The liver and its vital connection to our overall health

Type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, chronic kidney disease and obesity – most of us have heard of or know someone who deals with one or more of these conditions. But what about our liver? How much do you know about liver diseases? And what does liver health have to do with all the other diseases?

Shows how heart, liver and kidney are deeply interconnected in one CRM system.

The above-mentioned diseases all belong to the cardiovascular, renal and metabolic (CRM) system. With up to 20 million deaths annually, CRM diseases are the number one cause of death in the world today. It’s a group of diseases that are all interconnected, co-exist and can amplify one another. For people affected, this means serious health problems that can worsen over time, resulting in a significant burden on lives. It’s therefore unsurprising that people often live with not just one, but several of these conditions.

How does the liver contribute to this?

The importance of the liver as an organ is often overlooked. Think of a petrol tank in a car: it processes the fuel we put in and provides it to the rest of the machine. Without it, the car couldn’t drive. The liver is a key part of the CRM system and has a similar role. It’s a vital organ that keeps our bodies healthy and functioning, and governs our body’s metabolism, which is essential for our overall health.

The liver plays a central role in our body’s metabolic processes by breaking down or converting substances, balancing energy metabolism, and making toxins less harmful. It also interacts with the endocrine and gastrointestinal systems by aiding in digestion and metabolism. Our medical expert on liver health, Ramy Younes, explains: “Liver health is crucial for skin, eyes, circulation, energy levels, detoxification, vitamin storage and absorption, and much more. If the liver is damaged, these functions can be disrupted, affecting the body as a whole.” That means CRM diseases, including liver diseases, need to be managed together, instead of separated and with fragmented care. A healthy liver can benefit the whole body more than we might realize. 

Speaking to Ramy Younes about the liver, it becomes clear that our understanding of liver health has developed in recent years: “One of the most significant changes has been the change of names for certain liver diseases to reflect a better understanding of what causes them. Previously, we referred to two diseases as NAFLD and NASH, which stood for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. These names suggested that these diseases were mainly linked to non-alcoholic factors.” 

According to Ramy, however, we’ve since learned that metabolic dysfunction, or a glitch in how the body converts or uses energy, plays a significant role. Alcohol consumption can contribute to these diseases alongside metabolic factors. So, to more accurately reflect our understanding that these diseases are also closely linked to the workings of the metabolic system, the names have been changed to MASLD and MASH, which stand for metabolic associated fatty liver disease and metabolic associated steatohepatitis. 

What happens when the liver is not functioning properly? 

Just as we can gain weight and have excess fat in our bodies, the same thing can happen to our liver, as Ramy explains: “Fatty liver often develops due to metabolic disorders such as obesity or diabetes, which result in a toxic build-up of fat in the liver.”  A fatty liver makes the petrol tank less effective, and it can't do its job properly. “When the liver does not process and break down fat effectively, too much fat accumulates in the liver, causing fatty liver disease," adds Ramy. This can have serious consequences, such as end-stage liver disease and liver cancer.

What can I do today to improve my liver health?

Start doing something for your liver health today. Here are five tips.

  1. Provide your car with good fuel: lots of nutrient-dense food, and minimize food with excessive fat, sugar, and alcohol. 
  2. Keep your car moving and include regular workouts in your day-to-day life. 
  3. Just as getting your car inspected can prevent serious issues, regular check-ups keep you aware of your liver health. 
  4. You wouldn't mix other substances with your petrol, would you? Avoid harmful substances where possible and if not necessary. 
  5. Stay hydrated. As for overall body health, it’s also important for the liver to get enough water to function properly.
Family enjoying being together outside.

Beyond this, the interconnected cardiovascular, renal and metabolic system means that liver health also depends on other factors and the health of the rest of the system.  It’s important to not only look at the individual parts of our body in isolation, but together – if individual parts don’t function properly, this affects the whole. 
Having a family history of liver disease or living with another CRM condition, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease or obesity can increase your risk. If you have any concerns, always discuss them with a healthcare professional.

Resources

  • Rui L. Energy metabolism in the liver. Compr Physiol. 2014 Jan;4(1):177-97. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c130024
  • British Liver Trust. International NASH Day. Available at: https://britishlivertrust.org.uk/nashday/. Last accessed: February 2024.
  • Ramai D, Facciorusso, et al. Progressive Liver Fibrosis in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Cells. 2021 Dec 2;10(12):3401. 
  • Estes C, Razavi H, Loomba R, et al. Modeling the epidemic of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease demonstrates an exponential increase in burden of disease. Hepatology. 2018; 67:123–133.
  • Tana C, Ballestri S, Ricci F, et al. Cardiovascular Risk in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Mechanisms and Therapeutic Implications. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019; 16.
  • British Liver Trust. Liver Health. About the liver. Available at: About the liver - British Liver Trust. Last accessed: February 2024.
Positioning in CRM
Metabolic Diseases

Positioning in Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolic Diseases

Our mission is to protect people from the consequences of cardiovascular, renal and metabolic diseases, and advocate for a shift from fragmented to integrated solutions that focus on prevention and treatment.