Those who've been following the news lately will probably have heard that political activist Chuwit Kamolvisit publicly disclosed that he has stage 3 liver cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. He also added that his doctors have given him only eight months to live.
While the news may come as a shock to many people, unfortunately, the case of Chuwit is one of many. Liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer deaths everywhere. More than 800,000 people are diagnosed with this cancer each year throughout the world. According to 2021 statistics by the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chulalongkorn University, liver cancer claims the lives of over 26,000 Thais annually, accounting for 96.3% of cancer-related deaths. This high mortality rate emphasises the severity of the issue.
Before becoming involved in politics, Chuwit was a former magnate in the massage parlour industry and was known for his partying lifestyle. One could easily assume that the cause of the sickness must have been his years of smoking and drinking. However, some people may not realise that liver disease is not only caused by alcohol consumption but also a reckless lifestyle, not taking care of one's health or unhealthy dietary choices for a long period of time.
Before we get severe diseases like cirrhosis, hepatitis and even cancer, illness and damage usually come in the form of what we call fatty liver disease. As the name suggests, the disease involves the accumulation of excess fat within the liver cells. While some fat in the liver is normal, an excessive buildup can lead to inflammation, scarring and impairment of function. Apart from heavy alcohol consumption, fatty liver is primarily associated with obesity, sedentary lifestyles and poor diet, and is thus closely intertwined with the modern epidemic of lifestyle-related disorders. Fatty liver can be divided into two groups: Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD) and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). The latter is the one that strikes without warning.
Often referred to as the silent killer, NAFLD's unique ability is that it operates under the radar in its early stages. However, the absence of symptoms does not equate to the absence of danger. Often, the first tangible signs of the disease only manifest when it has advanced significantly, leading to profound consequences. The silence shrouding NAFLD serves as a haunting reminder of the importance of vigilance and proactive health management.
As with many health concerns, prevention and early intervention are key to combating fatty liver disease. For those already affected by NAFLD, the good news is that the disease can be reversed, particularly when identified and addressed early on. Lifestyle modifications take centre stage in this endeavour. Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and weight management plays a pivotal role in preventing the onset of NAFLD.
Certain foods should be approached with caution, if not avoided altogether, to mitigate the risk of NAFLD progression. Food to avoid includes highly processed foods laden with added sugars, unhealthy fats and refined carbohydrates. Sugary beverages such as sodas, energy drinks and even fruit juices can contribute to insulin resistance and fat buildup in the liver. Additionally, trans and saturated fats found in fried foods and many commercially baked goods can exacerbate inflammation and liver damage. Cutting down excessive alcohol consumption is also crucial, as alcohol can exacerbate liver damage.
Choose a healthier diet. Try to eat more plant foods, including vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds and whole grains. These foods supply protective compounds including fibre and antioxidants. They're also filling, which can help you manage your weight, and can significantly reduce the risk of fat buildup in the liver. However, it's important to get your blood and physical checks as well as talk with your personal doctor to understand the barriers you face making lifestyle changes. Together, you can work on a manageable plan to help protect you from irreversible liver damage.
Tatat Bunnag is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.