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Surefire Ways You're Ruining Your Liver, Studies Show

Stop doing it right now.

Your liver is the ultimate multitasker: It filters all the blood in the body and breaks down the substances within. But not only does the liver have to contend with toxins like alcohol, pesticides, and chemicals, it also processes fats, carbs, and sugars from everything we eat. If you make the liver's job too overwhelming, it can be damaged, sometimes seriously. These are five common ways people ruin their livers, according to recent studies. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


You're Overweight or Obese

man stepping onto digital scale
Shutterstock / Andrej Safaric

Called a "silent epidemic," Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is the most common liver-related condition in the U.S.—about 25% of adults are affected. As the name implies, it occurs when excessive amounts of fat build up in the liver. This can lead to an inflammatory condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), scarring (cirrhosis), liver cancer, and liver failure. According to a 2020 report in the journal Translational Gastroenterology and Hepatology, obesity is the #1 risk factor. "The entire spectrum of obesity, ranging from overweight to obese and severely obese, is associated with NAFLD," the researchers wrote. To reduce your risk, maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if necessary. According to a 2018 review of studies, losing only 10% of body weight is enough to resolve NASH in more than 90% of people.

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You're Sedentary

A woman in her 40s wearing headphones and eating popcorn while watching a movie on a streaming service on a laptop at night.

Another major risk factor for NAFLD: An inactive lifestyle. That's the conclusion of several studies, including a 2020 cross-sectional analysis published in Lipids in Health and Disease. South Korean researchers analyzed health data of more than 13,000 people and found that the most sedentary quartile had nearly five times the risk of NAFLD of the most active quartile—and that risk increased "in magnitude" with more hours spent sitting. According to a 2018 review of studies, regular exercise reduces liver fat even if it doesn't result in weight loss. 

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You're Eating or Drinking Too Much Added Sugar

Hungry woman looking for food in fridge

Consuming too much added sugar doesn't just result in obesity—it can cause the body to develop insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone released when sugar enters the bloodstream; it speeds that fuel into cells for energy. But when your system is regularly swamped with sugar, insulin production may slow or stop. That can lead to diabetes. Both insulin resistance and uncontrolled diabetes are associated with NAFLD.

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You're Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Man relaxing with bourbon whiskey drink alcoholic beverage in hand and using mobile smartphone

Alcohol can lead to liver damage on its own, known as alcoholic fatty liver disease. Inflammation and potentially fatal conditions like cirrhosis, cancer, and liver failure can result. Heavy drinking during the pandemic has led to a sharp increase in the number of people hospitalized for alcoholic liver disease nationwide. To reduce your risk, drink alcohol only in moderation: No more than two drinks a day for men, and no more than one drink a day for women. 


Taking Acetaminophen While Doing This

wine and medication

Taking the pain reliever acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) and drinking more than the recommended amount (again, no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women) can cause potentially severe liver damage. "If you regularly drink more than the recommended number of alcoholic drinks per day, you'd be best off to only use acetaminophen in rare instances and avoid daily doses greater than 4,000 mg," says the Cleveland Clinic. ​And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael