There are several organs in our body that we can technically live without, but the liver is certainly not one of them. Not only is it one of the largest organs in your body—it’s also one of the most important, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, liver disease is a common problem for many people in the U.S., with the latest data from the agency showing that there were more than 4.5 million adults in the country diagnosed in 2018. And the death rate from liver disease has also been rising rapidly over the last several years. According to WebMD, the rate of death from cirrhosis—one type of liver disease—increased by 65 percent between 1999 and 2016, while deaths from liver cancer doubled during this same time period.
There are several types of diseases that can be associated with the liver, making it hard to pinpoint if you’re experiencing trouble with this organ in particular. But experts say there is one common symptom of many different forms of liver trouble. Read on to find out what you should be looking out for when you eat.
READ THIS NEXT: If You Notice This Around Your Eyes, Get Your Liver Checked.
Eating well is an important factor in keeping yourself healthy and energized. But this daily action is also a good monitor of what else is going on in your body. For women in their 40s and 50s, changes in taste while eating could be a indicator that they’re entering menopause. And for everyone, experiencing a metallic taste in the mouth while eating can be a warning sign that you may be developing dementia.
You might also show signs of contracting concerning diseases after eating specific foods, like developing purple blisters due to a flesh-eating disease from raw shellfish, or waking up with welts after eating meat or diary because of a food allergy caused by a tick bite.
But one symptom you may notice at your next meal has strong associations with the liver.
If you find yourself becoming less and less interested in food, your liver could be to blame. Dimitar Marinov, MD, a physician with a specialization in nutrition and dietetics, says that loss of appetite is one of “the most common signs” of poor liver health or liver damage. According to Medical News Today, poor appetite is a common symptom seen in several different types of liver diseases including hepatitis, liver cancer, alcoholic and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver failure.
“The most common liver complication likely at play is hepatitis, an infection that keeps your liver from performing its job. In some cases, it is hard to even know that the virus has been contracted and so loss of appetite, nausea, and jaundice are what tells the practitioner to look at the liver,” says Mayuri Ramkolowan, a holistic health coach and CEO of Holistic May May. On the other hand, loss of appetite might not show up as a symptom for alcoholic and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or cirrhosis until later in the progression of one’s illness.
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The liver plays a vital role in your digestive system by performing many different functions, according to the experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine. The liver produces two important substances—bile, which turns fats into energy, and albumin, which helps carry hormones, drugs, and fatty acids through your body. It also gets rid of bilirubin, which can cause jaundice at high levels, and helps remove toxic substances like alcohol or medicine from your body. The liver also works to keep a healthy blood sugar level in your body by supplying glucose to your blood when needed, and removing it when there’s too much.
“The liver functions to help metabolize most of the foods and medications that we ingest,” explains Steven C. Nadler, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist and hematologist at Middlesex Monmouth Gastroenterology in New Jersey. “A liver that is not functioning properly may result in a buildup of various toxins or improperly digested food in the blood and thus result in one feeling ill or developing a poor appetite.”
Not everyone who is experiencing problems with their appetite may be struggling with their liver, however. Tabitha Cranie, MD, a family physician working in St. Petersburg, Florida, and a medical expert for NWPH, warns that a loss of appetite “can result from many reasons,” including potentially more manageable health problems such as stress or depression. Poor appetite can also be associated with various medications and infections, according to Nadler.
If you are experiencing problems with your liver, you would likely have more symptoms alongside a loss of appetite. According to Medical News Today, other common signs of liver disease include fever, tiredness or weakness, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, pale stool, nausea and vomiting, and pain under the ribs on the right side of your body.
But no matter what the underlying cause may be, if you’re experiencing new or worsening changes with your appetite, you should talk to a doctor. “The true cause for a loss of appetite requires a careful medical examination,” Nadler advises.
READ THIS NEXT: If You Notice This on Your Arms or Legs, Have Your Liver Checked.
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