Haims: Protecting your liver may prevent heart disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Those that think it only happens to “older people” are dead wrong. Outside of myself, I have three friends here in town who are in their early 50s (in very good physical shape) and who have already had heart concerns. According to the Million Hearts 2022 Initiative, “33% of the life-changing cardiovascular events occurred in adults 35 to 64 years of age.”
For men who may be in their mid-30s to late-40s, take note of this information from Harvard Medical School, “as many as 4% to 10% of all heart attacks occur before age 45, and most of these strike men.” Preventing heart disease does not have to be a major personal undertaking however, action needs to start earlier than later. A little education and the fortitude to be proactive is all we need.
For those interested out of curiosity or those who have personal reasons to learn about preventative measures for heart disease, maintaining a healthy weight, physical exercise, avoiding smoking and diet are likely the top four factors to be educated about. However, there may now be a fifth — liver dysfunctions.
The liver is an extremely important part of the body. It is not only an organ but a gland as well. As an organ, it is a filter that cleans blood from the digestive tract and removes toxins from food, medication and alcohol. Other functions include making bile for digestion and metabolizing fats, proteins and carbohydrates. As a gland, it makes proteins found in the blood and hormones that other parts of the body need.
Liver dysfunction can cause many health problems — one of which is heart concerns. It is estimated that about one in four adults worldwide has a liver condition that may put them at risk for heart disease. When the liver is not functioning properly, it may affect the heart by causing high blood pressure, blood clotting issues, impeding the metabolization of fats and causing systemic inflammation and oxidative stress.
For many years, it has been known that the liver and heart have a symbiotic relationship and that heart failure and liver disease coexist. This is because systemic disorders and diseases affect both organs (alcohol abuse, drugs, inflammation, autoimmunity, infections) and because of complex interactions between the two organs.
When high levels of fats build up in the liver, one condition that frequently occurs is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This can potentially lead to scarring and inflammation in the liver.
Dr. P. Barton Duell at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon, explains, “Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common condition that is often hidden or missed in routine medical care. It is important to know about the condition and treat it early because it is a risk factor for chronic liver damage and cardiovascular disease.”
NAFLD most often occurs due to excessive calorie consumption. When the liver cannot properly process and break down fats, fats accumulate. According to the American Liver Foundation, “Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease tends to develop in people who are overweight or obese or have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides.” Other risk factors may include poor diet, sleep apnea and an underactive thyroid.
While being overweight may be subjective, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides are not. If any of your medical providers have addressed the concern of the aforementioned, and you have even the slightest inclination that NAFLD could be a risk factor, there are simple blood tests to make confirmation. Two common tests your medical provider may choose to identify the possibility of NAFLD are blood tests that show increased levels of the liver enzymes alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase.
An unhealthy liver has shown to contribute to plaque development within the coronary arteries, inhibited processing of cholesterol and making proteins that help our blood clot. Inhibited liver functioning has also shown associations with ventricular arrhythmias in addition to harming specialized muscle cells in the walls of the heart that send signals to control our heartbeat.
The British Medical Journal indicates that worldwide, the prevalence of NAFLD is on the rise. From 1990 to 2017, prevalence more than doubled: 391.2 million in 1990 to 882.1 million in 2017. If this subject interests you, search online and educate yourself.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.