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Diet - liver disease

Contents of this page:

Definition    Return to top

A person with liver disease must eat a special diet. This diet is protects the liver from working too hard and helps it to function as well as possible.

Function    Return to top

Proteins normally help the body repair tissue. They also prevent fatty buildup and damage to the liver cells.

In people with severely damaged livers, proteins are not properly processed. Waste products may build up and affect the brain. Restricting the amount of protein in the diet can reduce the chance that toxic waste products will build up.

The body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. Increasing carbohydrates in the diet helps preserve glycogen stores. People with liver disease may need to increase their intake of carbohydrates in proportion to protein.

Low blood count, nerve problems, and nutritional deficiencies that occur with liver disease may be treated with drugs and vitamin supplements.

Salt in the diet may worsen fluid buildup and swelling in the liver, because salt causes the body to retain water. Most people with severe liver disease must restrict the amount of sodium in their diet.

Food Sources    Return to top

The liver is involved in the metabolism of all foods. Metabolism is the conversion of food into energy.

Changing the diet by increasing or decreasing proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins may further affect the function of the diseased liver, especially its protein and vitamin production.

Side Effects    Return to top

Because liver disease can affect the absorption of food and the production of proteins and vitamins, your diet may influence your weight, appetite, and the amounts of vitamins in your body. Do not limit protein too much, because it can cause deficiencies of certain amino acids.

Recommendations    Return to top

The dietary recommendations may vary, depending on how well your liver is working. It is very important to be under the care of a doctor, because malnutrition can lead to serious problems.

In general, recommendations for patients with severe liver disease may include:


Usually, there are no cautions against specific foods.

If you have questions about your diet or symptoms, contact your doctor.

References    Return to top

DeLegge MH. Nutrition in gastrointestinal diseases. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2006: chap 16.

Update Date: 4/23/2009

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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