Doctors: Bad diet could be as bad for your liver as excessive alcohol

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — According to the British Medical Journal, alcohol is claiming the lives of more young Americans today than it did more than a decade ago. Their research sheds a light on liver cancer and cirrhosis-related death. 

The research shows cirrhosis deaths going up 65 percent from 1999 to 2016. Liver cancer rates are up 46 percent. It also shows young people, ages 25-34 are experiencing the highest uptick in cirrhosis deaths. 

Dr. Cara Conners with UT Medical Center says there is more to these numbers than simply alcohol. While she agrees drinking above the recommended amount can harm your liver, she doesn’t believe this report provides a full picture of the scope of the problem. She believes a fatty liver can lead to these life-threatening problems. A fatty liver, she explains, can be caused by obesity as well as eating too much processed or fast foods. 

While the liver is a strong organ that can repair itself, she explains there is a point of no return. She’s seen liver failure and describes it as excruciating for patients.

“They’ll have severe abdominal pain and fluid within their abdomen will sometimes require a procedure to pull that fluid off. I’ve seen as many as two to three liters pulled off the abdomen because their body can’t process anymore,” she said.

The BMJ study shows men are twice as likely as women to die from cirrhosis of the liver and four times as likely as women to die from liver cancer. While she doesn’t see it as a complete set of details, she’s thankful the study is getting attention.

“I’m glad that the alcoholic aspect has been brought into awareness with it, but i just feel like there is so much more to liver disease,” said Conners.

To ensure you have a healthy liver, she says avoid fast food, eat fruits and vegetable and drink water. She also recommends you stay within the recommended amount of alcohol consumption. 

The recommended amount is no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one a day for women. 

“People will jokingly ask, oh, well if I have a six pack on Friday night, that counts as one a day, and I’m like no it’s no cumulative it’s per 24 hours,” Conners said. 

Lincoln Memorial University also released troubling statistics pointing to young people and binge drinking. They found 40 percent of college students binge drink. For men, that’s five drinks in a two hour time span and for women, it’s four. 

Mallory Campbell with Bradford Health Services says alcohol is seen as “because it’s legal, it must also be safe.”

“I can drive down the interstate on my way home and see a billboards for alcohol, whether that’s liquor or beer. There’s beer at every gas station. so, i think sometimes that consequences and affects of alcohol aren’t taken seriously,” Campbell added. 

She says it’s a good idea to track how much you’re drinking and if you think you have a problem, ask for help. 

Local facilities if you or someone you know may be impacted by alcoholism: