Professor Roger Williams CBE
Director, Institute of Hepatology, London and the Foundation for Liver Research and Professor of Hepatology, Kings College London
A recent poll into Liver Disease in the UK1 revealed very few people realise how easily they can damage their liver.
89% of people appreciate that drinking too much alcohol is harmful to the liver. However, when asked to identify the recommended ‘safe’ limits, just 32% of drinkers could correctly identify them.
Despite the fact that an estimated 24% of adults in England and Scotland regularly drink over the recommended weekly guidelines, 57% of poll respondents felt their current levels of consumption did not affect their health.
But with one in 10 people developing a liver problem, these numbers just don’t add up. We all know someone that has or will develop liver disease. Too many of us are risking our health without realising the harm we may be causing.
Very few people are aware that they might experience no symptoms until quite an advanced stage of liver disease.
How much is too much?
The guidelines from the Chief Medical Officer2 for England recommend adults consume no more than 14 units a week, with consumption spread evenly over three or more days. Experts recommend two alcohol free days a week.
But we don’t order drinks by the unit, thus education on how units translate to what you might be drinking is essential.
Consumers want better information about alcohol
The poll also found that the majority of respondents would not only accept but welcome more insight on alcohol products. Over half (52%) agreed that more information on the calorie content of alcohol would help them make more informed choices.
In July 2019, drinks industry watchdog, the Portman Group, announced it would encourage all alcohol producers to state the 14-unit-a-week recommendation on packaging of alcohol products3.
Even with this policy, there is no sanction if members fail to comply. The reality remains that there is more information on a pint of milk than a bottle of whisky.
Tackling stigma will help us talk openly about alcohol
Very few people are aware that they might experience no symptoms until quite an advanced stage of liver disease. Alcohol is the single biggest preventable cause of the disease but, as the poll shows, too many of us are drinking excessively without realising it, while the information we need to make better choices is not always clear to see.
What many people also don’t know is that alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including mouth, throat, stomach, and breast cancers; high blood pressure; cirrhosis of the liver; and depression.
Liver disease carries with it a great deal of stigma, which is unfair and unhelpful. We need to be more mature about how we choose to reduce our personal risk, as well as how to support those who are diagnosed with a liver problem.
Listen to your liver
The liver is an astonishing organ, at the centre of far more of your good health and bodily processes than you might realise. It often suffers in silence, only complaining when problems become far advanced.
Even at an advanced stage of disease, total abstinence from alcohol can improve your liver health. Don’t let your liver suffer in silence.