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This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
As the news of Steve Harwell’s passing from acute liver failure makes headlines, the disease is top-of-mind for Canadian experts who want to raise awareness.
Harwell, the frontman of pop-rock band Smash Mouth – behind the megahit "All Star" – died on Monday morning at the age of 56.
The Canadian Press reported the band’s manager Robert Hayes, said Harwell "passed peacefully and comfortably" surrounded by family and friends at his home in Idaho. His statement also revealed the cause of death was acute liver failure.
Tributes to the Grammy-nominated musician came pouring in, with NSYNC's Chris Kirkpatrick saying Harwell "will be deeply missed."
Liver disease is on the rise in North America, and is a growing cause of death in Canadians.
Registered dietitian Anisha Vijh, with the Canadian Liver Foundation, gave Yahoo Canada insight into what Canadians need to know about risks and preventative measures.
"It's unfortunate to hear about Steve Harwell’s passing from liver failure," said Vijh, adding this is an opportunity to raise awareness.
Read on for everything you need to know,.
What is acute liver failure?
Acute liver failure refers to "a rapid progression of damage to the liver in a relatively short period of time," Vijh explained.
"Many liver conditions show very little or no symptoms at all until later stages of disease, called chronic liver disease."
Some liver conditions may have vague symptoms including:
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
However, most of these symptoms are not always directly associated with liver disease.
"One symptom that is unique to liver disease though, is yellowing of the skin and eyes, also known as jaundice," Vijh said.
"This can happen towards the end stages of most liver disease, or earlier on in specific liver diseases."
Who is at risk?
Liver disease affects one in four Canadians (25 per cent), and was in the top 10 causes of deaths in Canada in 2022.
Researchers have labeled the rise of chronic liver disease in Canada a "silent epidemic."
According to Vijh, the disease can affect anyone.
"Liver disease does not discriminate. It can affect all Canadians, from young children to elderly adults," she claimed.
However, there are certain "risk factors" that contribute to liver damage, and in some cases, lead to liver failure.
According to Vijh, these include:
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a fat buildup in the liver caused by eating foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fats. It’s the most common disease in Canada.
High alcohol consumption: lead to fat buildup in the liver and can be fatal if untreated
Hepatitis A, B and C: can cause liver damage as some people have it for life. However, vaccines for hep. A and B exist, and hep. C can be cured.
Genetics and autoimmune diseases: diseases where the liver attacks itself can put someone at a higher risk of failure.
"All liver diseases, if untreated, can cause chronic liver damage," Vijh said.
How is liver disease treated?
The good news is, most cases of treating liver disease are manageable with the help of health care professionals. But, treatment depends on the diagnosis.
"They will be able to see from blood tests and ultrasounds if you have any liver issues. Some people with more severe liver disease might need to see a liver specialist to help manage and treat their condition," Vijh explained.
Diagnosis is done with blood tests, imaging tests (MRI, CT scan and ultrasound) and by checking a tissue sample.
Some liver problems can be treated with lifestyle modifications in a program that includes monitoring liver function, according to Mayo Clinic. Other liver problems might require medications or surgery, the agency said, adding cases of liver failure may even require a liver transplant.
What preventative measures can you take?
According to Vijh, preventative measures for liver failure "are all things that people should be doing for their overall health too."
This primarily includes eating well. Vijh said this includes a meal that is half fruits and vegetables, about a quarter being a whole grain or high-fiber starch, and a quarter of your meal being protein.
"Limiting things like added sugars, salt, saturated fat, and alcohol can all help reduce your risk of liver disease and liver damage," she added.
Physical exercise is also important.
"Getting active for 150 minutes a week and adding in strength training twice a week helps with your liver health, and other organs like your heart and lungs too," the expert advised. This can include daily activities like gardening, walking, swimming, dancing, or even cleaning your house.
She also advises getting vaccinations for hepatitis A and B and not sharing items like razors or nail clippers.
"Practicing safe sex, and being smart about tattoos and piercings helps to reduce your risk of contracting hepatitis B and C," Vijh added.
Anyone who thinks they might be at risk is encouraged to contact their doctor and ask for advice.