Hepatomegaly means "enlarged liver." Dietary changes can sometimes help manage this condition, depending on the cause of the enlargement. The liver aids in digestion, produces important blood proteins and cleans the body of toxins. An enlarged liver may not function properly, so dietary changes intended to manage the problem will reduce strain on the organ or aid it in its functions.
Causes of Hepatomegaly
Several underlying diseases and conditions can cause an enlarged liver. According to the National Institutes of Health, these range from liver cancer and leukemia to viral diseases such as hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Three potential causes of hepatomegaly have a diet connection. Poorly managed diabetes forces the liver to store excessive glycogen, which can result in liver disease. The ingestion of large quantities of fatty foods can result in multiple fatty deposits on the liver. Alcohol use can cause cirrhotic scarring and liver enlargement. Changes in diet can have a beneficial effect on all three of these causes of hepatomegaly.
Fatty Food-Related Hepatomegaly
In the case of a liver enlarged with fatty deposits, a person can reduce hepatomegaly by cutting fatty foods out of his diet, especially foods that contain saturated or trans fats. These foods include fatty meats, cheeses and many types of processed snack foods. According to the National Institutes of Health, consumption of certain unsaturated fatty acids, such as fish oil, can reduce the concentration of triglycerides in the blood and thus help stop and reverse the process of liver enlargement. You can obtain dietary fish oil from fatty fishes like salmon, or take it in capsule form as a supplement.
A person with diabetes who relies too heavily on insulin to control her blood sugar bears an increased risk of developing liver enlargement. A small study carried out by M. Nakamuta and colleagues at an internal medicine facility in Japan suggests that such cases of hepatomegaly can be brought under control with a calorie-restricted diet and more conservative use of insulin. The study report in the July 1993 issue of the journal "Fukuoka Igaku Zasshi" suggests that patients try to restrict their insulin use to as little as 15 to 20 units per day, and stop overeating because it causes blood sugar spiking. Avoiding foods that spike the blood sugar even in small quantities, such as refined sugar, flour and simple starches, helps to reduce insulin dependence. People with diabetes can replace these foods with foods that have low glycemic index values -- numbers that reflect the effect of food on a person's blood sugar -- such as whole grains, which offer primarily complex carbohydrates, unsaturated fats and protein.
Alcohol abuse severely impairs liver function. Specific dietary changes for people with alcohol-induced hepatomegaly can help manage its symptoms. Eliminating alcohol, the primary agent of disease, will greatly reduce stress on the liver and effectively halt scarring. The consumption of high-quality, lean animal protein can help an impaired liver perform its protein digestion and formation functions more efficiently. Swelling of the extremities may result if the liver does not get adequate high-quality protein. Reducing salt intake will help manage water retention. The University of Maryland Medical center recommends that patients with cirrhosis avoid eating shellfish, since certain kinds may carry Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, which presents health risks to people with cirrhosis.
Since the causes of hepatomegaly vary, no single set of dietary changes will solve the problem for all who have it. Because of the complexity of the issue, speak to your health care provider before embarking on any dietary changes if you have this condition. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications, herbal supplements or vitamins you take to avoid interactions.