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How can I speed up my liver recovery?

Looking after your liver

Did you know that 9 in 10 cases of liver disease could be prevented?

Your liver is the largest organ inside your body and does hundreds of essential jobs. It works hard and it has an amazing ability to repair itself. But it is like an elastic band – it can only stretch so far before it breaks.

On this page you can find out more about looking after your liver.

On this page

  • Alcohol
  • Diet and exercise
  • Viral hepatitis
  • Love Your Liver campaign

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One in five of us is at risk of liver disease. This could be the most important thing you do today.


A quarter of us drink at levels that could put our health at risk.

Many of us drink a bit more than we should. Regularly drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol can damage your liver. This can lead to alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) and liver cancer.

What you can do to reduce liver damage from alcohol

  • Men and women should drink no more than 14 units per week.
  • Give your liver a regular break and have 2 to 3 alcohol free days each week – try to have them all in a row.

For help with understanding units, and with taking the first steps to cut down on alcohol, download our cutting down on alcohol factsheet.

Diet and exercise

Many of us are overweight and don’t do enough exercise

person on scales

It is estimated that up to 1 in 5 people in the UK could now be affected by non-alcohol related fatty liver disease or NAFLD.

NAFLD happens when fat builds up in the liver and stops it working properly. People who are overweight, obese, have type 2 diabetes, or low levels of activity are most at risk.

Keeping to a healthy weight is a good way to reduce your risk of developing liver disease. For most people, losing weight slowly is the best approach. Making your diet healthier and more balanced and being more physically active can help you to lose weight and keep it off.

Find out more about how to reduce your risk by keeping to a healthy weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Our Eating Well for a healthy liver factsheet provides practical tips for everyday life.

Viral hepatitis

There are several viruses that cause hepatitis. The most common ones are hepatitis A, B and C. Most people recover from hepatitis A with no lasting liver damage, but hepatitis B and C can cause long term liver disease and even liver cancer if they aren’t treated.

Protect yourself

  • Never share razors, nail scissors or toothbrushes
  • Cover wounds, especially when you play sport
  • Only use licensed tattoo and piercing studios and make sure all equipment used has been sterilised
  • Use a condom during sex
  • Never share drug equipment, and don’t use rolled-up bank notes
  • If you need medical treatment abroad make sure only sterile equipment is used
  • If you think you have been exposed to viral hepatitis ask your GP or sexual health clinic for a simple blood test

Love Your Liver

Love Your Liver is our national campaign devoted to liver health awareness and giving people the tools they need to keep their liver healthy.

We offer information and support, a free online screener, a national roadshow and opportunities to join with us, raise awareness, and help more people to love their liver.

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Overview — Alcohol-related liver disease

ARLD does not usually cause any symptoms until the liver has been severely damaged.

When this happens, symptoms can include:

  • feeling sick
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • yellowing of the whites of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • swelling in the ankles and tummy
  • confusion or drowsiness
  • vomiting blood or passing blood in your stools

This means ARLD is frequently diagnosed during tests for other conditions, or at a stage of advanced liver damage.

If you regularly drink alcohol to excess, tell your GP so they can check if your liver is damaged.

Alcohol and the liver

The liver is one of the most complex organs in the body.

Its functions include:

  • filtering toxins from the blood
  • aiding digestion of food
  • regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  • helping fight infection and disease

The liver is very resilient and capable of regenerating itself. Each time your liver filters alcohol, some of the liver cells die.

The liver can develop new cells, but prolonged alcohol misuse (drinking too much) over many years can reduce its ability to regenerate. This can result in serious and permanent damage to your liver.

ARLD is common in the UK. The number of people with the condition has been increasing over the last few decades as a result of increasing levels of alcohol misuse.

Stages of ARLD

There are 3 main stages of ARLD, although there’s often an overlap between each stage. These stages are explained here.

Alcoholic fatty liver disease

Drinking a large amount of alcohol, even for just a few days, can lead to a build-up of fats in the liver.

This is called alcoholic fatty liver disease, and is the first stage of ARLD.

Fatty liver disease rarely causes any symptoms, but it’s an important warning sign that you’re drinking at a harmful level.

Fatty liver disease is reversible. If you stop drinking alcohol for some time (months or years), your liver should return to normal.

Alcoholic hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis, which is unrelated to infectious hepatitis, is a potentially serious condition that can be caused by alcohol misuse over a longer period.

When this develops, it may be the first time a person is aware they’re damaging their liver through alcohol.

Less commonly, alcoholic hepatitis can occur if you drink a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time (binge drinking).

The liver damage associated with mild alcoholic hepatitis is usually reversible if you stop drinking permanently.

Severe alcoholic hepatitis, however, is a serious and life-threatening illness.

Many people die from the condition each year in the UK, and some people only find out they have liver damage when their condition reaches this stage.


Cirrhosis is a stage of ARLD where the liver has become significantly scarred. Even at this stage, there may not be any obvious symptoms.

It’s generally not reversible, but stopping drinking alcohol immediately can prevent further damage and significantly increase your life expectancy.

Treating alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD)

There’s currently no specific medical treatment for ARLD. The main treatment is to stop drinking, preferably for the rest of your life.

This reduces the risk of further damage to your liver and gives it the best chance of recovering.

If a person is dependent on alcohol, stopping drinking can be very difficult.

But support, advice and medical treatment may be available through local alcohol addiction support services.

A liver transplant may be required in severe cases where the liver has stopped functioning and does not improve when you stop drinking alcohol.

You’ll only be considered for a liver transplant if you have developed complications of cirrhosis despite having stopped drinking.

All liver transplant units require people with ARLD to not drink alcohol while awaiting the transplant, and for the rest of their life.


Death rates linked to ARLD have risen considerably over the last few decades.

Alcohol misuse is now one of the most common causes of death in the UK, along with smoking and high blood pressure.

Life-threatening complications of ARLD include:

  • internal (variceal) bleeding
  • build-up of toxins in the brain (encephalopathy)
  • fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites) with associated kidney failure
  • liver cancer
  • increased vulnerability to infection

Preventing alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD)

The most effective way to prevent ARLD is to stop drinking alcohol or stick to the recommended limits:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over 3 days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week
  • if you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week

A unit of alcohol is equal to about half a pint of normal-strength lager or a pub measure (25ml) of spirits.

Even if you have been a heavy drinker for many years, reducing or stopping your alcohol intake will have important short-term and long-term benefits for your liver and overall health.

See our alcohol advice pages for more information and support.

Video: Liver disease

In this video, consultant hepatologist Mark Wright explains liver disease and how not drinking alcohol can help.

Media last reviewed: 1 July 2021
Media review due: 1 July 2024

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Page last reviewed: 20 September 2022
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Mouse Study Reveals How to Help Speed Up The Liver’s Self-Regeneration Process

A 3D illustration of a human liver.

(Elena Merkulova/iStock/Getty Images)

The liver is known for its ability to regenerate. It can completely regrow itself even after two-thirds of its mass has been surgically removed. But damage from medications, alcohol abuse, or obesity can eventually cause the liver to fail.

Currently, the only effective treatment for end-stage liver disease is transplantation.

However, there is a dearth of organs available for transplantation. Patients may have to wait from 30 days to over 5 years to receive a liver for transplant in the US. Of the over 11,600 patients on the waiting list to receive a liver transplant in 2021, only a little over 9,200 received one.

But what if, instead of liver transplantation, there were a drug that could help the liver regenerate itself?

I am the founding director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center and run a lab studying liver regeneration and cancer. In our recently published research, my team and I found that activating a particular protein with a new medication can help accelerate regeneration and repair after severe liver injury or partial surgical removal in mice.

Key players in liver regeneration

The liver performs over 500 key functions in your body, including producing proteins that carry fat through the body, converting excess glucose into glycogen for storage, and breaking down toxins like ammonia, among others.

Liver cells, or hepatocytes, take on these many tasks by a divide-and-conquer strategy, also called zonation. This separates the liver into three zones with different tasks, and cells are directed to perform specialized functions by turning on specific genes active in each zone.

However, exactly what controls the expression of these genes has been poorly understood.

Over the past two decades, my team and other labs have identified one group of 19 proteins called Wnts that play an important role in controlling liver function and regeneration.

While researchers know that Wnt proteins help activate the repair process in damaged liver cells, which ones actually control zonation and regeneration, as well as their exact location in the liver, have been a mystery.

To identify these proteins and where they came from, my team and I used a new technology called molecular cartography to identify how strongly and where 100 liver function genes are active.

We found that only two of 19 Wnt genes, Wnt2 and Wnt9b, were functionally present in the liver. We also found that Wnt2 and Wnt9b were located in the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels in zone 3 of the liver, an area that plays a role in a number of metabolic functions.

To our surprise, eliminating these two Wnt genes resulted in all liver cells expressing only genes typically limited to zone 1, significantly limiting the liver’s overall function.

This finding suggests that liver cells experience an ongoing push and pull in gene activation that can modify their functions, and Wnt is the master regulator of this process.

Eliminating the two Wnt genes from endothelial cells also completely stopped liver cell division, and thus regeneration, after partial surgical removal of the liver.

Liver regeneration after Tylenol overdose

We then decided to test whether a new drug could help recover liver zonation and regeneration. This drug, an antibody called FL6.13, shares similar functions with Wnt proteins, including activating liver regeneration.

Over the course of two days, we gave this drug to mice that were genetically engineered to lack Wnt2 and Wnt9b in their liver endothelial cells. We found that the drug was able to nearly completely recover liver cell division and repair functions.

Lastly, we wanted to test how well this drug worked to repair the liver after Tylenol overdose. Tylenol, or acetaminophen, is an over-the-counter medication commonly used to treat fever and pain.

However, an overdose of Tylenol can cause severe liver damage. Without immediate medical attention, it can lead to liver failure and death. Tylenol poisoning is one of the most common causes of severe liver injury requiring liver transplantation in the US.

Despite this, there is currently only one medication available to treat it, and it is only able to prevent liver damage if taken shortly after overdose.

We tested our new drug on mice with liver damage from toxic doses of Tylenol. We found that one dose was able to decrease liver injury biomarkers – proteins the liver releases when injured – in the blood and reduce liver tissue death.

These findings indicate that liver cell repair and tissue regeneration are occurring.

Reducing the need for transplantation

One way to address liver transplantation shortages is to improve treatments for liver diseases. While current medications can effectively cure hepatitis C, a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, other liver diseases haven’t seen the same progress.

Because very few effective treatments are available for illnesses like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic liver disease, many patients worsen and end up needing a liver transplant.

My team and I believe that improving the liver’s ability to repair itself could help circumvent the need for transplantation. Further study of drugs that promote liver regeneration may help curb the burden of liver disease worldwide.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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