Liver cancer is a growing concern for many people. The American Cancer Society notes that liver cancer rates have more than tripled since 1980, and it's a leading cause of cancer death in the world. One factor that helps in preventing liver cancer and improving outcomes from liver cancer is diet.
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Foods for Liver Cancer Management
A number of lifestyle factors can have an impact on liver cancer development. "Diet certainly can play a role in the development of liver cancer, especially depending on the cause of damage to the liver," says Ari L. Bunim, MD, a specialist in gastroenterology and hepatology at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York.
The American Liver Foundation points out that diet is important for liver health, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City says a healthy diet and weight management, along with regular exercise, can lower your risk for developing liver cancer.
Here's what experts say about diet and liver health.
What Not to Eat or Drink
Risky foods. When it comes to foods to avoid in order to keep your liver healthy, the list includes fried, fatty, sugary and salty foods. The American Liver Foundation also notes that raw or undercooked shellfish can also be potentially dangerous for the health of your liver.
"High intakes of red meat and dietary sugar should be avoided in at-risk populations," says Hwan Yoo, MD, a liver specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "Red meat and dietary sugar consumption intake is associated with chronic liver disease mortality and liver cancer risk."
Alcohol. "There is no question that if you have liver cancer or are at risk for liver cancer, you should avoid all alcohol," says Dr. Bunim. "Alcohol can cause inflammation in the liver that can increase the risk for liver cancer and also reduce its proper functioning. It also depletes the liver of certain chemicals involved in detoxifying other drugs and liver repair."
Foods to Enjoy
Veggies and other high-fiber foods. "In 2014, there was a meta-analysis that stated that increased intake of vegetables was associated with a reduced risk for hepatocellular carcinoma," says Dr. Bunim. According to the Mayo Clinic, hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common form of liver cancer.
This may be due to the high fiber found in vegetables, which help your liver work at its best, says the American Liver Foundation. So definitely add this to your list of best foods for liver cancer patients.
Coffee. The World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF) notes that of all the dietary interventions that have been researched for preventing liver cancer, coffee shows the most promise. Higher coffee consumption "probably protects against liver cancer," the WCRF says. The compounds in coffee may work in several different ways to lower the risk of several types of cancer, including liver cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Fish. The evidence on higher fish consumption and liver cancer is limited, the WCRF says. However, a January 2015 review and analysis of 10 prior studies published in PLOS One.)found that higher fish intake was protective against liver cancer risk. An increase of one serving per week of fish was associated with a 6 percent lower risk of liver cancer.
Focus on a Balanced Diet
If you eat a well-balanced diet that focuses on all the right food groups in the proper amounts, then the American Liver Foundation says you have the best chance of optimizing normal liver function. This includes abundant fruits and vegetables, healthy whole grains, lean meats and beans, low-fat milk and higher amounts of fish.
"Body fatness is related to developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease," says Karen Basen-Engquist, PhD, MPH, professor of behavioral science and director of the Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston. "So dietary patterns that help people maintain a healthy weight can potentially decrease the risk of liver cancer."
Finally, the American Liver Foundation notes that adequate hydration is key for liver health, both in preventing or managing liver cancer. Adequate hydration helps your liver function better overall.
Read more: Best Vitamins for Your Liver
- American Cancer Society: “Key Statistics About Liver Cancer”
- Ari L. Bunim, MD, specialist in gastroenterology and hepatology, White Plains Hospital, White Plains, New York
- American Liver Foundation: “A Healthy Diet, a Healthier Liver, a Healthier You”
- Hwan Yoo, MD, liver specialist, Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore
- World Cancer Research Fund International: “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Liver Cancer”
- Mayo Clinic: “Liver Cancer”
- Karen Basen-Engquist, PhD, MPH, professor of behavioral science and director of the Center for Energy Balance Cancer Prevention and Survivorship, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Liver Cancer Prevention & Risk Factors"
- PLoS One: "Fish Intake and Risk of Liver Cancer: A Meta-Analysis"
- American Cancer Society: "Coffee and Cancer: What the Research Really Shows"