The human liver performs many vital tasks. If this robust organ becomes seriously ill, fatty or steadily shrinks after a long illness, it can therefore become dangerous. This makes it all the more important to switch to the right food in good time. Well fed, the liver can often regenerate.
This is how the multi talent works
Weighing around one and a half kilograms, the liver is the largest internal organ in an adult: Like a small factory, substances are broken down, converted or stored here until they are needed. The latter applies to excess glucose, vitamins and trace elements. Bile for digestion is also produced in the liver. Toxic breakdown products, alcohol and pollutants ingested with food enter the liver, our detoxification organ, through the blood vessels. But too much alcohol and harmful substances can damage the liver cells. damage. The tricky thing is that the organ is insensitive to pain. That's why liver patients don't notice their disease for a long time.
A widely spread disease of the liver is fat storage, which leads to so-called fatty liver. Around 30 percent of the population in Germany is affected. Although alcohol is immediately suspected, it is considered only one of the possible triggers. Other common causes are obesity, diabetes or viral hepatitis. If the organ reacts with inflammation, it becomes dangerous. This can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, which in turn increases the risk of liver cancer. How can nutrition be used to counteract this? This question has occupied Ilse Christodoulou, nutritionist and diabetes assistant at Vivantes Hospital "Am Urban", for years. One thing is certain: people with acute and chronic liver problems should avoid substances that have been proven to damage the liver, such as alcohol. If the liver disease has other causes, such as obesity or diabetes, the dietary recommendations depend on the underlying disease.
Shrunken liver causes deficiency
A severe chronic liver disease is known as cirrhosis, or shrunken liver. In this condition, the tissue gradually scars over, causing the organ to contract and no longer be able to perform its functions. Officially, there are one million liver cirrhosis patients in Germany, but the number of unreported cases is much higher. "For this group of patients, the topic of nutrition has been very neglected so far," diagnoses nutritionist Ilse Christodoulou, "although 70 percent of liver cirrhosis patients* suffer from a lack of energy and protein." There are many reasons for this. Example: alcohol addiction. Those who have no appetite or a disturbed sense of taste may not eat much or a balanced diet. If the stomach cannot expand as far as it should due to an accumulation of water in the abdomen - so-called ascites - the feeling of satiety occurs too soon. This leads to a loss of muscle mass and subcutaneous fat. This is often accompanied by a deficiency of vitamins and trace elements. The immune system is disturbed, and liver function deteriorates further. A vicious circle. This is because the metabolism switches to burning fat for energy and continues to break down the body's own protein.
Paying attention to proteins
"Until a few years ago, medical textbooks usually recommended exactly the wrong thing with regard to protein nutrition for liver cirrhosis patients, namely protein restriction. That was a misconception," clarifies Prof. Dr. med. Hans Scherübl, Chief Physician for Internal Medicine at Vivantes Hospital "Am Urban". Because with a shrinking liver above all the protein need is increased: In order to prevent the loss of the Unterhautfettgewebes, an increased protein supply of daily 1.2 to 1.5 gram per kilogram of body weight is urgently recommended. A protein carrier should therefore be present in every meal, no matter how small. Proteins containing branched-chain amino acids, such as milk, dairy products, vegetables and legumes, in combination with cereals, represent an optimal protein supply.
The right energy counts
High-energy energy intake with many small meals daily is essential for patients* with liver shrinkage. The recommendation is 35 to 40 kilocalories per kilogram of normal weight. Since the normal weight is calculated from the body height in centimeters minus 100, a 1.75 meter tall patient, for example, should consume 2,600 to 3,000 kilocalories daily. This amount of food is usually difficult for patients with liver disease. High-fat foods such as cream, butter, crème fraîche and oils help here. Often, the use of a high-calorie drinkable food is also necessary. A late snack before bedtime has a particularly invigorating effect.
Lots of fiber, little salt, lots of exercise
Dietary fiber, as found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, also plays an important role. These indigestible carbohydrates shorten the passage time of food through the colon and bind toxins. They also aid digestion and slow the rise in blood sugar. Caution is advised with salt. The daily intake should not exceed five grams. If sufferers feel tired and weak in the muscles, a deficiency of vitamins and trace elements may also be at play. In this case, a plant-rich diet also has a positive effect. In addition to a good nutritional status, a healthy body weight also contributes to recovery and prophylaxis. As well as sport. Regular physical exercise also supports liver function.