The liver, the big, meaty organ on the right side of your belly that you never think about, is more essential than you think—it’s your body’s filtration system. All blood leaving the intestines and stomach goes through there, and it excretes bile, which helps carry away waste. Show it some respect. Keep it clean. There may be ways you’re unknowingly ruining your liver, be it by what you’re drinking, what you’re sniffing or where you’re going. Read on to discover 7 ways you’re ruining your liver—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Have “Long” COVID and May Not Even Know It.

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Drinking alcohol seems fun to you, but it puts your liver to work, as it has to process it through your body. If the liver cells become overworked, it can lead to damage—sometimes a scarring called fibrosis and sometimes severe damage called cirrhosis. “Drink alcohol in moderation,” says the Mayo Clinic. “For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. Heavy or high-risk drinking is defined as more than eight drinks a week for women and more than 15 drinks a week for men.”

Aerosol for insect control in the hands of a woman wearing a mask.
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Since the liver is a detoxifying station, it doesn’t just filter out what you drink; it filters out the chemicals you smell. “Take care with aerosol sprays. Make sure to use these products in a well-ventilated area, and wear a mask when spraying insecticides, fungicides, paint and other toxic chemicals. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions,” says the Mayo Clinic.

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“While the liver is responsible for cleaning toxins from the blood, overexposure to toxins can be harmful,” says Johns Hopkins. “Read warning labels on chemicals you use around the house, and wash fruits and vegetables before consumption to ensure you’re not digesting pesticides. Buy clean fruits and greens. Johns Hopkins nutrition specialist Lynda McIntyre recommends learning about the Environmental Working Group’s classifications of the Dirty Dozen™ and Clean Fifteen™ with regard to pesticides.”

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Blood sample for hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing
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Hepatitis C is a virus that attacks your liver, and you can get it from infected blood. “About half of people with HCV don’t know they’re infected, mainly because they have no symptoms, which can take decades to appear. For that reason, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adults ages 18 to 79 years be screened for hepatitis C, even those without symptoms or known liver disease. The largest group at risk includes everyone born between 1945 and 1965 — a population five times more likely to be infected than those born in other years,” says the Mayo Clinic.

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Make sure any tattoo or body piercing needles are clean. “Needles and other equipment used contribute to the risk of cross-contamination and disease. If equipment is not new or properly sterilized, or if proper hygienic guidelines are not followed, blood-borne diseases, like hepatitis B and C (which may lead to life-long liver damage and subsequent liver cancer), HIV, tetanus and tuberculosis, may be transmitted,” reports University of Michigan Health.

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“Even though you can’t see it hidden away under your rib cage, if your liver could speak to you, it would say: ‘I’m working hard, doing my best to process what you eat and drink into energy and nutrients. Hey, I’m also your filter! I’m trying to remove harmful substances from your blood. So, won’t you at least help me?'” says the Liver Foundation. “If you eat a healthy diet, your liver ‘tells’ you that you’re doing a great job. You get the message because your liver is able to function properly and, provided your overall health is good, you feel in great physical shape. If, on the other hand, you aren’t careful with your diet, your liver is defenseless. When you consume fatty or fried foods, and pile on the salt, your liver literally is under attack.”

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Says a report in Science Daily: “Researchers have shown that an exercise regimen reduces liver steatosis and stiffness in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. These gains in hepatic health are mediated through modification of inter-organ cross-talk, circulatory organokine alterations and reductions in inflammation and oxidative stress. Because these benefits are unrelated to weight loss, all therapeutic regimens should integrate regular exercise and patients should remain diligent and compliant regardless of bodyweight changes.” How much exercise is helpful? “We know 150 minutes each week sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not. That could be 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. The good news is that you can spread your activity out during the week, so you don’t have to do it all at once. You can even break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day. Learn more about finding a balance that works for you,” says the CDC. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.