According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 3.9 million adults are diagnosed with liver disease annually. Many of these liver diseases can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, hygiene, getting vaccinated, avoiding drug abuse and overuse, and drinking moderately. Moreover, if damage has already occurred and liver function tests detect the abnormality early, timely intervention stops many possible life-limiting complications.
What Do the Liver Protein Test Results Mean?
Albumin and total protein tests are critical liver function tests that help the doctor assess how well your liver is functioning. The normal reference range for an albumin test is 3.5 to 5.0g/dL while for total proteins it is 6.3 to 7.9g/dL.
If the tests are abnormal, they are suggestive of:
- A low total protein level can indicate a liver (reduced production) or kidney (increased excretion) disease, severe malnutrition (through diet or chronic illness), and malabsorption (a condition in which the body does not absorb proteins during digestion).
- High total protein level can reflect severe infections of the liver or conditions that release abnormal high levels of protein, as seen in multiple myeloma.
- Low albumin level can mean a liver (reduced production) or kidney (increased excretion) disease, malnutrition, infections or malabsorption.
- High albumin level can suggest an excessive loss of water from the body (dehydration) or high protein diets (body builders).
It is important to note that your doctor may require other tests to be carried out before making a definite diagnosis.
Are There Any Lifestyle Modifications to Improve Abnormal Protein Levels?
As mentioned above, there is so much that can be done to prevent these abnormal levels. Here are some things that you can do to balance the levels and to avoid liver disease and its progression.
1. Eat a Balanced Diet
Abnormal liver function affects the absorption of food and production of proteins and vitamins. Therefore, balance your diet with all the five food groups (whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats and poultry, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds and legumes), to ensure that the body is getting all the nutrients that it needs. Stay away from high-calorie meals, saturated fats, processed sugars and undercooked fish products. Hydrating with plenty of water (not carbonated or artificial drinks) also helps the liver to function better, though if you have congestive heart failure please talk to your doctor about hydration needs.
The changes to make in terms of the portion of each food group heavily rely on how well the liver is working or how much of it has been damaged. For people with a severely damaged liver, proteins are not properly processed, causing accumulation of harmful products. In such a case, one may need to reduce the quantity of protein ingestion. Your nutritionist will help you find the right balance to ensure that you are also ingesting the right amount for amino acid production.
Increasing the amount of carbohydrates in proportion to the protein cut down is recommended. The increased carbs provide the required calories and at the same time prevent protein breakdown in the liver. Salt should also be reduced to less than 1.5 grams per day, since it increases fluid buildup in the liver, worsening its functioning by making it swell.
Another important consideration in the food choices that you make is the type of the farming methods used. The liver works very hard to detoxify harmful substances from the body. These substances include chemicals used for pest control. When the liver is damaged, it cannot do the detoxification as well as it should. To lessen the workload, choose organically farmed foods and thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables to remove any chemical residue.
There is scientific proof that coffee can protect you from liver damage. A report by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee and the British Liver Trust provides evidence that moderate amounts of coffee lower the risk of liver conditions. For the coffee to be beneficial, it should be filtered, instant and espresso.
If you are experiencing loss of appetite and nausea, eating small but frequent portions of meals is better than big meals. You can also consider nutritious snacks and foods that you like instead of forcing meals that are not pleasing to you. Take your time while eating by chewing well and relax after each meal.
In severe liver disease, in addition to reading this information, you should also consult your doctor who will refer you to a registered dietitian.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight or obese, there is high chance that a significant amount of body fat accumulates in the liver, causing serious liver damage. According to the British Liver Trust, obesity also worsens liver damage caused by factors other than fat accumulation in the liver. It also makes it more difficult to treat liver infections such as hepatitis C by reducing the effectiveness of the treatment methods.
Healthy sustainable weight loss through food portion control, regular exercise, and a balanced diet is recommended. Avoid fad weight loss diets that promise instant results. Yes, you may see some results, but they are only short-lived and cause further strain to the kidney and liver. An increase in physical activity and reduction of daily calorie intake is thus the best route to take.
Your doctor or even a personal coach can help you with the education, reminding, physical and emotional will or discipline to stick to a healthy diet if you do not see results on your own.
3. Regular Physical Activity
Exercise is not only recommended for those who are trying to lose weight. The American Heart Association endorses 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise 3 to 4 times per week. As you exercise, you improve blood supply to the liver, prevent the build-up of fat in the liver and delay muscle wasting if a liver disease has already set in. If you feel sickly, simple exercises like helping around the house and walking are also beneficial.
4. Drink Moderately
One of the key contributors to liver damage is heavy drinking over a long period of time. Alcoholic beverages damage the liver cells creating many health problems including abnormal protein production. The Canadian Liver Foundation recommends complete cessation of alcohol consumption for people with liver disease. The foundation also proposes 10 standard drinks a week for women, with no more than 2 drinks per day; and 15 standard drinks for men per week, with no more than 2 drinks per day, in absence of liver disease.
5. Stick to Recommended Medication Doses
The liver plays a vital role in breakdown and elimination of drugs. During the processes, some of the drugs release toxic substances that cause damage to the liver cells. A medication like paracetamol that is accessible over the counter accounts for a significant number of drug-induced liver failure cases if taken in large amounts. Most of the drugs are safe when taken as directed even for people with liver disease. However, if overdosed or taken with alcohol, the results are damaging to the liver. It is therefore wise to always consult your doctor before taking any medication. Illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine also cause liver damage and should entirely be avoided.
The most commonly used medications that can potentially damage the liver are: augmentin, acetaminophen (or panadol), all NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), amiodarone, allopurinol, methotrexate, risperidone, seizure medications, isoniacid, azathioprine.
6. Get Vaccinated
Fortunately, there are effective vaccines for Hepatitis A and B viruses. When you receive all the recommended doses, you remain protected for at least ten years. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by viruses. The condition causes damage to the liver and limits its functionality.
Although Hepatitis A and B have vaccines available, types C, D, and E still pose a risk to the liver. Other than vaccination, you should prevent infection through good hygiene, avoiding close contact with infected people or their body fluids (sharing of used needles, unsafe sex, tattooing instruments and razors) and only drink safe, clean water.
If the liver could speak, it would definitely say “you are what you eat, drink and do.” The liver undeniably works hard to break down what you consume and remove harmful substances. So, if it cannot be healthy, neither can you. Ensuring your liver stays healthy through lifestyle modifications and tracking the liver function tests is therefore, a necessity for anyone who desires to lead a healthy life.
If you want to find out more about your liver proteins, take a look at our biomarker post here!
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