Liver Disease Risk Factors

The liver functions as the detoxification centre for the body. It breaks down toxins that have entered the body into less harmful substances that can then be excreted. Liver disease is caused by prolonged inflammation and subsequent damage to liver cells, which eventually leads to scarring and cirrhosis (late-stage scarring of the liver). If sufficient scarring occurs, the liver will progressively lose its ability to function. Fortunately, it can effectively heal itself - to a certain degree - if we assist by minimising the presence of the following risk factors in our lives.


Alcohol is the number one risk factor for developing liver disease, particularly alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD). Heavy drinking causes repeated damage to liver cells and prevents them from having sufficient time to heal. Binge drinking can cause acute liver inflammation, or alcoholic hepatitis1, which can inflict permanent liver scarring. Heavy drinking will inevitably lead to liver failure, and limiting alcohol consumption is key to keeping the organ functioning at a healthy capacity. 

Unhealthy diet

Nutrition is key to improving liver function and aiding its healing process. Avoiding extra sugar, unhealthy fats, and excess salt will help keep the liver functioning to its best ability. Increasing your intake of fruits, veggies, fibre, and protein will help heal damaged liver cells, improve the organ’s function, and remove built-up toxins. 

Lack of physical activity

Physical activity helps prevent the buildup of fat around the liver. Excess fat presence around the liver may lead to the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Obesity is a risk factor for NAFLD. Losing weight via regulating caloric intake and exercising for at least 150 minutes per week is a great way to keep your liver fat-free and help it function efficiently. 


Smoking is responsible for the introduction of many toxins into the body. The toxins eventually pass through the liver and damage liver cells. Smoking is also associated with a significantly increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and several cancers that can cause liver scarring2.

Viral Infection

Hepatitis A, B, and C, all of which are caused by viruses, are conditions that create prolonged liver inflammation that if left untreated may lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

Hepatitis A virus is passed through contaminated faecal matter and is mainly present in areas where sanitation is poor. Many people can fight off the infection naturally, but a vaccine is available for those at high risk.

Hepatitis B virus is passed via the blood, most often during pregnancy (the virus can pass from the pregnant person to the foetus through the placenta) and sharing of unclean needles. Adults usually recover from the infection without complications, but in children, Hepatitis B infection may lead to chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer. Vaccination against Hepatitis B is mandated for healthcare workers, people who may use intravenous drugs or children of parents infected with Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C is the most common form of hepatitis virus. It is spread through contact with infected blood, usually through sharing of contaminated needles or poor healthcare hygiene. Patients infected with Hepatitis C are more likely to develop chronic hepatitis and suffer from cirrhosis and liver failure. Although there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C at the moment, it can be treated with antiviral medication. 

Although these risk factors may seem diverse, they are often interconnected by a handful of lifestyle factors – mainly diet and exercise. If you avoid adverse behaviours like smoking and heavy drinking as well as maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise, your liver will likely stay happy and healthy! 

Up to a certain extent, liver damage can be treated and even reversed. Even viral hepatitis is curable upon diagnosis. The key is staying proactive, observing your symptoms and prioritising your health.


  1. Younossi ZM. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease - A global public health perspective. J Hepatol. 2019 Mar;70(3):531–44.
  2. Pimpin L, Cortez-Pinto H, Negro F, Corbould E, Lazarus JV, Webber L, et al. Burden of liver disease in Europe: Epidemiology and analysis of risk factors to identify prevention policies. J Hepatol. 2018 Sep;69(3):718–35.

Kristen Bowles

Masters of Science - MSc Epidemiology Student, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, England
Kristen graduated as Summa Cum Laude and is now pursuing Masters of Epidemiology in LSHTM.
Experienced in cultural anthropology from the University of St. Andrews, and hopes to continue working in Europe with a special focus on medical mistrust and how these social factors influence health data, equity, and disease spread. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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