Alcohol and acetaminophen are not the only culprits ...
Too much sugar isn’t just bad for your teeth. It can harm your liver, too. The organ uses one type of sugar, called fructose, to create fat. Too much refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup cause a fatty buildup that can lead to liver disease. Some studies show that sugar can be as damaging to the liver as alcohol, even if you’re not overweight. One more reason to limit foods with added sugars, like soda, pastries, and candy.
MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)
MSG enhances the flavor of many packaged and prepared foods, from chips to diet drinks. (You might see it on a food label as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein,” “yeast extract,” or “soy extract.”) Still, some studies of animals suggest that the chemical may make the liver fatty and inflamed, which can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and liver cancer. Scientists need more research to know if MSG affects humans the same way.
Comfrey is a shrub found in Europe and Asia. Its leaves have a chemical that reduces swelling and keeps skin healthy, so you can find it in some pain-relieving creams. But comfrey also has substances that harm the liver. Don’t use a product that has it for more than 10 days at a time or for more than 6 weeks total in a year. Apply only very small amounts, and never put it on broken skin.
Just because the label says “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe. One serious danger is kava kava, an herb that can relieve menopause symptoms and help you relax. Studies show it can keep the liver from working, causing hepatitis and liver failure. Some countries have banned or restricted the herb, but it’s still available in the U.S. You should always talk to your doctor before you take any herbs to make sure they’re safe.
If you’re carrying around extra weight, fat can also build up in your liver cells, which can lead to NAFLD. It can make the liver swell. Over time, hardened scar tissue can replace healthy tissue (a condition doctors call cirrhosis). People who are overweight or obese, middle-aged, or have diabetes are at highest risk of NAFLD. There’s no cure, but eating well and exercise can sometimes reverse the disease.
Too Much Vitamin A
You can find vitamin A in eggs and milk as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those that are red, orange, and yellow. Many supplements also include it since it helps improve vision, strengthen bones, and give a boost to your immune system. But in very high doses, vitamin A is toxic to the liver. To stay safe, never take more than 10,000 IU a day.
When you get a tattoo or body piercing in a licensed, clean shop that sterilizes its equipment after each customer, the chances you’ll get a serious infection like hepatitis C are low. But if tools aren’t properly cleaned, your risk of hep C shoots up. The virus spreads through contact with the blood of an infected person and causes serious, sometimes lifelong liver illness. Check out the shop and its safety record before you get inked.
Scientists studied the diets of a group of people with NAFLD, taking into account their weight, the amount of fat in their blood, and if they had diabetes. One thing stood out: 80% of them drank 2 or more soft drinks a day. It didn’t matter if it was calorie-free or regular soda, which means an ingredient besides sugar could play a role in the condition. There’s no hard evidence, but some researchers think artificial sweeteners might be to blame.
It’s rare, but some antidepressants can harm your liver, even if you take them for only a few days. In some cases, the damage can be deadly. Older people or anyone taking a lot of other meds are at higher risk because their liver may be damaged already. If you’re taking antidepressants, talk with your doctor to make sure you’re on the smallest dose you need. Make sure you know the symptoms of liver illness to watch for.