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Liver transplant waiting lists fueled by alcohol, obesity

Alcohol consumption and being overweight is contributing to a record number of Americans needing liver transplants.

The rise is being seen most acutely by those over 65 whose numbers now mirror those between 40 and 50 years of age.   Liver transplant waiting lists have exploded more than at any point in history according to new data. The two leading factors remain the growing trend of alcohol consumption and obesity which has become a problem among all age groups.

In fact, these two causes have overtaken hepatitis C as the main drivers of liver failure. In most cases, the 65-plus population is experiencing liver disease resulting from fatty liver disease, in which excess fat on the organ leads to scarring that impairs function. When alcohol is consumed, the damage becomes life-threatening.

READ: How new techniques in childhood liver transplants are saving lives

The increase in the necessity for liver transplants in this demographic is interesting because traditionally, it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Most liver transplants occur in midlife, generally between 40 and 50.

Researchers with Inova Health System in Falls Church, Virginia, conducted the study. They found that in the early 2000s, 13 percent of 65-plus liver transplants were related to fatty liver disease. In 2020, that number jumped to 39 percent. Further, numbers have shown that the difference in the need for transplants now, between those over and under 65, only differs by a few percentage points.

The study shows the increase is not environment-related but, rather totally lifestyle-related. It’s connected to metabolic health troubles resulting from years of poor eating, carrying excess weight, and drinking, which can cause the body to stop working properly and shut down.

But there’s good news. People can stop the damage and even reverse it. The liver is a resilient organ that can heal itself if given the opportunity.

But it might take a lot of work depending on your current lifestyle.

Stop drinking alcohol is the first priority. Researchers have found that if alcohol was a new product and applied for FDA approval under current guidelines, it would be denied because of its toxicity and damage to the body. Other important ways to reverse, or prevent it, is cutting processed food, losing weight, and eating more vegetables. These can help repair the liver.

Plus, if you have a sweet tooth, watch out. Excess sugar is quite hard on the liver, so replacing sugar with other healthier calories can play a major role in liver health.

There’s more good news for coffee drinkers. Black coffee and broccoli may offer unique restorative benefits to your liver and are part of a liver-friendly diet.

–Wire services