One in 10 Americans will develop liver disease in their lifetime. When a large part of the liver becomes damaged beyond repair, and the organ is no longer able to function, toxins build up in the body, leading to liver failure. This often develops over time, but acute liver failure occurs rapidly and is more difficult to detect initially.
The No. 1 warning sign of acute liver failure is jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
Studies have shown that acetaminophen, an ingredient found in over-the-counter pain relievers, is the leading cause of acute liver failure. The drug is safe when taken in moderation, but the American Liver Foundation recommends that you take no more than six extra strength tablets or 3 grams of acetaminophen per day. "As a rule of thumb, you never want to take more than six acetaminophen in one day," plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon says. "That will be toxic to your liver."
Common causes of liver failure:
• Hepatitis viruses
• Excessive alcohol consumption
• Overdose of acetaminophen
• Exposure to dangerous chemicals
"The most common reason for liver disease, in general, is alcoholism," ER physician Dr. Travis Stork explains.
Research shows that if you drink two or more sodas per day or too much fruit juice, you increase your chances of developing fatty liver disease by 80 percent. Pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears recommends that children drink only 4 to 6 ounces of 100 percent juice a day.
"The liver is actually a filtering organ," Dr. Travis explains. "When you're drinking beverages with so much sugar, that sugar will literally be deposited in your liver as fatty deposits. Over time, you can get what's called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease."
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can cause an inflammation of the liver that can lead to cirrhosis, where scarring of the liver causes poor liver function and eventual failure.
"Diet sodas can do the same thing because they're changing your insulin metabolism with the added sweeteners," Dr. Ordon adds.
• Loss of appetite
• Inflammation and swelling of the liver and abdominal area
• Dark-colored urine
• Pale-colored stool
Some liver problems can be treated with medications, while others may require surgical intervention or transplant, in the case of liver failure.
To maintain a healthy liver:
• Limit alcohol consumption
• Never drink alcohol while taking acetaminophen
• Get vaccinations for hepatitis A and B
• Limit your daily intake of fatty or sugary foods and beverages