver and kidneys can withstand certain amounts of abuse, prolonged mistreatment can cause irreversible damage and even failure of these vital organs. Interested in checking your liver and kidney function? Homed-IQ offers both a Liver Function Test and a Liver and Kidney Function Test that can be performed from home. Read on to learn more about how to keep your liver and kidneys healthy for life.

1. Limit Alcohol Consumption

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, contribute to weight gain, reduce kidney function, and damage the liver. While many people believe only long-term, heavy drinkers get scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), irreversible liver damage can occur through regular moderate drinking that does not appear to cause excessive drunkenness (NHS, 2022). When alcohol becomes a part of an individual’s lifestyle, it can be difficult to recognise when consumption has become unhealthy. Updated guidelines for alcohol in the Netherlands recommend adults do not drink or do not exceed one glass per day. In Germany, the guidelines advise women not to exceed one drink a day, while men should not exceed two drinks per day. A drink is defined as a small beer, glass of wine, or shot (10-12g of alcohol) (European Commission, 2016). Limiting your alcohol consumption and avoiding binge drinking, defined as consumption of more than 6 drinks on one occasion, is extremely important in keeping your liver and kidneys healthy.

2. Follow a healthy diet and get adequate exercise

Preventing diseases that harm the kidneys, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, is important in keeping them healthy. Following a healthy and varied diet without excess salt and sugar lowers your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as obesity. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet is also important for liver health, as obesity can cause fatty liver disease (Johns Hopkins, 2022). Tips for a healthy diet include:

  • Choose foods with little or no added sugar
  • Bake meat instead of frying
  • Cook with spices instead of salt
  • Read food labels and check the salt, sugar, cholesterol, and saturated fat content
  • Eat foods made from whole grains
  • Incorporate fruits or vegetables with every meal
  • Be active for at least 30 minutes a day

Source: NIH, 2016

3. Manage diabetes, blood pressure and heart disease

Uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure can damage the blood vessels and nephrons of the kidneys, and are the most common causes of chronic kidney disease (NIH, 2016). Furthermore, type 2 diabetes is linked to fatty liver disease, with more than half of people living with type 2 diabetes having a non-alcoholic fatty liver. To manage these conditions and protect your kidneys and liver, aim to:

  • Keep your blood sugar and blood pressure within range. For diabetics, this could mean checking your blood sugar several times a day.
  • Take all prescribed medication as directed. Taking blood pressure medication correctly is important in limiting kidney damage.
  • Keep your cholesterol levels in check. High triglycerides or other cholesterol biomarkers are linked to fatty liver disease and diabetes. To check your cholesterol levels from home, consider Homed-IQ’s Cholesterol & Lipids Test. To learn how to lower your triglycerides, read our blog.

Many people with diabetes or pre-diabetes do not know that they have it. If you are interested in testing yourself, Homed-IQ offers a Blood Sugar (HbA1C) Test that can be performed from home. If you’d like to learn more about methods of testing for diabetes, read our blog “Testing for diabetes – should you perform a home test or see a doctor?”.

4. Prevent Hepatitis

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that is usually caused by a virus. The most common viruses are hepatitis A, B, and C. While most people recover from hepatitis A with no lasting health effects, hepatitis B and C can cause irreversible liver damage or even cancer (British Liver Trust, 2022). To protect yourself against hepatitis, be sure to:

  • Use a condom or other barrier during sex.
  • Do not share razors, nail scissors, or toothbrushes.
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, or ask your doctor if you have been vaccinated if you’re not sure.
  • Do not share drug equipment and dispose of all needles safely.
  • Only visit licensed tattoo and piercing shops and ensure all equipment has been sterilised.
  • Make sure only sterile equipment is used when receiving medical treatment abroad.

Source: British Liver Trust, 2022

Interested in testing yourself for hepatitis B? Homed-IQ’s Hepatitis B Blood Test can be performed from home.

5. Be aware of medications and supplements

All medications we ingest must pass through our liver and kidneys. While we often take medications or supplements to improve our health, misuse of them can seriously damage these organs. In fact, the most common reason for drug non-approval and withdrawal by the United States Food and Drug Administration is drug-induced liver injury (Goldkind & Lane, 2006). While most supplements purchased in the EU are regulated and therefore largely safe for human consumption, they are often regulated by the food industry and are not subject to the same testing as medications (Coppens, 2018). Supplements purchased online may at best not be certified and at worst contain ingredients that are harmful for your health. Before taking supplements, be sure to read the label and confirm where the product you are taking is from and whether it meets regulatory requirements. Additionally, overuse of otherwise safe supplements or the use of supplements that interact with other medications can cause liver or kidney damage. To minimise these risks, discuss all supplement use with your doctor and do not exceed the recommended dosage. 

In addition to supplements, medications can also be damaging to the liver and kidneys. Acetaminophen (paracetamol) is the most common medication that can damage the liver. While normal consumption of acetaminophen is safe, taking too much at once or high doses over several days can damage the liver and kidneys (National Kidney Foundation, 2022). Similarly, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications like ibuprofen, acetylsalicylic acid, and naproxen are the most common medications that cause kidney damage due to their widespread use. Be sure to speak with your doctor before taking over-the-counter pain medications regularly as they can cause unseen damage to the liver and kidneys.

Beyond pain medications, antibiotics, cholesterol medications (statins), and prescription laxatives can damage the liver and kidneys, especially when they are not used correctly or without a prescription. To minimise your chance of medication-induced liver or kidney damage, only take prescription medications that have been prescribed to you, follow all dosage directions, and consult your doctor if you begin to feel ill after taking a medication or supplement.

6. Stop smoking

Cigarette smoking affects the entire body, including the liver and kidneys. Smoking can affect medications used to treat high blood pressure and increase blood pressure, putting stress on the kidneys and accelerating damage from high blood pressure. Additionally, smoking can slow blood flow to organs, causing kidney damage and increased diabetes-related complications over time (National Kidney Foundation, 2022). Cigarette smoking is also associated with increased severity and progression of liver disease, including fibrosis and liver cancer (Rutledge & Asfgharpour, 2020). Stopping smoking is difficult, but is a great idea for your overall health and that of your liver and kidneys. 

7. Stay hydrated

Water is important in both the function of the liver and the kidneys. Your liver needs water to flush waste and toxins from the body, and these functions can slow down when we are dehydrated. In the kidneys, water is important to transport nutrients to the kidneys and move waste to your bladder in the form of urine. Dehydration increases the risk of kidney stones and urinary tract infections, and is therefore very important for our health (National Kidney Foundation, 2018). Be sure to drink water after waking up, before a meal, after exercise, and before bed to prevent dehydration. Approximately 2 litres a day is recommended for adults, but you may need more if you are sick or it is hot outside (EUFIC, 2020). 

8. Get tested

If you are at risk for liver or kidney disease, speak to your doctor about getting checked. Early-stage liver and kidney disease often causes little to no symptoms, which is why a routine blood test can provide valuable insight into whether damage is occurring. Interested in testing from home? Try Homed-IQ’s Liver and Kidney Function Test. The results of this test come with a PDF laboratory report that can be shared with your doctor. 

References

5 Ways to Be Kind to Your Liver. (2021, October 18). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-ways-to-be-kind-to-your-liver

Can Dehydration Affect Your Kidneys? (2022, February 1). National Kidney Foundation. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.kidney.org/newsletter/can-dehydration-affect-your-kidneys

Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease. (2016, October). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/causes

Food Supplements in the European Union: the Difficult Route to Harmonization. (n.d.). RAPS. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.raps.org/news-and-articles/news-articles/2018/7/food-supplements-in-the-european-union-the-diffic

Goldkind, L., & Laine, L. (2006). A systematic review of NSAIDs withdrawn from the market due to hepatotoxicity: lessons learned from the bromfenac experience. Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, 15(4), 213–220. https://doi.org/10.1002/pds.1207

Health Promotion Knowledge Gateway. (n.d.). National low-risk drinking recommendations (or drinking guidelines) and standard units | Knowledge for policy. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://knowledge4policy.ec.europa.eu/health-promotion-knowledge-gateway/national-low-risk-drinking-recommendations-drinking-guidelines_en

How much water should you drink per day? (n.d.). Eufic. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.eufic.org/en/healthy-living/article/how-much-water-should-you-drink-per-day

Looking after your liver. (2021, December 22). British Liver Trust. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://britishlivertrust.org.uk/information-and-support/liver-health-2/love-your-liver/looking-after-your-liver/

NHS website. (2022, September 27). Alcohol-related liver disease. nhs.uk. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-related-liver-disease-arld/

Preventing Chronic Kidney Disease. (2016, October). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/prevention

Rutledge, S., & Asgharpour, A. (2020, December). Smoking and Liver Disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y), 16(12), 617–625. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34035697/

Smoking and Your Health. (2020, November 9). National Kidney Foundation. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/smoking

Which Drugs are Harmful to Your Kidneys? (2022, February 3). National Kidney Foundation. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/drugs-your-kidneys

About the Author

Lauren Dobischok

Lauren is a health scientist and science communicator living in the Netherlands. She has completed a Research Master in Health Sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam’s Netherlands Institute for Health Sciences (NIHES) with a specialization in epidemiology, and a B.Sc. in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. With a background in public health, her goal is to create accurate scientific content that is easy to understand and enables people to make informed decisions. Within Homed-IQ, Lauren serves as Product Developer and Content Lead, working closely with medical doctors and medical device scientists on Homed-IQ’s new products and written communications.