New data is showing that more older people are ending up on liver transplant waiting lists than at any point in history. And although the pandemic may play a small role in the uptick, it’s certainly not the main driver—alcohol use and obesity are.
In fact, these two causes have overtaken hepatitis C as the main drivers of liver failure. In most cases, the 65-plus population is experiencing liver disease resulting from fatty liver disease, in which excess fat on the organ leads to scarring that impairs function.
The increase in the need for liver transplants in this demographic is interesting because traditionally, it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Most liver transplants occur in midlife, generally between 40 and 50.
Researchers with Inova Health System in Falls Church, Virginia, conducted the study. They found that in the early 2000s, 13 percent of 65-plus liver transplants were related to fatty liver disease. In 2020, that number jumped to 39 percent. Further, numbers have shown that the difference in the need for transplants now, between those over and under 65, only differs by a few percentage points.
The reason why there is an uptick in liver failure patients requiring transplants in this older-age cohort is lifestyle-related. It’s connected to metabolic health troubles resulting from years of poor eating, carrying excess weight, and drinking, which can cause the body to stop working properly and shut down.
What’s comforting is that you may have time to improve your liver health to reduce the risk of trouble as you get older. The liver is a resilient organ that can heal itself if given the opportunity.
But it might take a lot of work depending on your current lifestyle.
Cutting processed food, losing weight, and eating more vegetables can help repair the liver. Excess sugar is quite hard on the liver, so replacing sugar with other healthier calories can play a major role in liver health.
Black coffee and broccoli may offer unique restorative benefits to your liver and are part of a liver-friendly diet. Cap alcohol consumption at one or two standard-sized drinks per day, and attempt to incorporate more daily activity into your lifestyle.
Hopefully, these changes will set liver repair in motion and lower the risk of disease.